HARDtalk on thin ice in Alaska

Stephen Sackur took the BBC’s HARDtalk programme on the road in Alaska in a climate change episode screened a few days ago. It was the kind of aware and intelligent journalism one hopes to see on the topic, and deserves plaudits. Not that it exceeded what we have a right to expect from major mainstream television, but it was all the more welcome because the medium so rarely tackles the climate change question. It also represented a considerable advance on the Sackur interview I discussed on Hot Topic a couple of years ago when he attacked Rajendra Pachauri and the IPCC on spurious grounds.

Sackur began in the coastal Inuit village of Kivalina, whose days are numbered as sea ice disappears and storm surges are unimpeded. (I reviewed Christine Shearer’s book on Kivalina in 2011.) The programme was stark in its Alaskan juxtapositions. On the one hand it detailed some of the impacts of climate change on Inuit communities. Kivalina is not alone. Retreating ice, slowly rising sea levels and increased coastal erosion have left three Inuit settlements facing imminent destruction, and at least eight more at serious risk. The town of Barrow depends on bowhead whale and seal hunting which is now affected very badly by the early breakup of sea ice.

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Hard Talk on the wrong track

I wondered what Stephen Sackur might want to put to Rajendra Pachauri when he interviewed the IPCC chair on BBC’s Hardtalk this week. His agenda turned out to be depressingly predictable for the most part. The opening was not encouraging. Sackur referred to other options than a global climate deal in view of the stalled international negotiations, mentioning the abandonment of the Kyoto approach  proposed by David King recently. “Has Pachauri got the energy and the ideas to reframe the climate change debate?” he asked.

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BBC about to bite bullet on climate BS

“I recommend that the BBC takes a less rigid view of ‘due impartiality’ as it applies to science (in practice and not just in its guidelines) and takes into account the non‐contentious nature of some material and the need to avoid giving undue attention to marginal opinion.” This is one of the recommendations of a review commissioned last year by the BBC Trust from Professor Steve Jones, emeritus professor of genetics at University College London. He was asked to assess the impartiality and accuracy of BBC science coverage across television, radio and the internet. His review and the Trust report which responds to it have now been published, along with the news that the BBC has accepted his recommendations.

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Adapting to climate change in Vietnam and the Philippines

I stumbled across a documentary programme on BBC World during the weekend, Nature Inc. It visited two Asian regions where the impacts of climate change are being experienced and described the active local measures under way to cope with them. It’s the sort of programme we ought to be seeing a great deal more of as the evidence of climate change effects accumulate around the world. The narrator presumably felt obliged to mention in passing that sceptics dispute the impacts of climate change identified by the local people, but that kind of disputing will surely wither in the face of the realities such populations are facing. Facing with energy and purpose in the two cases covered by the short documentary.

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Earle: everything in the oceans at risk

“We are committed to developing deepwater energy supplies offshore.” Those blunt words from the US Administration were put to oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Stephen Sackur late in a captivating BBC Hardtalk interview I watched a few days ago. What chance, he asked, did her message about the plight of the oceans stand in the face of the determination of governments to exploit the massive fossil fuel sources under the oceans?

Before giving her response I’ll briefly provide a little context. Sylvia Earle is a famed oceanographer who 40 years ago headed the first team of women so-called aquanauts in an underwater habitat programme. She was chief scientist at NOAA in the early nineties, has continued to be engaged in deep ocean exploration, was named Time magazine’s first ‘hero for the planet’ in 1998 and received the 2009 TED Prize. Now in her mid-seventies she continues to be a strong advocate of marine reserves and ocean protection and exploration generally. Earlier in the Sackur interview she’d explained how the ocean dominates the way the world works and pointed out that most of life on earth, in terms of both volume and diversity, is in the ocean. She’d outlined some of its importance for our own life. Imagine, she said, what changing the chemistry of the ocean might do.

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