I thought it was outrageous. I thought: how is it possible that this has been allowed to be broadcast, because it’s so blatantly full of demonstrably false information? What I decided to do was to organise a joint letter by a group of climate scientists to complain about it.
Lord Lawson began his public relations attack on climate science in earnest on 8 March 2007 when he appeared alongside the distinguished cast of oil-funded deniers on the Channel Four programme, The Great Global Warming Swindle.
Lawson used the platform to try and undermine Margaret Thatcher’s legacy as the politician who had placed climate change at the centre of global political debate, claiming her support was just a Machiavellian counterattack against coal workers and the National Union of Miners.
The programme was directed by Martin Durkin, a former Marxist who had become close friends with Julian Morris and the radical free market Institute of Economic Affairs. Durkin told me that Morris, then at the International Policy Network, was very much the inspiration for the show.
'Swindle' was a deliberately provocative polemic and Durkin was entirely at ease with editing interviews – on at least one occasion – so that the participants appeared to be saying exactly the opposite of what they had in fact proposed. He claims that global warming is a hoax foisted upon an unsuspecting public by conspiratorial environmentalists.
Sir David King, then chief scientific advisor to the UK Government, complained to Channel Four about how his own contribution had been manipulated. After the show aired there were more than 260 further complaints from viewers. Professor Chris Rapley, then head of the British Antarctic Survey, described the programme as “a tissue of lies”.
Bob Ward from the Royal Society, who had previously taken on ExxonMobil, drafted a 180 page report for the broadcast regulator, accusing the programme of “displaying erroneous or artificially manipulated graphs, and presenting incorrect, misleading, or incomplete opinions and facts on the science of global warming and the related economics.”
Ward told me: “I thought it was outrageous. I thought: how is it possible that this has been allowed to be broadcast, because it’s so blatantly full of demonstrably false information? What I decided to do was to organise a joint letter by a group of climate scientists to complain about it.”
Ofcom, the UK communications regulator, indeed ruled that Channel Four had broken impartiality guidelines and had misrepresented statements by King. They found the programme’s representation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was unfair, as was its treatment of Professor Carl Wunsch of MIT.
There were several contributors who had no complaints about the programme – indeed, they only had cause of celebration. Many of them had become familiar faces to those scrutinising ExxonMobil's and the Koch brothers' funding of climate denial.
Fred Singer was asked to give an expert opinion, with no reference to the fact that he had previously worked as a consultant to major oil companies including ExxonMobil. Tim Ball, also funded by fossil fuels, was interviewed, as were Richard Lindzen, Roy Spencer and Patrick Michaels.
Among those supporting the programme was Christopher Booker, the ever-eccentric Sunday Telegraph columnist.
He celebrated the broadcast “as unashamedly one-sided in putting the sceptical objections to the theory of man-made global warming as innumerable BBC programmes had been in conveying the ‘consensus’ view.”
Stewart Dimmock – described as a 45-year-old lorry driver and school governor from Kent – apparently took it upon himself to take the Labour Government to court to prevent the distribution of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth to schools. He claimed the “political spin” should be balanced by the 'Great Global Warming Swindle' being sent out at the same time.
“I care about the environment as much as the next man,” Dimmock was quoted in the Daily Telegraph as saying. “However, I am determined to prevent my children from being subjected to political spin in the classroom”.
Much of the charm of Dimmock’s David-and-Goliath assault on Al Gore – and support for Martin Durkin – was the fact that he was not a political animal. Yet, it was not long before Viscount Monckton, the Tory peer, revealed himself as among those bankrolling the legal battle.
Monckton also threatened to send out his own film, Apocalypse No!, with the financial support of Fred Singer and his Science and Public Policy Institute, which was once housed with the Atlas Foundation, set up by Antony Fisher and supported with plumes of tobacco funding.
Lawson lent considerable gravitas to 'Swindle', but was shrewd enough to distance himself from Monckton’s headline-grabbing antics. It was also shortly after his appearance on Channel 4 that he began to unwind his investments in a consultancy company working closely with Polish coal, oil and gas companies.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague. This article first appeared at Desmog.uk.