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The Discovery Channel and global warming

Last updated on August 24th, 2019 at 11:42 am

If you’re watching the series, Frozen Planet on the Discovery Channel (in the USA), you’d be watching some fascinating and lovely filming (especially in HD).  Particularly amazing were the strange “brinicles” or ice stalactites, which form underneath the sea ice, creating a pipe of super cold water that freezes nearly instantly.  As it reaches the sea floor, it rapidly freezes any organisms crawling around nearby.  It was both wonderful and otherworldly to watch in time-lapse filming.

One of the odd things about the series, however, was the lack of any extended commentary about global warming.  The US version of the program, which included six episodes, was narrated by Alec Baldwin, a well known liberal.  Presumably, Baldwin would have some comment about climate change if his narration weren’t scripted.  However, there were actually seven episodes filmed and produced, with the last one called “On Thin Ice,” which dealt directly with the effects of global warming on the Arctic and Antarctic.  

Apparently, the BBC (who produced the series) decided to market the series without the last episode, to “…allow those countries which are sceptical (British spelling) of climate change to “censor” the issue.”  Well, one isn’t “skeptical (US spelling)” of climate change, one is denying climate change, since skepticism, by definition, means using scientific evidence to debunk common myths.  Setting that aside, the BBC showed a remarkable lack of intestinal fortitude to market the program like that.  Americans always assume that Europeans are more knowledgeable about global warming and its human causes.  Of course, even in the UK, Conservative politicians ridiculed the program, especially Nigel Lawson, a one-time power in the UK’s Conservative party, and noted global warming denialist.  Of course, scientists called Lawson “patronising and wrong” according to the Guardian.

And there is absolutely no evidence supporting the denialists.  There is no evidence that the science is wrong.  There is no evidence that global warming scientists are lying (and frankly, if they are, then thousands of scientists are hiding this evidence, which would be impossible to comprehend).  There is plenty of evidence, irrefutable evidence, that human-caused global warming is essentially a scientific fact.  The only controversy is between denialist politicians, supported by corporations who would be harmed by global warming legislation, and the rest who accept evidence-based science.

So, initially, the Discovery Channel wasn’t going to air “On Thin Ice,” because, as the UK’s Daily Mail reported

…U.S. audiences will not be shown the last episode, which looks at the threat posed by man to the natural world. It is feared a show that preaches global warming could upset viewers in the U.S., where around half of people do not believe in climate change. The timing of a one-sided global warming programme could be particularly sensitive in the U.S., where climate change is an issue in the presidential race.

So, Alec Baldwin narrated the first six episodes, and that was all US audiences were ever going to see (although the seventh episode was going to be available on DVD’s sold in the USA).  Eventually, Discovery Channel acquiesced to their usual scientific programming (as opposed to the History Channel’s love of pseudoscience), and decided to broadcast the seventh episode on April 22, Earth Day.

The BBC version of the series is narrated by David Attenborough, who has voiced-over BBC natural history programs for over 50 years, so anyone who watches these type of series are used to his commentary.  Discovery Channel is airing the BBC version of the show (interesting to see the slight differences, especially since Attenborough was on site for some of the filming) leading up to the seventh episode.  The final episode is also narrated by Attenborough, because Discovery Channel decided to add the episode too late for Baldwin to narrate it.

So kudos to Discovery Channel and the BBC for having the scientific wherewithal to do what is right, rather than what is politically expedient.  Note that the BBC is a publicly funded network and the Discovery Channel a for-profit network, so both have their reasons to avoid controversy.  But watch the episode tonight, and see what we’re doing to our lovely planet.

Michael Simpson

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