Discovery Channel Refuses to Address Causes of Polar Warming

Sunday, April 22, 2012
From Frozen Planet (photo: Chadden Hunter, BBC)
Despite a stated mission “to satisfy curiosity and make a difference in people’s lives,” the science-oriented Discovery Channel decided not to satisfy the curiosity of viewers of its latest documentary series, Frozen Planet. The BBC series on life at the earth’s North and South Poles began airing in the U.S. on March 18 and culminated with an Earth Day (April 22) broadcast of the final episode, “On Thin Ice,” which covers the threat to polar wildlife posed by global warming. Missing from the episode and the entire series, however, is the fact that climate scientists believe almost unanimously (in one study, 75 out of 77 climate scientists agreed) that global warming is caused by the human behavior of burning fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. 
It turns out that Discovery Channel chose to ignore the scientific consensus for economic and political reasons, because presenting it “would have undermined the strength of an objective documentary, and would then have become utilized by people with political agendas,” said Vanessa Berlowitz, the series producer. Thus the issue was political, rather than scientific, and related ultimately to the Channel’s bottom line, which is determined by getting large numbers of viewers to watch its programs. As Berlowitz admitted, “We didn’t want people saying ‘Don’t watch this show because it has a slant on climate change.’”
That reasoning leaves some scratching their heads: “It’s kind of like doing a powerful documentary about lung cancer and leaving out the part about the cigarettes,” said author Bill McKibben. “There’s no scientific mystery here: the poles are changing because we’re burning so much carbon.” And it bears noting that Discovery does not respond to all science denial in the same way, as the channel’s acclaimed series, Life, explicitly discusses evolution as the cause of biological diversity even though many of the same people who deny global warming also deny evolution.
-Matt Bewig
To Learn More:
No Place for Heated Opinions (by Brian Stelter, New York Times)

Frozen Planet: Controversial BBC Climate Change Episode to Air in America (by Andrew Hough, The Telegraph) 


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