The BBC is getting widespread criticism for creating a study guide for teens that includes arguments about how climate change could make our world better, actually.
On Thursday, climate writer George Monbiot tweeted a link to a webpage that lists “positive impacts” of climate change housed on the BBC’s Bitesize. According to the site, it exists to provide “simple-to-follow lessons and videos for pupils aged 4 to 14.” The copy in question was part of a study guide on climate change, which was included in a section of study guides for the GSCE exam, tests in different topic areas that British teenagers take to qualify for university.
The BBC has since edited the copy out, but you can see a version here, courtesy of the Wayback Machine. The section is titled “Positive and negative impacts of climate change,” and gives a list of possibilities of what’s going to happen as fossil fuels keep warping our planet. A lot of it is familiar to anyone keeping track of the eco-apocalypse, including rising seas, extreme weather, desertification, and widespread disease. But those familiar catastrophic scenarios are accompanied with neat bullet lists of “positives” that feel like they were lifted from the Heartland Institute’s website. Here’s bullet list of the joys of climate change, according to the BBC:
- warmer temperatures and increased CO2 levels, leading to more vigorous plant growth
- some animals and plants could benefit and flourish in a changing climate
- new shipping routes, such as the Northwest passage, would become available
- more resources, such as oil, becoming available in places such as Alaska and Siberia when the ice melts
- energy consumption decreasing due to a warmer climate
- longer growing season leading to a higher yields in current farming areas
- frozen regions, such as Canada and Siberia, could be able to grow crops
- new tourist destinations becoming available
For the UK, the BBC writes that “positive” impacts could be:
- higher year-round temperatures and longer growing seasons could mean that new crops such as oranges, grapes and peaches flourish in the UK
- higher yields of many outdoor crops such as cereals, potatoes and sugar beet due to a longer growing season and higher temperatures
- warmer temperatures would reduce winter heating costs
- accidents on the roads in winter could be less likely to occur
- warmer temperatures could lead to healthier outdoor lifestyles
- some plant and animal species would thrive and be able to grow and survive further north and at higher altitudes
- growth in the UK tourist industry, particularly seaside resorts, with warmer, drier summers
Grapes and peaches?? In the UK??? Totally seems worth all that other stuff. Sign me up.
In response to Monbiot’s tweet, the official Bitesize account said that it “passed this on to the relevant team and are assessing the guides in relation to the latest ed specs from the relevant exam boards.” On Thursday, the BBC said it had “reviewed the page and [is] amending the content to be in line with current curricula.”
This isn’t the Beeb’s first brush with getting too cozy with climate denial. The broadcasting network has come under fire in the past for granting airtime to climate deniers, particularly Lord Nigel Lawson, a member of the Conservative party who served as Margarate Thatcher’s Secretary for State Energy. The network has had on multiple times, and Lawson falsely claimed that global temperatures have fallen in the past 10 years. In a review, the network admitted it did not challenge him on his viewpoints enough in a 2017 interview.
In 2018, the BBC sent guidance to journalists on writing about climate change, including what top brass said was the news organization’s “editorial policy” and “position” on the issue. Copies of the documents were obtained and posted by Carbon Brief.
“Climate change has been a difficult subject for the BBC, and we get coverage of it wrong too often,” the editorial policy begins, adding that journalists “do not need a ‘denier’ to balance the debate”. However, it doesn’t totally rule out including them altogether: “There are occasions where contrarians and sceptics should be included within climate change and sustainability debates,” the editors write. “These may include, for instance, debating the speed and intensity of what will happen in the future, or what policies government should adopt.”
The overwhelming body of literature shows that the world’s current policies of delay are putting it on a collision course with disaster. We’ve already seen the horrors of climate change through events such as the Pacific Northwest heat wave this week, and those impacts will only worsen the longer we delay action.
The forces behind climate denial aren’t stagnant; they’re evolving and changing course as more people wake up to the reality we need to end fossil fuel use. Fossil-fuel-funded organizations and oil and gas companies themselves have shifted tactics in recent years, pivoting away from flat-out denial to more insidious forms of it. That includes creating false equivalences like the very Bitesize page the BBC has now taken down. I’d like to think that a 15- or 16-year-old reading this list would be able to recognize that growing new crops in their town isn’t exactly worth the cost of melting our planet. But you can never be too careful.