When is it OK to invite a known climate science denialist with extremist views onto your show – especially if that show happens to be part of the corporate outreach for one of the world’s most recognisable brands?
Well, firstly, you’d want to know something about climate change, or have an actual expert or two on hand.
If that person has a record of being wrong, then it might also be a good idea to point out to your listeners that most of the statements by your guest could be wrong, irrelevant or confused.
Alternatively, get a proper expert on the show and ignore the pleas of the fringe calling for “balance”. Failure to do this could risk confusing your listeners and exposing them to misinformation.
Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical situation. As I’ve written on The Guardian, this week global brand Virgin Group — home to some 60 companies with annual revenue of about $24 billion — released its latest Virgin podcast.
They invited climate science denialist James Delingpole to rant about how human caused climate change is a “bankrupt theory”, how global warming stopped 18 years ago, plus other bunk.
None of the necessary precautions were made, but rather, host and comedian Dominic Frisby chortled his way merrily through a 20-minute set piece of popular denialist talking points, only occasionally questioning Delingpole’s fringe claims.
Delingpole had been invited to provide “balance”, Frisby said, because the podcast had previously featured three advocates of climate action and some listeners (read:deniers) had contacted Frisby asking for a guest “to air the other side of the debate.”
Delingpole claimed that volcanoes “produce far more CO2” than humans. In fact, according to the US Geological Survey, humans produce about 100 times more carbon dioxide than volcanoes.
But then Delingpole attempted to explain how this was why volcanic eruptions were able to affect the climate. But it is sulphur dioxide particles from eruptions that can have a temporary cooling effect on temperatures, not carbon dioxide emissions.
During a discussion as far removed from reality as it might be possible to get, Frisby says to Delingpole that “the UK has actually been getting colder” adding that he remembered “being a student in the 90s and we always had amazing summers”.
Delingpole agrees, then claims that there has been “no global warming in the last 18 and a half years”. Frisby then asks, “but surely some countries have got hotter”, to which Delingpole responds, “no, I don’t think they have, no”.
Delingpole says that, rather, we are probably in a period of global cooling.
Frisby would have to have lived in a fridge with no internet connection not to have noticed the recent spate of record breaking global temperatures.
Some 14 of the 16 hottest years on record, according to NASA, have all occurred since the year 2000. Last year, 2015, was the hottest year recorded by an unprecedented margin.
UK MetOffice data shows that those “amazing summers” that Frisby remembers (most likely 1995 and 1997, which were particularly warm), were not as warm as 2003 or 2006.
According to the World Meteorological Association, 2015 was the warmest year for the continents of Asia and South America and the second warmest for Africa and Europe.
Frisby himself also managed to offer up a classic denier trope.
“The thing that always struck me as a little bit devious… dodgy… was that global warming rebranded itself as climate change,” Frisby told the Virgin podcast audience.
This is the same talking point recently employed by failed Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz, and hints at a conspiracy that’s simply not there.
When did this “rebranding” occur? Was it around 1989, when UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher referred to “climate change” a dozen times in a speech to the UN?
Did the illuminati sneak it in to the journal Science in 1971, in an article titled “Climate Change”?
A Virgin Group spokesperson told me the company’s podcasts “cover a wide range of issues and occasionally present viewpoints that are considered controversial.”
The statement added: “Featuring James Delingpole was neither an endorsement of nor an agreement with his positions. In fact, it was made clear that Virgin Group does not share his view on climate change.”
This is good to know, given that Virgin’s founder, the billionaire Sir Richard Branson, wrote last year that: “We need every person on Earth to acknowledge that climate change is real, and encourage each other and our leaders to address the challenge.”
I asked Frisby why he had failed to challenge Delingpole on any of his points. He told me he didn’t know much about climate change, but in any case, the style of the podcast was just to let guests speak.
“It is not my way to challenge guests on everything they say, and it is not the way of the show. In fact, as host of the show and the person who usually invites guests on I feel it is incumbent on me to make them feel comfortable and at home. That is my contract as a host. To continuously challenge them is, in my view, a breach of trust.
“Once guests talk, I hope our listeners are independent enough to make their own minds up as to whether they agree or disagree. The beauty of podcasting is that if you think somebody is talking rubbish or you don’t like what they are saying you can switch off. It is voluntary. Nobody is forcing you to listen.”
When I asked Frisby why he seemingly had not done any research before the interview, he said:
“It is not, unfortunately, as simple as that. The problem with availing myself of facts is that this argument is now so politicised it is difficult to know what is fact and what is dogma. And many are so aggressive in the way they argue the case it actually has an alienating effect of the undecided, less knowledgeable neutrals like me. Hence my decision to speak to people in person and learn that way.”
Actually, I don’t think it is difficult to know what’s dogma and what is fact.
Credible sources on climate change tend to have a recent record of publishing in the respected scientific literature on relevant topics, tend not to be affiliated with industry-funded think tanks and, well, don’t tend to compare the wind energy industry to a pedophile ring or suggest that “climate alarmists” should face a judge with the power to hand out death sentences — as the anti-science guest James Delingpole has done.
You can read Frisby’s full response to my questions here.
Main image: James Delingpole. Credit: DeSmog