Much commentary and debate has arisen surrounding BBC climate correspondent Paul Hudson's October 9 article entitled "What happened to global warming?" in which he stated that the warmest year recorded globally was 1998 and therefore suggested that climate change may not necessarily be caused by emissions of carbon dioxide, which have continued to increase since the late 90s.
Hudson outlined the arguments of climate change sceptics, who believe that natural cycles that humans do not influence are in fact responsible for how warm our planet is, such as solar output and ocean cycles. Some argue that we are now in fact in a period of global cooling, rather than warming.
The article is not entirely one-sided, including quotes from scientists who believe that climate change caused by humans is indeed a threat, but the reader is left with the impression that global warming might not exist and might well not be caused by humans. And this is what has attracted so much attention: it appears, as Telegraph writer and apparent climate change sceptic Damian Thompson wrote in a blog post, an "amazing U-turn on climate change," citing views that are often dismissed as minority.
The piece started off on Hudson's blog on the BBC website, but made it onto the official news site a few hours later. As Guardian writer Leo Hickman pointed out, Hudson's article was, if accessed from the BBC news front page, labelled as 'features, views and analysis," but once you reach the article it looks like a simple news story.
Another Guardian blog post, by climate scientist and oceanographer Stefan Rahmstorf, was extremely critical of Hudson's article, describing it as "more political spin than news reporting." He believes that Hudson should have described his sources' credentials more accurately and believes that the reporter 'cherry-picked' the data he cited.
The piece has also been met with praise, however, for voicing opinions which often have little attention in the mainstream media. Over in California, the San Francisco Chronicle's Debra J Saunders described the BBC piece as a "cataclysmic event" because "mainstream news organizations have begun reporting on scientific research that suggests that global warming may not be caused by man and may not be as dire and imminent as alarmists suggest." She argues that this will force "global warming alarmists" to change tactics. The Telegraph reported that the BBC's decision to "give prominence" to such views has been welcomed by climate change sceptics.
Climate change is a particularly sensitive issue on which to report, and one that is crucial because much of the public knowledge needed to cause political change comes from the media, emphasised panellists at a conference hosted by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in February. The issue of balance is particularly pertinent, and a great deal of expertise is required to accurately report on it. Katherine Richardson, who chaired an International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in March, believes that journalists should not be entrusted with informing the public about climate change; rather, communication should come from directly within the scientific community.
The BBC told Hickman that Hudson's article had been repackaged as a news story because it "touched on an important point that views about climate change are hotly contested." And this is a good point: it would not be admirable to hide the fact that these ideas are out there, and publishing an opinion piece which discusses them makes sense. But the fact that the BBC did not clearly label the story as such undoubtedly opens it up to criticism that it is giving undue to support to minority scientific viewpoints.