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Television: Sorry, only joking

15 March 2007

by Gillean Craig

MOST people like to feel that they’re part of the majority, sharing in the current consensus and enjoying the warm glow of knowing that society is on their side. Others like the opposite, relishing the astringent sense of standing alone, and turning their face from the unexamined suppositions of the mob — either prepared to put up with the isolation of being a lone voice, or, in a few cases, positively revelling in it.

Last week’s TV brought us two examples of the situation we inhabit daily — that of swimming against the popular tide.

The Great Global Warming Swindle (C4, Thursday of last week) was a splendid polemic against the newly established consensus that humankind is responsible for raising the atmosphere’s temperature to catastrophic levels. Good old Channel 4: documentary after documentary trying to force President Bush to see the light, and, when he finally falls into line, turning round to say that, really, they were only joking.

The scientists fully agree that global warming is taking place at a terrifying rate. What they dispute is that human activity has anything whatsoever to do with it. We know that there have been violent fluctuations in temperature throughout the earth’s history, long before mankind existed. But the climate-theory models on which the global-warming thesis is based don’t fit the data. High temperatures result in the release of more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, not the other way round, it was argued.

The culprit is the sun itself, its cycle of sunspots being the only thing powerful enough to cause such large fluctuations. Compared with this, all our factories, power stations, and planes are insignificant pinpricks.

According to the programme, the campaign to reduce carbon emissions is a new outlet for the revolutionary fervour of left-wingers: it’s fundamentally anti-capitalist, anti-economic-growth, and anti-USA. Demanding that the developing world be condemned to life without electricity is at best absurd, and at worst obscene.

Martin Durkin thoroughly enjoyed himself putting together this hectic denunciation, apparently untroubled by any thought that hearing a contrary voice might help his audience to consider his arguments seriously. It felt like a field day for the awkward squad, a justification for selfish laissez-faire, and therefore (especially in Lent) not to be entertained.

On the other hand, The Insider (C4, last Friday) was a far more rounded piece, despite its even more counter-cultural theme. Britain’s provision for children in care is a catastrophic failure, and we must urgently reintroduce the large-scale children’s homes that we have spent the past 30 years closing down.

Phil Frampton grew up in a Barnardo’s Home. He is convinced that it gave him the stability for a good start in life. Today’s theory that only a family home is good enough is fatally undermined by the reality: 16,000 children are waiting for long-term fostering; fostered children are more likely to go to prison than to university.

Mr Frampton discussed his conviction with those who disagreed completely with him. It was a model of how to present an unpopular argument — and all the more convincing.

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