TV review: Climate Change: The facts, Happy Birthday Open University, and Chimerica

03 May 2019

BBC/Ross Kirby

The 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, in Climate Change: The facts (BBC 1)

The 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, in Climate Change: The facts (BBC 1)

THERE was no space last week for Maundy Thursday’s most important — and although entirely secular in intention, for those of us living through the Way of the Cross, most seasonally significant — programme: Climate Change: The facts (BBC1). Here was Sir David Attenborough with the gloves off.

He showed snapshots of the growing extremes of climate, the apocalyptic droughts, fires, and floods that fill the news, and spelled out their catastrophic effect on the world’s flora and fauna (which includes, of course, us).

He called expert after expert, wearily reiterating what they’ve been saying for the past 30 years. There is now no serious doubt; this scenario is not simply because where we are in the earth’s natural cycle: it is caused by humankind’s burning of fossil fuels. Rising temperature is leading to a growing list of extinctions, and this growth is exponential.

We understand more and more about the delicate interdependence of all life. We are killing our own mother, and our children. The poor of the Global South will, of course, suffer — they have been doing so for years — long before our defended, comfortable, developed world is affected. But, sooner or later, our own way of life will be critically changed.

The most depressing fact is that, until the recent ascendency of populist demagogues, national governments broadly accepted the analysis of the problem, but have woefully lacked the political will to implement the radical changes that are necessary to reverse the destruction.

All is not entirely hopeless: we saw how we can all contribute to the changes necessary; but I worry that even this film was too reasonable, too sensible. Climate-change deniers, like all extremists, latch on to every minor caution and caveat that honest, decent people express: see, they shout, the case isn’t proven; so we’ll carry on burning coal and oil and make our lives as comfortable and profitable as possible. The problem is that reasonable people are far too, well, reasonable. It’s just like the Church of England.

A national outbreak of reason of which we may all feel, reasonably, proud, was celebrated in Happy Birthday OU: 50 years of the Open University (BBC4, Thursday of last week). Sir Lenny Henry (BA, MA, Ph.D.) narrated an affectionate and personally grateful account of the gestation and growth of the institution — Harold Wilson’s greatest legacy. It has had more than two million students, and in many cases radically expanded and transformed lives that were originally blighted by narrow educational opportunities and horizons.

In Channel 4’s new crime drama series Chimerica (Wednesdays), a photojournalist from the United States, sacked for fakery, seeks redemption by returning to his most famous photo: the student facing down the tanks in Tiananmen Square. Can he track down the man today? But this quest brings disappearance, arrest, perhaps death to the Chinese friends who seek to help. Is this terrible price worth paying, even for truth?

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