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David Attenborough: Frozen Planet was not alarmist about climate change

Monisha Rajesh, guardian reporter

3rd January, 2012

Attenborough hits back at claims made by former chancellor Nigel Lawson that BBC natural history series lacked objectivity

Sir David Attenborough has hit back at claims made by the former chancellor Nigel Lawson that his recent natural history series Frozen Planet promoted climate change "alarmism" and lacked objectivity.

Ahead of the final BBC episode in early December, Attenborough wrote a personal plea in the Radio Times warning of the impending dangers of global warming, in which he pointed to scientific evidence that the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet.

The article prompted criticism from Lawson who is a prominent climate sceptic. He wrote in the same issue that 'when it comes to global warming [Attenborough] seems to prefer sensation to objectivity' and that 'Sir David's alarmism is sheer speculation'.

Speaking to the Guardian, Attenborough strongly refuted the suggestion that he lacked objectivity: 'I am very, very cautious about making sensationalist claims about how disastrous continuing change will be. The most extreme and sensationalist claim I make, or statement that I make, is that a rising sea level that keeps rising – and it looks as though it could well do – will flood some of the greatest cities in the world, including London. It is an accurate statement and not an exaggerated one.'

The series, which ran from late October to early December 2011 – and earned consolidated viewing figures of 11 million – included a final episode, On Thin Ice, in which the presenter highlighted the impact of global warming on the polar regions – a task he says he finds far from enjoyable.

'I wish that I didn't have to educate people on climate change,' said Attenborough. 'I would much rather make films which are simply unadulterated pleasure in the natural world. But if you are aware of what's happening to the natural world then you have to have some sense of responsibility. People should be aware of the danger that it is in. It's not the sort of programme that I particularly want to make for enjoyment's sake. It's the kind of programme that I have to make, otherwise it would be irresponsible.'

There was also speculation that the episode would be dropped when aired in America, due its focus on global warming. However, the Discovery Channel has confirmed it will air the entire series in the US in March 2012.

When questioned on the likelihood that American audiences would not want to see the final episode, Attenborough said: 'I don't know how solid a decision that was, but I do know that when I was an administrator and we used to buy from overseas, we decided how much of it we wanted to show. Of course if you make the programme, then you're jolly sorry that they aren't going to use it.'

He adds. 'It was tempting to say that it was reactionary North American people who don't believe in climate change, but I think that was probably quite unjustified. I would have regretted it had it happened, but in the end of course it didn't.'

The seven-part series had already attracted controversy over the use of footage of a polar bear giving birth which was filmed in a Dutch zoo rather than the Arctic – something that had been explained on the Frozen Planet website weeks before the programme was aired.

Mark Thompson, director general of the BBC, defended the corporation's actions to the Culture, Media and Sport select committee: 'Some years ago we asked the public the specific question of whether – this was audience research done three or four years ago – they would prefer it if there were on-air mentions, either captions or labels, and the overwhelming response from the public was that they did not want us to do that. They were quite happy with the idea of us simply explaining where we can after the programme.'

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network

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