BBC’s Roger Harrabin struggles with fire and water

The BBC Trust should, as a matter of urgency, investigate not just the BBC’s editorial line on environmental and climate change matters, but the reporting by its environment analyst Roger Harrabin.  His output over recent weeks has exposed more clearly than ever before that he is incapable of reporting impartially.  This was most clearly evidenced in 2008 when Harrabin altered accurate information in a news report to play down news that was considered to do a disservice to the aims of climate change campaigners.

If the clear absence of balance in his reporting was not bad enough, his biased content consistently avoids the inclusion of information that puts into context any arguments that run contrary to those of environmental activists and advocates of dangerous anthropogenic global warming.  Harrabin’s latest online column is yet another classic example of this.

Harrabin postulates on the inclusion of a passage in the IPCC 2007 AR4 about the effect on the Amazon rain forest of just a small reduction in rainfall.  The passage in the IPCC report solely referenced a paper written by a WWF group that was not peer reviewed.  As such it should not have been included at all.  But Harrabin plays that down dramatically and suggests the issue is really about the IPCC choosing to reference the WWF in its report rather than the basic science itself.

But what of the basic science?  Harrabin goes on to quote Dr Simon Lewis from Leeds University in this important passage:

Dr Simon Lewis from Leeds University, who co-authored a paper on the Amazon in the journal Science, says the forest is surprisingly sensitive to drought.

He told me: “The IPCC statement is basically correct but poorly written, and bizarrely referenced.

“It is very well known that in Amazonia, tropical forests exist when there is more than about 1.5 metres of rain a year, below that the system tends to ‘flip’ to savannah.

“Indeed, some leading models of future climate change impacts show a die-off of more than 40% Amazon forests, due to projected decreases in rainfall.

“The most extreme die-back model predicted that a new type of drought should begin to impact Amazonia, and in 2005 it happened for the first time: a drought associated with Atlantic, not Pacific sea surface temperatures.

“The effect on the forest was massive tree mortality, and the remaining Amazon forests changed from absorbing nearly two billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere a year, to being a massive source of over three billion tonnes.”

So, it appears that, unlike in the case of “Glaciergate”, the IPCC’s science may be right but its referencing wrong.

But Harrabin’s problem here is at the heart of his column’s convenient failing.  The fact is the paper in the IPCC report actually came from a study published in Nature magazine that wasn’t looking at rainfall at all, rather its focus was the impact on the Amazon rainforest of human activity such as logging and burning.  When you read an article in today’s Sunday Times by Jonathan Leake, one wonders if Harrabin was speaking to the same Simon Lewis.  This passage demonstrates why:

Simon Lewis, a Royal Society research fellow at Leeds University who specialises in tropical forest ecology, described the section of Rowell and Moore’s report predicting the potential destruction of large swathes of rainforest as “a mess”.

“The Nature paper is about the interactions of logging damage, fire and periodic droughts, all extremely important in understanding the vulnerability of Amazon forest to drought, but is not related to the vulnerability of these forests to reductions in rainfall,” he said.

“In my opinion the Rowell and Moore report should not have been cited; it contains no primary research data.”

This is very different from Harrabin’s line and certainly does not suggest that the IPCC statement is basically correct but poorly written.  In fact Harrabin’s column is noteworthy for the absence of the word ‘logging’ and ‘fire’ only appears as part of a direct quotation from the IPCC report.  It’s raining spin from the desk of our Roger.

How could this be?  Just how could a BBC environment analyst come up with an article so completely different in tone and thrust to the Sunday Times, and which just so happens to play down the failings, inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the WWF and IPCC?  It is telling that Harrabin fails to name the WWF’s controversial 2000 report from which all this speculation about reduced rainfall appears to come.  Perhaps this is because it was titled ‘A Global Review of Forest Fires’.

There is an oft used expression these days which suits Harrabin and his biased, agenda driven form of journalism quite nicely…  Not fit for purpose.  It is time the BBC put an impartial journalist in the role who is not working to a personal agenda and who will report fairly and objectively.  The BBC Trust needs to act now.

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5 Responses to “BBC’s Roger Harrabin struggles with fire and water”


  1. 1 JohnRS 31/01/2010 at 2:12 pm

    As we all know the BBC Trust has already decided what the science says. They know (despite not having a scientist amongst them) that Global Warming is a fact and that no airtime needs to be given to any other position on the way the Earth’s climate is behaving.

    Haribo is just one of the puppets they use to push their propaganda. He is no more qualified than the BBC Trust to decide on the science, but he does know what the editorial position is. That, for him, seems to be paramount. No matter what the rest of the MSM say, print or publish or what the internet community reveals is going on, he will maintain the BBC position. If that means ignoring a few Inconvenient Truths along the way, then so be it.

    In the BBC it’s not just him. On this subject they are all unfit for purpose from the BBC Trust downwards.

  2. 2 Andrew 01/02/2010 at 7:24 am

    This is very interesting.

    I woke up to BBC Radio 4 this morning and heard Roger Harrabin’s defence of the IPCC and was dismayed at the bias he presented in his argument and his failure to see the magnitude of Rajendra Pachauri’s behaviour regarding the glacier data “mistake”. So much so that I thought to write a response to the BBC about it; but it looks like this is true to Mr Harrabin’s form.

    What disheartens me is that people who source their information solely from radio experts are never truly informed.

  3. 3 Simon Lewis 07/03/2010 at 9:35 pm

    The reality is that Roger Harrabin’s article is correct in terms of the science, and faithfully relayed what I told him. The Sunday Times was sent the same email as I sent to the BBC, stating that the science is correct, but there is a referencing error by the IPCC. The Sunday Times have been exceptionally disengenious in their reporting. Harrabin’s article is the reliable one.

    Simon Lewis, University of Leeds.

  4. 4 Richard North 08/03/2010 at 12:37 am

    Neither 40 percent nor slight reduction in precipitation …

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/mar/11/rainforests-climate-change

    In separate research, Simon Lewis of Leeds University showed in a study of emissions from the Amazon during the drought year of 2005 that the world’s biggest tropical forest turned from absorbing 0.5 Gt of carbon from the atmosphere to a being a source of 0.9 Gt, a massive shift of 1.4 Gt of carbon, about 1% of its embodied carbon content. “The Amazon was transformed from a carbon sink into a major carbon source”, Lewis said. “This was partly a result of depressed growth, but more importantly of a mortality increase. The forest may bounce back if this drought was a one-off event, but the worry is if these droughts occur more frequently or are more severe.”


  1. 1 Its war ! « TWAWKI Trackback on 01/02/2010 at 6:04 am
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