Discovery Channel backs down; will show global-warming episode after all

About two weeks ago I noted that the American Discovery Channel had purchased six of the seven segments of David Attenborough’s wonderful BBC One documentary, “Frozen Planet.” Tellingly, the unbought episode dealt with anthropogenic global warming and its devastating effect on polar life.  When I and other readers complained about this, the Discovery Channel dissimulated, saying that “the stories, messages and essence of all of the BBC’s seven episodes will be represented throughout the truly landmark series.”

Well, we weren’t the only ones to complain.  According to various sources, including Britain’s Telegraph and the American site MediaMatters, Discovery has backed down and will show the last episode after all.  Undoubtedly viewer complaints are the reason, particularly a petition by that garnered nearly 84,000 signatures.  But our little bit may have helped, too.

A lot of people are going to watch this show, which airs in the U.S. in March. I only hope that the Telegraph’s assessment of this episode proves correct:

The airing of the final episode of Frozen Planet will have a huge impact on the ongoing debate about global warming.

Attenborough, after all, is seen as a reliable, trustworthy, and avuncular figure, not a tree-hugging firebrand. His opinion on this may do for global warming what Walter Cronkite’s opposition to the Vietnam war did to American feelings about our futile involvement in that conflict.

Discovery still seems to be spin-doctoring a bit, though.  MediaMatters reports:

Discovery had previously said they would make sure to include some discussion of climate change in the other episodes, which trace the exceptional seasonal cycle in the Arctic and Antarctica. But Dr. Mark Brandon, who served as an academic consultant on the series, said that  it’s important to put climate change information in a separate installment to make clear “the difference between the largest seasonal change on the planet and the observations of longer term change.”

Expect a cautious treatment of climate change in the episode. In a May hearing of the House of Lords, Attenborough — previously a skeptic of manmade climate change — said of Frozen Planet:

“I don’t believe it’s controversial, the only controversial element in climate change is to what degree it’s anthropocentric, what degree humans have been responsible, but the facts of climate change are scientifically established facts and I don’t think we go beyond that.”

Dr. Brandon has also indicated that the episode will not focus on the human influence on climate:

“If you were to imagine an episode where people just talked about, you know, humans are doing this, humans are doing that, that wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the story. What would make perfect sense if you’re telling the story of the polar regions is to talk about how they’re changing in the context of the animals and the environments that you’ve shown through the previous six hours of episodes.”

Brandon’s last sentence is pure weaselling. He sounds not like a scientist, but a politician—his incoherence resembles that of Sarah Palin. (Brandon is a lecturer in environmental science at the Open University.)

The “controversial” last episode, “On thin ice,” will air in the UK at 9 pm on BBC One today (and will be repeated on Sunday), so you Brits be sure to see it and report back.

h/t: Nick, Grania


  1. Posted December 7, 2011 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    “If you were to imagine an episode where people just talked about, you know, humans are doing this, humans are doing that, that wouldn’t fit in with the rest of the story.”

    Really? Episode 6, the one before the episode being discussed, was all about *humans* who live in artic regions.

    • sasqwatch
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 10:10 am | Permalink

      …and not about those arctic humans actually, you know, causing the warming. Your point?

      I’ve seen all episodes, incl. #7. They didn’t overstep any scientific boundaries, IMHO. I saw nothing about the extent to which warming was human-caused, merely that there’s a hell of a lot of warming going on based on military and other ground observations. That’s what I noticed, anyway.

      • Posted December 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

        Your point?

        My point was that, since episode 6 was all about humans in the arctic, having episode 7 about the influence of human activity would not be out of line with the previous episodes, in contrast to the claim by Dr. Brandon that I quoted.

  2. Dominic
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    That is good that the US will see it – but will perhaps be preaching to the converted.
    One thing – when Sir David says ‘anthropocentric’, whereas one normally sees the term ‘anthropogenic’. I know he considers population to be the BIG problem – but that is an area of much dispute over the demographics, and of course if there were not so many of us consuming so much it would not be the headache for the future it now is.
    Another climate change story in the news – Alpine glacier retreat –

    • daveau
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      “…but will perhaps be preaching to the converted.”

      Yeah, probably. Unless it’s on between Ancient Aliens and ‘Merican Bungholes.

      • sasqwatch
        Posted December 7, 2011 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        It’s “Merkin Bungholes”. And don’t knock it; I kind-of like that show.

        • Dominic
          Posted December 7, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

          I can see I am missing a real treasure!

          • daveau
            Posted December 9, 2011 at 4:49 am | Permalink

            ‘Cause you’re not a Merkin…

  3. Posted December 7, 2011 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    Hah! I had mention at the time that the so-called “dissimulating” sounded more to me like they were thinking about changing their mind, but didn’t want to commit to anything yet.

  4. Launcher
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Not a Brit, but will watch it tonight on BBC TV, as I am lucky enough to be living in England for the last several months.

    Incredibly, the website tv-l* already has all seven episodes listed for viewing. Whatever you do, don’t follow any of the links (and to make this harder I left out a letter). But I have to admit, this type of research tool can be convenient for an American abroad dependent on certain TV shows and the ease of Netflix streaming.

  5. TJR
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    Why can’t cinemas show this, which would really benefit from a huge screen, instead of all the tat they usually show?

  6. Posted December 7, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    “not a tree-hugging firebrand” which is probably a good thing, as that would be a very short career.

  7. Wayne Robinson
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

    I’ve seen all the episodes. I thought the one on global warming ‘On Thin Ice’ was entirely noncontroversial with the ‘A’ in ‘AGW’ entirely missing.

    The added information that David Attenborough is a relative AGW skeptic is explanatory (if he is, his position is defensible; no scientist claims that greenhouse gases are the ONLY factor influencing climate).

    David Attenborough wrote a very good leader for New Statesman on April 27, 2011 on overpopulation. Going from 7 billion to at least 9 billion in 2050 is going to make resource depletion and global warming much worse, particularly since the poorer countries naturally also want to improve their living conditions.

    The series of course was very good. I’m currently watching his earlier one ‘Life’.

  8. Fragmeister
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Permalink

    Watching it now and as far as I can see it is entirely evidence based, illustrating the fact that ice is disappearing regardless of the cause. I think some people are rather afraid of facts, preferring to believe comfortable little myths. Now where have I heard that before?

  9. Dominic
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Great programme but – BUT – it is just showing what warming is doing to the ice, not about global warming or its causes. Why Discovery might not have wanted to show it I really cannot comprehend.

    • Dominic
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

      Sadly the Canadian frozen river guy Red McBryan – “a wonderful man and river expert” has died since the programme was made I read on Twitter.

  10. nick bobick
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    Well, we stupid, easily led people in the US won’t have to be exposed to whatever subtle propaganda that the producers put in the Attenborough voiced version.

    In the same way Discovery replaced him and his invidious subliminal messages with Oprah for the BBC program Life, apparently Alex Baldwin will voice the US version of Frozen Planet.

    Too bad we are too stoopid to understand an educated British accent.

    • SLC
      Posted December 7, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      All the more reason to download the files for the 7 episodes and watch them on one’s computer.

      • Dominic
        Posted December 8, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink

        Copyright law…

        • SLC
          Posted December 8, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

          That’s a problem for the file sharing services on which these files have been posted. Some of them are more vigorous then others in deleting such files.

    • Dominic
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 2:38 am | Permalink

      I think you mean Alec Balwin – there is an Alec Baldwin but better not look him up!

      • Dominic
        Posted December 8, 2011 at 2:39 am | Permalink

        ALEX Baldwin! Curses! 😉

        • Dominic
          Posted December 8, 2011 at 3:09 am | Permalink

          Just realized, his little brother Kevin is a Born Again… hmmmm….

  11. SLC
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    I downloaded all seven episodes (which are in HD) and will watch them on my computer as my old television doesn’t support HD.

  12. raven
    Posted December 7, 2011 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    “The airing of the final episode of Frozen Planet will have a huge impact on the ong’oing debate about global warming.”

    Naw. Won’t make any difference. Global warming denial isn’t a scientific belief so science isn’t going to matter.

    I don’t spend much time worrying about global warming. It’s too late to do anything. We aren’t going to do anything but talk anyway. It’s questionable whether we even could do something.

    It doesn’t matter what people believe. Global warming is happening and will happen. The climate scientists know all this. The new buzzword is “adapt”.

    • Dominic
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 2:43 am | Permalink

      There is truth in what you say, however it has been shown that as with positive attitudes making people say ‘something will turn up’, equally negative attitudes mean people do not bother to do things that MIGHT make a difference. We should not stop doing the right thing just because everyone else does not do it.

      Try and be positive in some way.

    • David Evans
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 5:04 am | Permalink

      “Global warming denial isn’t a scientific belief so science isn’t going to matter.”

      It won’t matter to those who are bought and paid for by the relevant industries. It will (hopefully) matter to some of those who would otherwise be convinced by them. Sometimes it doesn’t take many people to swing an election.

      I thought I knew the facts about global warming, but I still found the images in the 7th program, of icebergs calving and glaciers in retreat, stunning.

    • Notagod
      Posted December 8, 2011 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      “Adapt” is a real nice word for the future generations of children that the christians supposedly “love”. Adapt is actually a losers game the new concept needs to be sustainable over many generations.

  13. Gerdien
    Posted December 8, 2011 at 6:04 am | Permalink

    The 7th episode is entirely non-controversial and fairly weak stuff.

  14. Kieran
    Posted December 8, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Permalink

    It focuses on how retreating sea ice will affect the animals like the polar bear and how some other species will take advantage of the open water. Then it goes on the big one warming oceans leading to the collapse of ice shelves in the antartic, releasing the Kraken as it were for ocean sea rise, as these ice shelves pen in the antartic glaciers when thye go the glacier do what glacier do which is move towards the sea and start calving icebergs. It wasn’t a polemic of doom but it made good points.

    Shame to hear about Red but that section freezeframe is unlikely to be shown as the BBC add stuff to bring it up the hour on their advert free channel while this material generally gets cut for commercial channels.

  15. Joe
    Posted December 8, 2011 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    I have to say that it did a fairly good job of explaining the changes happening to the poles and even bought up examples of species benefiting positively from the changes. It even mentioned that there are still uncertainties in what effect these changes will have on the planet. It was actually fair and balanced on climate change unlike the dreadful schlock that substitutes for climate change coverage on Fox News. Overall, typical informative Attenborough goodness.

    And yet, to the black and white mindset of your typical AGW denier the mere mention of some of the negative effects bought upon the poles will be enough to dismiss the programme as “alarmist”. But hopefully this might get some of the undecided off the fence.

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