That’s enough eco-propaganda, Sir David

It’s that high, cranky, and creaky voice again. It is the most fabulous footage of wildlife captured by intrepid photographers on very cold ships. We see emperor penguins waddling, sliding on their bellies, tobogganing and mountaineering through the Antarctic snow. A juvenile male hooded seal, on a spring mating journey, bids farewell to an older and larger rival. He then tries to raise a female – first with an inflatable black nose, then with an inflatable, balloon-like red sac in the left nostril.

In short, it is the first program in a new series from Sir David Attenborough – living saint, naturalist, broadcaster, former BBC Two controller, Malthusian pessimist and all-round maestro of climate panic. Frozen Planet II, available on iPlayer, continues his first series of excursions into polar animals with new coverage of species living on the remaining frozen surfaces of the Earth. Altogether, he reminds us, ice and snow cover a fifth of our planet.

We move from the largest ice sheet, Antarctica (twice the size of Australia), through the snow-capped peaks of the 5,500-mile-long Andes to Mount Kenya. We take a break in the Great Steppe, where the notoriously grumpy, thick-furred, short-legged Pallas cat must pounce on five rodents a day to stay alive. But how many times does Sir David have to pontificate that stuffed animals will not survive climate change thanks to the horrific actions of this horrific race, humanity?

Very often, it seems. In 2015, Attenborough spoke to CNN about his conversion from climate skeptic to true believer, stating that that year’s COP21 climate conference would be “almost the last chance” to reverse climate change. Since then, our David has never missed an opportunity to denounce humanity as “overrunning the world” (2020) and “intruder” on nature (2021).

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Perhaps because he’s 96, Attenborough is very sensitive to the passage of time. “Time is running out,” he proclaimed in 2018. Earlier this year, he upped the ante by telling the UN Security Council, “No matter what we do now, it’s too late to stop climate change.”

Almost 40 minutes into his new streak, he’s back at it. Arctic Greenland is more than 1,600 miles long and features a single sheet of ice – the largest in the Northern Hemisphere – and a mile thick. There, Attenborough reports that climate change is increasing the amount of meltwater draining into the ice sheet, triggering “a whole chain of events.” The meltwater accelerates the ice sheet’s slide downhill, eventually reaching the ocean where it breaks up into icebergs, some taller than the Empire State Building. According to Attenborough, Greenland is losing ice six times faster than it was 30 years ago and is alone responsible for a quarter of global sea level rise. And such changes in the Arctic, he claims, would have affected its highly specialized wildlife, including… polar bears.

But the facts do not support Attenborough’s fateful speculation. As the Daily skeptic points out that summer sea ice in the Arctic “bottomed out in 2012 and has been steadily recovering since then.” In the US, the National Snow and Ice Data Center records that Arctic sea ice lost 1.7 million square kilometers (656,000 square miles) in the month of August and over the 43 years between 1979 and 2022 — but that its extent is now “likely to remain higher than in recent years”. Also according to Copernicus, the Earth observation program of the European Union, the daily extent of the Arctic sea ice reached “short-term record minimum values” at the end of June and beginning of July 2021; but throughout the summer and fall, Arctic sea ice extent remained “well above the very low levels seen in 2012 and 2020.” And in September, at its annual minimum in September 2021, monthly average sea ice extent was just 8 percent below average, the highest minimum since 2014.

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So there Has There has been a noticeable loss of Arctic sea ice over the past 43 years, but the jury is still out on that future this vastness. What does this rather nuanced picture mean for Arctic wildlife?

In 2020, Attenborough claimed that polar bears could become extinct in the 2030s, when they did Daily skeptic rightly states, “It is now generally accepted that polar bears are thriving and increasing in number”. Undaunted, Attenborough notes that Arctic sea ice is so thin in midsummer that polar bears stalk their prey — a bearded seal in the footage — out of the water, in a technique known as aquatic stalking. Somehow (we’re not told how), the low cover now offered by thinning ice forces polar bears to attack a more aggressive and dangerous target: the hooded seal.

As early as the summer of 2035, our sage continues, the Arctic Sea could be ice-free, making it harder for polar bear mothers to feed themselves, let alone their cubs. To the stirring strains of fiddles, Attenborough concludes: The animals that inhabit our frozen lands and seas “need one thing more than anything else – and that is for the planet to stop warming… It’s up to us now to make that happen .”

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The words tug at the heartstrings, and that’s the point. In one moment, Attenborough switches from beautiful animals to politics. No diagrams, no mediated scientific explanations: just emphatic propaganda. And it’s the same story with the second program in Attenborough’s new series: polar bears now have to travel 400 miles to eat seals, melting means orca are killing more bowheads than ever, walruses “face a precarious future”, and it is also uncertain whether polar bears will “survive the next century”.

This type of gambit is not only vague and sparing with the truth. The omission suggests that we humans cannot ship food or conduct any rescue operations to save species that may – or may not – face deteriorating Arctic conditions in the coming decades. It implies that we can only prevent extinction by limiting our consumption. This is a typical message of emotional blackmail that the Greens love.

As early as 1945, George Orwell despised the Attenborough approach. Reviewing a short story by the overrated leftist author Jack London in 1907, Orwell attacked what he called “the Anglo-Saxon sentimentality towards animals,” adding that because of the influence of social Darwinism in the London era, “there seems to be good reason to the assumption that an exaggerated love of animals in general goes hand in hand with a rather brutal attitude towards people.

So don’t be fooled. Attenborough thrives on feeling guilty about allegedly murdering our furry friends through our selfish behavior. This is not “the science”. It’s manipulative speculation.

James Woudhuysen is Visiting Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at London South Bank University.

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