Critics say Discovery Channel’s ‘Frozen Planet’ sidesteps climate change issue
By Darryl Fears,
The Discovery Channel’s popular “Frozen Planet” series states that global warming is harming arctic habitats. But it doesn’t mention what the majority of the world’s scientists believe: Accelerated warming is caused by carbon pollution from humans.
On Tuesday, a group devoted to spreading the news on climate change complained about the network’s decision to omit that information. Calling it “dangerous self-censorship” that only satisfies climate deniers, Forecast the Facts delivered an online petition with what it said were 10,000 signatures to the network’s Silver Spring headquarters. The petition criticized Discovery’s “decision not to explain the science, and human causes, of global warming.” A security official accepted the petition, said Brad Johnson, campaign manager for Forecast the Facts.
Global warming and climate change are among the more divisive issues in American politics, prompting debates from Congress to the Internet to living rooms. Discovery sidestepped the issue in the six episodes of the series that ended on April 22 with “On Thin Ice,” which examined the effect of “rising temperatures” on “retreating glaciers.”
“Frozen Planet” executive producer Vanessa Berlowitz said the staff members and climate change scientists who worked on the series wanted to expose as many people as possible to “magnificent parts of the world” before they changed forever because of climate change.
“Our hope was that by bringing these dramatic images of change to large, global audiences, even those not willing to accept the scientific consensus that humans are responsible for the unprecedented rate of climate change could no longer ignore it,” said Berlowitz, a producer with the BBC, which produced the series with Discovery.
Critics remained unhappy that a direct connection wasn’t drawn in the series. “Hiding the truth to appease deniers is not acceptable,” Johnson said. “The idea that you need to hide the truth for political expediency or corporate profit is totally unacceptable.”
But Christopher Palmer, director of the Center for Environmental Filmmaking at American University and author of “Shooting in the Wild,” said critics are asking too much of a commercial operation such as Discovery.
“In an ideal world, ‘On Thin Ice’ would have included an explanation of the way humans are burning too much oil and coal and endangering the planet, but that’s like hoping all our politicians will act on behalf of the good of the country instead of their own self-interest,” Palmer said.
Palmer said he was worried that Discovery would not air “On Thin Ice” at all for fear it would attract low ratings. “There is a limit to what a ratings-driven commercial media company operating in an intensely competitive environment can do,” he said.
Staff writer Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.