Discovery Channel Will Air Climate Change Episode Of Frozen Planet

Discovery logoLast month I lamented the Discovery Channel's reported plans to cut the groundbreaking seven-part BBC Frozen Planet series to six episodes for scheduling reasons, omitting the series finale in which British naturalist Sir David Attenborough “journeys to both polar regions to investigate what rising temperatures will mean for the people and wildlife that live there and for the rest of the planet.” The episode airs in the UK tomorrow night.

The notion that a series exploring the Arctic, which is considered ground zero for global warming, would exclude the episode incited widespread questions and concern, and today AP reports that Discovery has decided to air the series in full. It will premiere in the U.S. on March 18 with the first six episodes narrated by Alec Baldwin.

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.

Meanwhile, a study published this week in Nature Geoscience adds to previous research indicating that most of the recent warming trend is due to human activity. Using a new modeling method to examine changes in the Earths' energy balance, the authors concluded that “it is extremely likely [>95 percent confidence] that at least 74 percent of the observed warming since 1950 was caused by anthropogenic radiative forcings.” They also found that “most of the effect of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions has been masked by aerosols, without which we would have seen even greater warming,” as reported by Ars Technica.