My Opinion Politics

Demon Coal – an open letter to CBC Ideas

I am a frequent listener to Ideas and I love the show for its factual base, non-biased approach and excellent coverage of issues. Therefore I was perplexed when I listened to the two part series Demon Coal. Whereas it purports to tell the story of coal, what it actually does is make a valiant effort to debunk all current climate science and make it sound like the consensus in climate science is now moving away from modeling and man made climate change towards what the far right has been touting for years: adaptation.

Here’s the thing: I don’t have a problem with the story being told from both sides. In fact, the story being told was an excellent one and a fair and balanced presentation of one side of the coin. The problem was that, in complete disregard of journalistic practice and integrity, only one side of the coin was presented. Not a single voice from the much larger other side was introduced and the two hours were dedicated to touting a line that is not widely supported among climate scientists world wide.

When I started listening and heard the presentations from climate scientists from the Senate panel, I was wondering when the counter arguments were going to be presented. After all, what these experts were presenting was a strongly skewed opinion that in no way matches what thousands of climate scientists all over the world and their science are saying. When no such response appeared in episode one I expected episode two to be a response. No such thing. In fact, episode two was dedicated to not only trying to debunk both climate science in general but also the IPCC, but it put Bjørn Lomborg and the Copenhagen Consensus Centre on a pedestal as the future of climate science and politics. This is hugely alarming as Lomborg is funded in large part by oil, coal, and natural gas lobbies and has been labeled by some as a false prophet. Though Lomborg’s views should be presented, the counter arguments must also be presented to give listeners the ability to perform a critical analysis of their own.

Demon Coal was a great program, but it was a program that only presented one side of the story. And it did it in such a way that it made it sound like the other side was not worth covering. By doing this, the show, and Ideas as a whole, went from being a trusted resource to becoming a propaganda platform for extreme ideas. That is both sad and unacceptable. How this happened I have no idea. The fact that it did makes me question all of Ideas’ programming. How am I to know that the rest of the information being put out by this show is not just as biased?

The airing of Demon Coal demands either a response or a retraction. Such biased content should not be aired simply because it is one sided and in breach of journalistic ethics. I am disappointed and also concerned about what this says about the internal politics in the show.

I would love to hear a response about this episode, in particular the reasoning behind the decision to air something this heavily biased without at the very least some form of byline commentary about said bias.

By Morten Rand-Hendriksen

Morten Rand-Hendriksen is a Senior Staff Instructor at LinkedIn Learning (formerly specializing in AI, bleeding edge web technologies, and the intersection between technology and humanity. He also occasionally teaches at Emily Carr University of Art and Design. He is a popular conference and workshop speaker on all things tech ethics, AI, web technologies, and open source.

6 replies on “Demon Coal – an open letter to CBC Ideas”

Morten, unfortunately for every legitimate scientific study showing X, there is a counter study that can show “not X”. You can trace the funding for the second study to whatever industry is damaged by the first. This creates a split public opinion which is enough to delay or even prevent any significant change.

In reference to coal, it’s easy to look down on it but it’s not something we can easily replace. The USA still gets 50% of its energy from burning coal, which is highly polluting. There is no such thing as “clean coal”, just “cleaner coal”. However, what is the alternative? Hydro: not likely in the US and comes with it’s own environmental challenges. Nuclear: tough sell after the accident in Japan. Green: I don’t see any technology capable of replacing coal that can provide the same level of output. It can help, but putting up a million windmills and blanketing huge areas with solar panels isn’t the option either.

Right now, there is no replacement but I think nuclear is the way to go. There are new reactor designs which are much smaller and are self-limiting. These are much lower risk and can provide the necessary energy while producing a relatively small amount of waste. Granted, that waste is not something you can dispose of easily, but it seems the lesser of the evils.


My charge to this program is not one pro or con coal per se, but rather one of imbalanced reporting. Everything you say is accurate though I question the claim that no green options will be able to match the output of coal. That is likely more of a question of proper funding than anything else. The important issue with this particular show was that though it purported to provide a balanced presentation of the debate surrounding coal, it in fact presented a one sided debate on the topic of climate change and what can be done about it vilifying those that claim climate change is happening and is man made and glorifying those that say climate change is natural and we need to scrap our ideas of green technologies and instead focus on adapting to a changing world. This is not in any way the full story and it is not in any way the type of reporting the CBC should stand for.

I do understand the point of your post, and wholeheartedly agree with you. There needs to be objective reporting with arguments from both sides so people understand the issue. The CBC should be better than this.

I guess I just steered the conversation to coal as an energy source. I have worked in the coal industry for the last six years, so this is something I follow. I’m sure you can construct a solar array that would produce the same amount of energy as a coal fired plant, but how big would it need to be? Doesn’t a swath of solar arrays covering an area also have some king of environmental impact? What about a mountaintop covered by windmills? Funding wouldn’t change that.

It should be noted that recently the U.S. has suspended funding program to develop solar-powered energy. And it is not easy. Must first examine the effect of placing a large number of solar panels on climate change the planet, and then talk about their application. So it remains to use non-renewable sources of energy.

Morten, I’m not sure what the media in Canada (assuming so because you mention CBC) may have been reporting, but over the last 2 decades or so there has been nothing but a completely biased and imbalanced view of global warming theory. 99% of the coverage of so-called global warming has been reported with no counter arguments presented. I call that heavily biased as well.

I look at it this way. Where I am sitting right now there once was a mile of ice above my head and I don’t think coal or internal combustion engines caused it to melt. It is due to natural climatic cycles in my humble opinion. It is all in the geological record. Coal comes from vegetation in and around shallow warm seas and coal is plentiful both in Canada and the US. Since those were the conditions then, our climate today it is quite cool in comparison.

But what I really wanted to say is that I wish everyone would respond with the same skepticism and to question the validity of any and all such biased journalism such as you have expounded here. I am just sorry that any debate presenting the long-suppressed opposite view on this particular subject is regarded as far-right-wing extremism.

I agree both sides should be heard–both sides–and that all reporting should be unbiased. They would then allow the individual to make up their own mind. Unfortunately the media does not seem to want to encourage critical thinking because–and this phrase seems to be trite, but true– they have their own adgenda.


Thanks Sid. It seems we agree on the most fundamental point: Biased journalism from any angle is not good for anyone. My beef in this piece, as you rightly deduced, is not with the science one way or the other but how it was presented.

Journalists are often faced with a difficult issue here: When presenting a story where for example 1000 scientists say one thing and 5 scientist say something else, do you give each side equal weight or do you balance your coverage based on consensus numbers. It seems, at least in European media, that the outlets have chosen to balance based on the numbers. And seeing as the vast majority of scientists in all fields pertaining to climate change are on the side of man made effects, that side gets more coverage.

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