If you were the head of French state television and your leading weatherman started preaching climate skepticism in the run-up to the UN climate conference in Paris, you would probably sack him too.
Philippe Verdier, "Monsieur Météo" (Mr Weather) at France 2, published a book titled Climat Investigation last month, in which he pooh-poohed global warming and questioned the probity of the 830 scientists who comprise the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change.
The panel says if nothing is done to reduce carbon emissions, the world’s temperature could rise by up to 4.8 degrees by the end of this century. It is 95 per cent certain that most of the global warming since 1950 has been caused by man-made greenhouse emissions.
Verdier used his position as Monsieur Météo to promote his book. “Every night I address five million French people to talk to you about the wind, the clouds and the sun,” he said in a promotional video. “Yet there is something important, very important, that I haven’t been able to tell you… We are hostage to a planetary scandal over climate change. A war machine intended to keep us in fear.”
At the root of this conspiracy, Verdier claimed, "are scientists who are manipulated, politicised, conflicts of interest, corruption, sex scandals, politicians who think only of their image and their thirst for power, blind media who get carried away and censor under the pressure of shareholders and advertisers, contradictory financial interests, mercantile NGOs and religions in search of new beliefs". In his book, Verdier vaunted the "merits" of climate change – the attraction to tourists, lower heating costs in winter, better wine and champagne. No one denounced him as a nut case. He told Les Inrockuptibles magazine he decided to write his book when foreign minister Laurent Fabius, who will preside the COP21 climate change conference in December, urged weathermen to report on "climate chaos".
Fabius appeared on a magazine cover as a weatherman with the title “500 days to save the planet”. “If a minister decides he is Mr Weatherman, then Mr Weatherman can also express himself on the subject in a lucid manner,” Verdier said.
Asked about Verdier, Fabius said, “If one is a serious scientist, there is no debate… Of course, in history there have been famous precedents of minorities who were right. But one mustn’t invert reason and say that just because they are a tiny minority, they are scientifically right.”
On November 1st, Verdier posted a video in which, dressed in black, he read his dismissal notice in silence. Delphine Ernotte, chief executive of France Télévisions, told Paris Match that her employees "must distinguish between personal opinions and what may be attributed to the company. He confused these, and that's a problem for me."
Daniel Schneidermann, an editorial writer for Libération newspaper, warned of the "Streisand effect" whereby attempted censorship merely amplifies the internet audience. "Firing [Verdier] will make the presenter an instant martyr of climate skepticism," he predicted.
“I didn’t know there was an editorial line to weather reporting,” said Éric Vial, a delegate with Force Ouvrière labour union, which supports Verdier. A “Collective of Climate Realists” has posted 17,000 signatures on an internet petition demanding that Verdier be reinstated.
In other "climate chaos", socialist politicians have clashed, yet again, over air pollution in Paris. In the face of predicted peak levels of pollution on Monday and Tuesday, Anne Hidalgo, the socialist mayor of Paris, and Jean-Paul Huchon, the socialist president of the Île-de-France (Paris) region, demanded that environment minister Ségolène Royal activate a plan to limit traffic to cars with odd or even plate numbers on alternate days.
Royal, in Beijing with President François Hollande, said the plan would not be activated before Wednesday, and only if peak levels were reached. (They were not.) As accusations of incompetence and bureaucracy flew, it became clear no one is certain who holds ultimate responsibility for activating the anti-pollution plan.
In an earlier clash over anti-pollution measures last spring, Hidalgo said “the health of Parisians is non-negotiable”, while Royal said it was not reasonable to impose the hardship of odd/even car days on residents of the suburbs.