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Documentary Raises Curtain on Global Warming Acrimony

  • Penelope Poulou

Merchants of Doubt, Robert Kenner’s latest documentary, argues that global warming deniers aim to sow doubt and confusion about the science on global warming because they have a financial agenda.

The film contends that these so-called climate experts are paid by the fossil fuel industry to mask the truth that global warming is happening and is primarily cause by CO2 emissions. The film accuses global warming contrarians of using the same strategy that was originally used by the tobacco industry when it tried to quell concerns about the dangers and addictiveness of smoking.

Kenner claims that some of the same people the tobacco industry used to spread doubt about tobacco’s harmful effects are now working for the fossil fuel industry to debunk climate change.

Calling them “silver tongued pundits,” Kenner says their job is to simplify and manipulate arcane scientific data for public consumption. The documentary includes footage of some climate change skeptics admitting to distorting science facts and playing to the hopes and fears of the public.

One of them is Marc Morano, a TV commentator and founder of the website . Morano admits he is no scientist. He says most people don’t understand science and calls it boring. He believes that “communication is about sale. “

“Keep it simple, and people will fill in the blank with their own, I hate to say biases, but their own perspective in many cases,” he said.

Kenner says these so-called science experts are paid by big oil money to create confusion.

Merchants of Doubt effectively makes the case that global warming is happening, but it is less convincing as to whether all those who doubt the phenomenon are on the payroll of the fossil fuel industry. The film’s extreme view that every contrarian is trying to deceive the public may actually hurt, not help the scientific argument on global warming.

Patrick Michaels is the director of the Center for Study of Science at the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute and was the official climatologist for Virginia for a quarter of a century. He agrees that global warming is happening, but not as fast as some may think.

“Look at the temperature history of what we call the lower troposphere compared to what the UN’s computer models say it should have been,” he said. “And the disparity is growing and growing and growing. It’s not that it’s not getting warmer – it is – but it hasn’t done so for the last 15, 18, 19 years, depending upon what you look at. But the fact of the matter is it is not warming up like it was supposed to.”

But former congressman Bob Inglis, a conservative from South Carolina featured in the documentary, says its time to stop using climate change as a political football.

Once a climate change contrarian himself, he made a 180 degree turn when he went to Antarctica and saw the evidence of CO2 concentration in ice core drillings. Inglis believes the issue of global warming is a universal cause that has fallen prey to partisan politics.

“It’s really the fault of both sides,” he says. “The fault on the left is seeing the opportunity to have a wedge issue that they can use against conservatives. The fault on the right is basically just playing to the fear of the Great Recession. In the Great Recession we were afraid of losing our houses and jobs.”

Inglis says many conservatives see calls for action on climate change as an attack on a way of life.

“The reason that we need the science to be wrong is otherwise we realize we need to change,” he says. “That’s really a hard pill to swallow, that the whole way that I’ve created my whole life is wrong you’re saying? That I shouldn’t have this house in the suburbs, I shouldn’t be having this car, drive my kids to soccer?’ And along come people with sowing some doubt and it’s pretty effective, because I’m looking for that answer. I want it to be that the science is not real.”

Kenner’s Merchants of Doubt is a smart and entertaining film that throws light on global warming and attempts to simplify and sensationalize the global warming acrimony. But like the pundits it criticizes for playing to the hopes and fears of a non- scientific public, it too uses gimmicks and generalizations to make a case that can be better made using science alone.

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