Strong Title, Weak Message – Climate denialist exposé falls short

This earnest documentary should be proceeded by the famous quote by Upton Sinclair: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” The “something” director, narrator, and occasional star Craig Scott Rosebraugh is talking about is climate change, or as someone recently renamed it, climate chaos. And you know the Koch brothers: the salary can be huge.

With a title like “Greedy Lying Bastards,” one could expect an angry tirade against the control oil and energy companies have over our climate and politics. In fact, that would have been preferable to this documentary, which is honestly a bit of a mess, regardless of whether you agree with its ideology.

The film follows a formula seen in several other recent documentaries, such as “Forks Over Knives” or “Food Inc.,” with a selection of interviews interspersed with flashy motion graphics full of information dumped so quick that it hurts to process it all.

And after loading us with doom and gloom, there’s five minutes of uplift, basically telling us to write our representatives, boycott products and join a mailing list. Oh, and there’s a website. It’s all very nice.

“Greedy’s” main point is that carbon emissions create global warming, climate change and a rapidly warming planet, but multi-billion dollar corporations like Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, which profit from oil and energy, have created an range of “astroturf” agencies (groups that pretend to be grassroots) to create doubt in the public’s mind about the scientific facts; fund climate-change deniers who go on to appear on television and espouse the corporate line; and bribe politicians.

These spokesmen turn up on the cable networks all the time: Patrick Michaels, Marc Morano, Americans for Prosperity’s Tim Phillips, Myron Ebell and Christopher Monckton, and all receive funds from the Koch brothers or similar corporations. Because cable news put these guys up against scientists, their opinions are seen as equally valid, though they’re not backed up by science.

This section of the documentary is a good primer for those not aware of the issues at hand. Trimmed a bit, it would make a good YouTube video to pass around to friends. However, Mr. Rosebraugh buffers and pads the film with examples of global warming that don’t really hammer home the issue. We wander through the wreckage of homes destroyed in the recent Colorado wildfires. We see drought in the Midwest, and we see the sinking island nation of Tuvalu. Nobody likes to see families crying over fire damage, but is this direct evidence of global warming?

Mr. Rosebraugh then cops a bit from the Michael Moore playbook, hunting down Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon Mobil, to ask him if he still funds these climate denial organizations. The result is anticlimactic to say the least. Mr. Tillerson lies and goes about his business.

Maybe I’m too harsh on the film. Maybe somewhere, it will open the eyes of a few people and make them a bit more earth-conscious. But this is weak tea, a boastful title hiding a documentary that has no follow-through. Mr. Moore wants viewers to get angry and storm the Bastille. Mr. Rosebraugh wants you to join his Facebook group.

‘Greedy Lying Bastards’
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Rating: PG-13 for brief strong language
Length: 90 minutes
Playing at: Plaza de Oro

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