Only a handful of people showed up to a screening of Greedy Lying Bastards—Craig Rosebraugh’s documentary that aims to expose the global warming denialist-industrial complex—at an Alexandria, Va., theater on Saturday. And none of them seemed to notice one of the documentary’s star villains seated in the audience.
Myron Ebell is the director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and one of the 15 bad guys Rosebraugh’s film attempts to skewer. In Bastards, clips of Ebell questioning anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming on Fox News are alternated with images of home-ravaging floods.
I was curious to see Ebell’s reaction to a movie the New York Times raved was a "blunt instrument in the climate war" and the Seattle Times called "a blistering attack on politicians, propagandists, dissemblers and other climate-change deniers."
Bastards is premised on an ambitious conspiracy theory that has been spun so often it's become a cliché: Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries, which Rosebraugh absurdly calls "the biggest company you’ve never heard of," are deploying paid shills including think tankers and politicians to obstruct solutions to and deceive the public about climate change.
But, after laying the groundwork, the film has trouble delivering.
Rosenbraugh is a former spokesperson for the eco-terrorist group the Earth Liberation Front, which has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League. And though he promises to "expose the bastards," Michael-Moore-style, there are no new revelations or dramatic confrontations in his movie. We mainly see the villains via dull reruns of publicly available TV interviews. Amazingly, simply calling up David Koch’s office and requesting an interview was not fruitful.
"I guess he was busy with world domination that day," Rosebraugh dejectedly tells the camera.
At least Koch got a phone message—Ebell said nobody from the film bothered to reach out to him.
Bastards also struggles to explain how a small group of conservative activists stopped a Democratic-controlled Congress and President Barack Obama’s administration from taking any meaningful steps to deal with climate change.
It is suggested that the leaked "Climategate" emails are responsible for the international community failing to take any meaningful action.
The film concludes on an anti-climactic note when Rosebraugh politely confronts Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson at a shareholder’s meeting, only to have Tillerson readily agree that more needs to be done to combat global warming.
No matter. Viewers who stuck around until the end of the documentary were still urged to boycott Exxon.
"We’ve been lied to by a bunch of greedy bastards," Rosebraugh concluded as credits rolled and heavy metal music played in background. "It’s time to stop these bastards."
Ebell said he found the movie entertaining, though not as serious as he would have liked.
"They’re sore losers," he said over a beer afterward. "What they can’t figure out is why they keep losing. So they have to keep building up our side as this big, corporate- funded behemoth."
"We have gotten money from industry, but not nearly enough," he added. "We’d like to get more."
Case in point: Ebell said the main antagonists of Bastards, Exxon and the Koch brothers, do not currently fund CEI.
Ebell said donations to environmental groups dominate the cabal of free-market activists that Bastards blames for blocking climate change initiatives.
The three "denialist" organizations Rosebraugh singles out—CEI, Americans for Prosperity, and the Heartland Institute—received a combined $34 million in grants and contributions in 2011. The Sierra Club alone received around $85 million during the same time period.
However, polls show the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is the result of human behavior has dwindled in recent years. They also view it as less of a concern. Seventy-two percent of Americans said they were worried about global warming in 2000; by 2012, just 55 percent said the same.
Global warming activists are not faring much better when it comes to public policy. Rosebraugh’s film points a finger at former President George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Sen. James Inhofe (R., Okla.). But Republicans have not controlled the White House in four years and the Senate for six. Even after Obama was elected and Democrats held a majority in Congress, Washington still failed to pass cap and trade legislation.
"It’s interesting that such a small group of people can [be blamed for] kind of thwart[ing] the international consensus," Ebell said. "If it’s all so obvious, why couldn’t they get it through Congress?"
Rosebraugh’s movie is not able to answer that question. The environmental movement is still grappling with the fact that many Americans either don’t buy the theory of man-made global warming, don’t care, or think the nation has more pressing concerns.
Bastards ends up looking like a bookend to An Inconvenient Truth. Seven years ago, Vice President Al Gore set out to persuade the public that the human-caused global warming theory was both a fact and an imminent threat. Now the task is being left to radicals such as Rosebraugh. And just as Truth marked the mainstreaming of the global warming movement, Bastards may mark its descent into the fringes.
Still, proponents of the anthropogenic climate change theory, apparently starved for new voices to take up the cause, seem far more disturbed by "deniers" like Ebell than they are by documented eco-terrorists. The New York Times merely describes Rosebraugh in its review as "an activist who has never been afraid of a fight."
The film itself "may just be the feel-good documentary of the year," wrote the Times. "For everyone but his targets, that is." After watching the movie with Ebell, though, I can attest that the targets are feeling pretty good about it, too.