Until some kind of rational consensus concerning global warming, climate change and energy policy comes to fruition, documentaries that feed the debate such as Greedy Lying Bastards need exposure. There’s little doubt where first-time filmmaker and Portland-based eco-activist Craig Rosebraugh stands: The needs of future generations that will inherit the planet outweigh possible economic ramifications. Rosebraugh’s nemeses are Big Oil and Koch Industries, who believe the opposite, and, according to Rosebraugh’s investigation, actively seek to discredit the overwhelming majority of scientists and scientific data on climate change with a one-two punch of public relations and demagoguery.
Rosebraugh, with the support of executive producer Darryl Hannah, does a fairly seamless job of presenting evidence that backs up his case. He names names and takes the audience to the front lines. He introduces Big Oil during a segment on the costly relocation efforts in Kivalina, Alaska, which is fighting a losing battle with a shoreline disappearing due to the melting of a natural ice boundary, in turn attributed to global warming caused by fossil fuels. He compares the disinformation effort of climate deniers to tobacco industry CEOs’ united stand against studies that prove nicotine is addictive. He exposes the Koch Brothers' funding for and intentions of “astroturf” organizations such as Americans for Prosperity and Citizens United. And he demonstrates the mechanics of the echo chamber through the actions of Sen. James Inofe (R-Ok).
He also inserts himself into the film by providing the narrative voice, then films himself infiltrating an ExxonMobil stockholders meeting — he “bought a few shares to get in the door” — in order to ask a question. He likely provided the not-so-subtle title as well, which isn’t likely to attract fence-sitters who lean slightly to the right, let alone hardline deniers. Rosebraugh’s background as a spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front and the Animal Liberation Front won’t endear him to AFP, either, and the title of a New York Times Magazine profile (“The Face of Eco-Terrorism”) is gives his detractors easily accessible echo-chamber fodder.
The author of 2004 book Burning Rage of a Dying Planet: Speaking for the Earth Liberation Front presents near-seamless arguments, though, with plenty of video evidence and mini-profiles of individuals on the front lines of the climate-change battles. One major oversight was Bjorn Lomborg, whose specialty is circular arguments. (Lomborg began an essay published in Esquire by postulating that funds allocated to fighting global warming would be better spent feeding children in Africa, sidestepping overpopulation issues before segueing into his anti-climate-change arguments.) It would have been an easy segue since Lomborg operates from Copenhagen, and a significant length of Greedy Lying Bastards deals with 2009 U.N.-sponsored Copenhagen Summit.
Instead, Rosebraugh inserts himself into the film’s 9th inning like a Michael Moore aspirant. His narrative voice falls somewhere between Moore and Al Franken’s Stuart Smalley character, which will play in Portland but not be very effective for red-state viewers. With few exceptions — U.S. Supreme Court Judge Clarence Thomas’ visit to a Koch Brothers-sponsored event is first described as “paid for” by the Koch-funded Federalist Society; a minute later in a summary he is “paid to” attend — Rosebraugh’s case is air-tight. He just gives potential detractors a lot of grist to prejudice passive-viewers against his views. Reducing his presence and finding a distinct but familiar voice that isn’t already associated with left-leaning causes (Matt Damon, Sean Penn, et. al.) would have went a long way in strengthening the effectiveness of his message, at least among the unconverted.
Whether Rosebraugh tried to promote his brand or relied on a contemporary narrative convention can’t really be determined, but there can be little doubt about the film’s primary objective, best articulated by United Nations Environmental Program Executive Director Achim Steiner. “I don’t want my children to sit in 30-years’ time and say, ‘How on Earth could you not do something about this when you knew so much already?’”
Greedy Lying Bastards is now playing at Century 16 Suncoast.