In "Merchants of Doubt,” the subject is global warming. Or, more precisely, the business of denying the existence of climate change. Even the term “climate change” is a product of spin, coined by conservative politicians who felt it sounded less threatening than “global warming."
After pulling the curtain back on the evils of Monsanto and GMOs in his acclaimed “Food Inc.,” director Robert Kenner is back with more dirty little secrets about American industry in “Merchants of Doubt.” The subject is global warming. Or, more precisely, the business of denying the existence of climate change. Even the term “climate change” is a product of spin, coined by conservative politicians who felt it sounded less threatening than “global warming.”
Gullible Americans bought it, too. And in Kenner’s eyes we’re as culpable in our world’s demise as self-serving politicians and greedy corporations. Inspired by a muckraking book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Kenner has an agenda, and he goes for the jugular – over and over. He presents his array of facts, figures and talking heads in a manner that is as informative as it is terrifying. The scariest part isn’t that a warm up could wipe out coastal cities like Boston. What’s alarming is that we are running out of time to stop it. Kenner makes a compelling case that climate change could be slowed from the get-go if big-business hadn’t made like master magicians and twisted scientific fact into subjective doubt. Kenner contends corporations like Exxon Mobil and Phillip Morris “fool people for benefit.” And, he shows how they hoodwink us with slick PR campaigns and highly charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire, like lobbyist – and Rush Limbaugh pal – Marc Morano, who present themselves in the media as scientific authorities. Laughs Morano: “I’m not a scientist, but I play one on TV, occasionally.”
Kenner frames his film around the strategy of big tobacco, which introduced doubt to combat facts. Now every potentially harmful industry, from flame retardants to GMOs to fossil fuels, follows the blueprint of hiring savvy public relations specialists to create uncertainty by persuading the public that “more data is needed.”
In insightful interviews with professional illusionist Jamy Ian Swiss, Kenner cleverly shows how the public is being taken for a ride. It isn’t Swiss levitating a woman that’s the most amazing trick of all time, it’s the black magic orchestrated by climate-change skeptics.
One of Kenner’s voices is Harvard science historian Oreskes, who connects the dots on the marriage of science and politics. Also heard from are conservative South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis, who was voted out of office because he took a stand against climate skeptics, and Michael Shermer, the publisher of Skeptic magazine.
By the time the ending arrives, you’re fuming mad. That changes to sadness, because Kenner offers little hope for righting the wrong of our own stupidity...
By Dana Barbuto
The Patriot Ledger MERCHANTS OF DOUBT (PG-13 for brief strong language.) Documentary directed by Robert Kenner. Cast: Robert Hansen, Frederick Singer, Naomi Oreskes, Jamy Ian Swiss, Bob Inglis, Marc Morano. Grade: B+ Posted Mar. 20, 2015
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