I’m still not entirely sure why I even bothered watching a climate change denial propaganda documentary of just under an hour; needless to say it’s not the kind of thing I would normally waste thirty seconds on. Maybe I was just in a perverse—or masochistic—mood.
After watching The Great Global Warming Swindle, I spent an hour or so online, looking up various debunkings of it, including an extended interview challenging the filmmaker himself on Australian television.
I freely admit that’s something I would rarely if ever do after seeing a more “liberal” or centrist documentary. But my attitude is rather like seeing a magician saw a woman in half and then going online because I’m curious to see how the trick was done. I have enough background knowledge of these matters to know a documentary like this is very likely highly deceptive even if I can’t spot all the fallacies myself while watching it, so it makes me curious to find out everything it did wrong.
I think if I had zero background knowledge, and if I didn’t follow up online afterward, purely based on the film taken alone I would have been reasonably impressed. It held my interest throughout.
I was especially pleased that it followed a fairly logical structure of laying out certain understandable arguments with clear premises. As I’ve noted many times in writing about documentaries here, that’s actually disappointingly uncommon. Documentaries tend to be far more impressionistic, emotion-based, and stream-of-consciousness in structure than this one.
But alas, having a logical structure turns out to be at most a necessary condition but not a sufficient condition for making an admirable, cogent documentary, not if you’re going to fill your movie with fallacies and deception.
The version of the film I saw, I found out later, had already been “cleaned up” considerably. Evidently there have been at least four versions, as they’ve had to drop some of the more egregiously dishonest material after complaints. (In the interview on Australian TV, the squirming filmmaker’s “defense” was “Well, you know what it’s like on television, what a rush it is! We just put it out there and hope it’s right.”)
But the critiques I looked up point out that there’s still plenty of deceptive material left. The graphs, for instance, stop at whatever point best supports what they’re purporting to show. So for the graph relating sunspot activity and temperature, it stops in 1990 (though it’s labeled “Now”). Why? Because the lines dramatically separate after that point.
All the on-air deniers interviewed are identified according to their academic jobs and achievements and such. It turns out some of these are outright lies, and most of the rest are misleading. For instance, someone who had a faculty position briefly twenty years ago and left soon after to work for oil companies would be identified as Professor so-and-so of such-and-such University, with no mention of who’s paid him for the last twenty years.
That’s related to one of the things I spotted before seeing the debunkings. The film uses the device of attacking its opponents by attributing to them what one is oneself most vulnerable on. It’s the kind of thing where even if people don’t side with you entirely, there’s a good chance they’ll dismiss both sides’ allegations equally, like “Why should I believe one side and not the other when they’re always accusing each other of the same thing?”
So they have a whole long section alleging that there are financial motives for scientists to lie and pretend climate change is real, so they can get more research grants and such. Utterly ignoring the elephant in the room that the economic incentives available from industries backing the denial side of the “debate” have ten or a hundred times the capacity to entice people to say what they say for motives of greed.
I still think climate change is based on a lot of highly speculative science, so even I’m not as much of a believer as a lot of people. But this documentary claims or implies instead that it’s provably false. By using points understandable to laypersons to support this position, it paradoxically loses plausibility. (It’s very much like creationism in that respect.) If the main elements of climate change theory were really as straightforwardly and indeed laughably inconsistent with the evidence as claimed by these interviewees, there’s zero chance there would be the degree of consensus in the scientific community in favor of the theory that there is, I don’t care how much grant money you wave in their faces.
Whereas if they had taken more the position that due to factors of hype, and egotistical scientists not wanting to change their mind after taking a certain position, and intentional exaggeration out of paternalistic concern people would not respond urgently enough if told the truth, we’re being led by scientists and the mainstream media and others to believe that certain things are 95% or 98% likely when in fact they’re much more speculative and only 75% likely based on all available evidence, at least that has some chance of being true. That I couldn’t rule out. It might be false, but it’s not absurd. It is consistent with what’s happened with other issues in the past, and with the herd mentality that’s present to some degree even in science.
But the film goes so far beyond that, that I knew even before researching it that it had to be largely bullshit, and then an hour on the Internet confirmed that.
Anyway, I’ve spent too much time on this already. Seeing this wasn’t as upsetting as maybe I expected it to be (and arguably it should be). It’s an interesting, well-organized presentation that makes some plausible points and some implausible points, and turns out upon further investigation to be importantly deceptive in multiple respects.
That doesn’t make the prevailing, mainstream scientific position on climate change necessarily true, but it does make The Great Global Warming Swindle a piece of corporate propaganda.