One of the interviewees in eco-activist Craig Scott Rosebraugh’s new documentary describes a propaganda technique known as “assertion”: gaining control over an argument by stating an opinion as a fact, thereby putting the opponent on the defensive and forcing him or her to spend valuable time articulating why the assertion is outrageous. This, the interviewee says, is a trick right-wing politicians and pundits use when they declare global warming a hoax. Unfortunately, it is also the tactic Rosebraugh attempts by giving his film its inflammatory title. He seems consistently surprised that none of his target “bastards” – the CEOs of the major oil, coal, and natural gas corporations – are willing to grant him an interview. Why in the world would they?
Greedy Lying Bastards argues three important points: First, global warming is not a “controversy,” but a scientific fact. Second, the engine of denial is Big Oil, which uses the same obfuscating tactics as Big Tobacco a decade ago and pours cash into pseudo-grassroots organizations like Americans for Prosperity that lobby to block legislative change. Third, the belaboring of the question (i.e., whether the melting of the polar ice caps is a result of the Earth’s natural cycles or of human interference with the environment) is preventing us from dealing with the immediate, pervasive manifestations of the crisis, e.g., droughts, wildfires, and hurricanes.
Rosebraugh’s arguments are sound and his heart is in the right place, but his execution is self-defeating. In his first-person voiceover narration, he imparts all evidence in a snarky, patronizing tone that is sure to annoy many viewers sympathetic with his cause. Reiterating much of the information outlined by Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, Greedy Lying Bastards throws into relief Gore’s more effective strategy of appealing to the viewer’s sense of moral decency and personal accountability. Rosebraugh, by contrast, resorts to name-calling and frames global warming as an us-vs.-them affair rather than grappling with the insidiousness of our systemwide dependence on fossil fuels. He’s preaching to the choir and not coming up with any fresh messages in his sermon.