Greedy Lying Bastards is a documentary film on the politics of global warming, playing in theaters this weekend. As it’s rather provocative title suggests, this movie is all about exposing the bad guys—the fossil fuel industry, the private climate change denial “think tank” groups that they fund, and the politicians and media outlets sympathetic to the fossil fuel industry. The movie features several hero climate scientists, who focus on the political efforts to suppress climate science, rather than the science. Other "heroes" featured include politicians such as U.S. Representative Henry Waxman, several environmental journalists, and environmental activists such as Kert Davies of Greenpeace. The movie is produced by actress and climate activist Daryl Hannah and directed by filmmaker and political activist Craig Rosebraugh.
The movie is at its strongest when it traces the history of organized climate denial efforts in the United States. We learn through engaging and detailed 3-D graphics how tens of millions of dollars have flowed from the fossil fuel industry to organizations active in climate denial efforts. The movie spends a lot of time exposing the anti-climate science efforts of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, who jointly own majority stakes in Koch Industries, a large oil, gas and chemicals conglomerate based in Kansas. Through 2012, the Koch brothers spent $67 million to fund organizations engaged in climate science denial efforts, compared to $27 million spent by ExxonMobil on such efforts. Unfortunately, the movie was not able to mention the new power player in this game of thrones, Donor’s Trust (and the affiliated Donors Capital Fund), whose influence has come to light only in past few months. Corporations who want to hide their contributions to climate science denial organizations can now launder them through Donor’s Trust, who will keep the source of the funds secret. It’s a charity, so this is all tax-deductible. According to mediamatters.org, "Between 2008 and 2011, Donors Trust doled out over $300 million in grants to what it describes as ‘conservative and libertarian causes,’ serving as ‘the dark money ATM of the conservative movement.’ Donors Trust enables donors to give anonymously, noting on its website that if you ‘wish to keep your charitable giving private, especially gifts funding sensitive or controversial issues,’ you can use it to direct your money." The following chart created by The Guardian, based on data from Greenpeace, shows that as ExxonMobil and the Koch Foundations have reduced traceable funding for these groups, donations from Donors Trust have surged:
The movie also has a very interesting look at Citizens United, a conservative nonprofit group founded by the Koch brothers. Citizens United won a landmark 2010 Supreme Court case, which now allows unlimited corporate donations to political candidates. The movie makes the case that Justice Clarence Thomas should have recused himself from the case because he appeared at a retreat sponsored by Citizens United prior to the court case.
Interspersed through the movie is dramatic footage of extreme weather events such as fires, tornadoes, and hurricanes, and the struggles of people on the front lines of climate change-related disasters. We see victims of the 2012 Waldo Canyon fire in Colorado, villagers in the island nation of Tuvalu struggling with sea level rise, and Kansas farmers dealing with drought. The movie spent too much time dwelling on the victims of the Colorado fires, making for excessive melodrama. However, the scenes of the Tuvalu people living in homes that are regularly inundated by the sea were very compelling, as was the lament by one islander that a rich and colorful culture was in danger of being permanently lost.
The movie closes with a call for people to take action, accompanied by the thumping sounds of the song, "Bastards and Swine Forever." Specifically, the movies calls for people to get politically active to oppose the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling, and to boycott ExxonMobil and products manufactured by Koch Industries, including Chevron, Union 76, and Conoco gasoline, plus Georgia-Pacific products such as “Brawny” paper towels, Quilted Northern toilet paper, and Dixie cups.
Overall rating: two and-a-half stars, out of four
It’s a pretty interesting movie, as documentaries go, but documentaries tend to be boring, and Greedy Lying Bastardsdoes suffer from this problem. There are some humorous moments, but not enough of them to make this as engaging as Michael Moore documentaries. Still, the fascinating look at how the funding of the climate change denial movement works is worth the price of admission, and I give Greedy Lying Bastards two and-a-half stars, out of four.