The good news is that, on the basis of its trailer (see below), I really want to see "SpOILed," a just-released documentary about our fossil fuel future by a New Mexico-based filmmaker named Mark Mathis. The bad news is that I don’t expect it to be good — you know how people rubberneck at car wrecks?
The prospects for this movie would be jaw-droppingly horrific even if I didn’t know that it was financed in part by oil and gas interests. I’d be shaking my head anyway because the trailer is so stupid. Watch it and tell me I’m wrong. It doesn’t contain one single actual fact, just a bunch of greens (including President Obama and the obligatory scary Nancy Pelosi shot) set up to look like idiots as they prattle on about peak oil or global warming, then some long-in-the-tooth (and unidentified) lobbyist types saying that they’re wrong. Not why they’re wrong, just that they’re wrong.
Documentaries like "Gasland" win Emmys and other awards for a reason. The filmmaker, moved by a genuine need to know (natural gas interests were trying to buy the drilling rights to his family land) conducts an honest search to understand the reality of natural gas fracking, and he visits real people affected by the outcome. It’s rather a dramatic plus when their tap water just happens to catch on fire.
If, like Mathis, you go to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and this sworn enemy of Obama and global warming theory says exactly what you’d expect him to say, you’re not breaking any new ground.
Mathis has a long history of conservative activism on energy issues. He founded a false-flag nonprofit called The Citizens Alliance for Responsible Energy (CARE). The group is headed by “nationally known Christian speaker” Marita Noon, who proclaims, “Let’s get real! Let’s look at the energy reality. Do you prefer the necessities of life? Do you like your car, your microwave, your health and your house? ... don’t let the environmental groups take away energy. Most of them have unattainable goals or goals that do not factor in the complete picture. They fight to stop a perceived evil without looking at what else will be impacted. Which portions of your lifestyle — or your children’s or grandchildren’s lifestyle — do you want to give up in the name of saving the world from this or that speculative environmental cataclysm?”
I’m sorry, Marita, but your long experience as a speaker should have underlined the imperative of actually giving reasons for something, not just threatening to take away all the kids’ toys and daddy's remote. Exactly how are the environmentalists’ wrong? How do we know oil production won't peak globally, as it did in the U.S., circa 1969?
CARE, which has an Energy Council that includes many familiar names from right-wing advocacy circles, minimizes the impact of fossil fuel use on greenhouse gas generation and, indeed, casts doubt on the reality of climate change itself. “Scientists cannot even agree whether there is a global warming trend at this time,” the site says.
But an overwhelming percentage of climate scientists do agree that climate change is real — that’s indisputable — and fossil fuels are the main cause. The U.S. contributes 25 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide (the major global warming gas) by, amazingly enough, burning fossil fuels, including in cars and trucks and coal-burning power plants. China recently surpassed us by, you guessed it, burning even more fossil fuels than we do, mostly from coal plants but increasingly also from a fast-growing fleet of cars and trucks.
Mathis covered himself in glory in his first foray as a filmmaker, which produced "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed," a ringing defense of creation science. As Britain’s Guardian (one of the few media outlets to take an interest in "SpOILed") reports, the earlier film drew a sharp rebuke from the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2008. The group attacked the filmmakers' “profound dishonesty and lack of civility” in their misrepresentation of scientific positions, and added that some scientists interviewed said they were deceived into appearing in the film.
It’s possible to make an honest documentary defending fossil fuels. There is a case to be made, especially if you manage to shuffle climate change out of the way. But a good starting point to avoid conflict-of-interest charges would be declining funds from the oil and gas industries. Mathis admits that some of his unnamed investors “have oil/gas interests.” But, he says, it’s cool because he told them “they would have no input in the content of the film.”
That’s totally disingenuous. If I gave money to, say, The Tea Party (as the Koch brothers do), I wouldn’t have to be on the ground pulling the strings — the no-new-taxes, repeal health care, pro-gun and anti-Obama message is a quid pro quo. Contributors to National Review or the Heritage Foundation also know what they’re getting.
But Mathis is apparently willing to ruffle feathers. “Some of the content [of the film] they would like, some they might not,” he says. There is footage of the BP oil spill for fairness and balance, but everyone’s seen that and it’s unlikely to make Big Oil quake in its boots. Seen one oiled pelican and you’ve seen ‘em all.
Most of what I say about Mathis also applies, in ways big and small, to documentaries made by progressive flame throwers like, say, Michael “Here Comes Trouble” Moore. That’s another filmmaker who knows what he’s going to say before the cameras even roll. I go to Moore films, with popcorn in hand, to be entertained. He’s funny, and I mentally supply the missing balance. I don’t need a plot summary to know what position Moore is going to take on gun control (for), universal health care (also for) or George W. Bush (decidedly against). But, at least as far as I know, the gun movie isn't underwritten by the anti-gun lobby, or the healthcare movie by drug companies.
Moore’s films aren’t any more objective than Mark Mathis’, but they certainly are entertaining. On the basis of its trailer, I’m not sure you can say that about "SpOILed." Full-length exposure to the usual political suspects and talking-head oil lobbyists is not my idea of a good time.