“We’re the negative force—we’re just trying to stop stuff.”
This quote sums up the theme of Merchants of Doubt, a hard-hitting and at times discouraging documentary which details the campaign to discredit scientific climate research. Morano is one of those talking heads you’ll find on the cable news networks, grinning from his side of a split-screen shot, the other side occupied by a slightly rumpled but well-meaning and credentialed scientist. “I’m not a scientist, although I do play one on TV occasionally,” Morano laughs in the film, “Okay, hell, more than occasionally.”
That doesn’t deter him from spreading doubt in the guise of information: “Communication is about sales. Keep it simple. People will fill in the blank with their own, I hate to say, biases, but with their own perspective in many cases.”
Morano is just one of a host of unsavory characters presented in the documentary, all putting their remarkable communications and sales skills at the service of the fossil fuel industry. None of these persuaders would necessarily deny that climate change is happening, but they’ll do their best to cast doubt on the science and paint the green movement as the public face of a socialist uprising.
The movie is deeply unsettling, as it chronicles the extraordinary success they’ve had in thwarting progress on responsible environmental legislation and behavioral shifts. Yet, it also spotlights dedicated scientists, such as James Hansen, former NASA scientist and noted climatologist, and journalists like Patricia Callahan with the Chicago Tribune, who work to turn the tide of public misinformation. The conversion of Bob Inglis, former Republican Congressman from South Carolina is particularly impressive. Inglis was named the 2015 recipient of the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award “for the political courage he demonstrated when he reversed his previous position on climate change, knowing that by acknowledging the scientific reality of atmospheric warming and calling on the United States to meaningfully address the issue, he was jeopardizing his political career,” the award states.
His story: “Bob Inglis, a Republican, represented the 4th Congressional District of South Carolina from 1993-1998 and again from 2005-2010. A member of the House Science Committee who served as Ranking Member of the Energy and Environment Subcommittee, Inglis initially opposed efforts to address climate change. But interactions with scientists in Antarctica, Australia and elsewhere, along with encouragement from his five children, changed his views on climate change, and he began advocating for a carbon tax to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. In Washington and South Carolina, Inglis’s acknowledgment of the scientific reality of climate change drew intense criticism from within the Republican Party, and in June 2010, he was defeated for re-election in the Republican primary. He went on to found and currently directs the Energy & Enterprise Initiative to encourage conservatives to accept the reality of climate change and to promote market-based innovations to address the challenges it poses.” (ProfileInCourageAward.org)
In Merchants of Doubt, Inglis is shown driving to small radio stations, participating in interviews with commentators who are openly hostile to his message. Inglis dares to carry the labels of both “conservative” and “climate change believer.” it’s a delicate balance that not many deniers can abide. His passion in the face of such opposition is heroic; his conversion a source of hope to the green movement. With stories like these, Merchants of Doubt inspires, not discourages, the efforts of the environmental movement. May our advocacy serve to honor science, promote necessary systemic change, and repair the world we’re leaving our children.
I asked my wife, Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, to write a review after we watched this movie, because I didn’t have time at the time. I couldn’t have said it better! You can see more of her insightful musings on her blog.