Merchants Of Doubt, film review: Highlights the skullduggery of climate change sceptics

(12A) Robert Kenner, 96 mins

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The Independent Culture

Merchants of Doubt might best be described as a sequel to the Oscar-winning Al Gore documentary, An Inconvenient Truth (2006). It is made by the same company, Participant, and is again looking at the issues of climate change and global warming. The new documentary comes at the subject matter from a very different perspective.

Instead of having Gore take us through the scientific evidence, the film explores the shadowy, sinister and sometimes comic role of big business lobbyists, who go to extreme lengths to obfuscate or distort the arguments about climate change and thereby enable their clients to maintain their businesses in spite of the devastation they wreak.

The “playbook” for the climate change sceptics today comes from the skullduggery practised by the tobacco companies half a century ago. These companies knew from their own research in the 1950s that smoking caused cancer – and yet managed to hoodwink the public about the side-effects of cigarettes.

Director Robert Kenner strikes a self-consciously jaunty tempo, drawing parallels between the trickery of the Mephistophelian lobbyists and that of professional magicians and con-artists (who protest that they at least are “honest thieves”.) You can’t help but admire the ingenuity of the sceptics in hijacking and manipulating the public debate.

One of Kenner’s main points is that the debate itself is being held on false grounds. Scientists are almost entirely in agreement about the threat of climate change, but the sceptics are somehow able to mislead the media and the public into thinking that there is still no consensus on the subject. The film doesn’t just highlight the ingenuity of the sceptics. It also underlines how feeble the scientific community has been at standing up for itself.

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