Front Line Review: Why Climate Change But We Didn’t

PBS’s investigative public affairs program “Frontline” specializes in reminding us about the things we’d rather forget. On Tuesday, I embarked on a three-part dive into climate change, that potential species killer that has recently taken a back seat to more traditional pests such as disease and war.

The weekly mini-series titled “The Power of Big Oil” focuses on climate change denial as it has been practiced and paid for by the fossil fuel industry—particularly Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries—along with its allies in business and, increasingly, politics. By extension, it’s a history, more frustrating than revealing, why little has been done about an existential crisis we have known about for at least four decades.

Our dawn and warning signs are well known, among them climate scientist James Hansen’s 1988 testimony before Congress, the Kyoto and Paris accords, and the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. and increasingly distressed UN reports. The meticulously crafted response by Front Line–a disciplined and coordinated campaign of disinformation and obfuscation that began in the industry and embraced by conservative political groups–was unfamiliar but always in plain sight.

Part of the campaign is public, a barrage of talk heads on television and opinion pieces and advertisements in prominent publications (including The New York Times) that don’t outright deny global warming but portray it as a night terror of attention grabbing. Behind the scenes, scantly disguised lobbyists pushed by the big oil companies put pressure on key politicians at key moments — whenever it looks as though the US might pass legislation affecting its profits.

One lesson the show offers, almost in passing, is the way in which refusal to accept the reality of climate change has led to predictions of broader attacks on science — and on knowledge in general — that characterized the Trump years and the response to Covid. -19 pandemic. Republican politicians join the successful but only battle the oil and gas industries have sincerely fought when they see how climate denial and the specter of unemployed miners and drillers interfere with their efforts to demonize President Barack Obama and radicalize conservative voters. At this point, the fig leaf is dropped for scientific debate and pure emotion takes over.

And the biggest lesson in the show is about the clever manipulation of emotions. From the start, it was clear that the oil industry’s campaign was not to persuade us on scientific grounds, but about exploiting the basic human desire to avoid difficult and uncomfortable actions. Finding political cover to continue making huge profits was painfully easy and unsurprising.

Frontline tries to give this sad history some dramatic tension in two ways. One is tacky and on the nose: When it needs a transition, or just an injection of feeling, the program throws in a montage of wildfires, hurricanes, and floods.

The other is more involved, and it’s also more frustrating. Lobbyists, media consultants, researchers and politicians who have been involved in questioning climate change vouch for their actions and then offer varying degrees of apology – a series of aha moments whose veracity is questionable and also beside the point. “Yeah, I wish I wasn’t a part of that, looking back.” “I would have taken a different path.” “I can understand people telling me, ‘You’re a traitor. “Okay.

(It will not escape some viewers noticing that the people in a position to have these second thoughts are, without exception, white middle-aged men.)

While foot soldiers plead guilty, the program quietly notes people and organizations who have refused to appear or comment, including Koch Industries, Lee Raymond and Rex Tillerson, CEOs of Exxon Mobil during the “lost decades” of reducing carbon emissions. Exxon Mobil provides a statement that its public statements have always been “consistent with contemporary understanding of mainstream climate science” – an understanding that it has done everything anyone has done to shape it.

“Big oil power” does not provide comfort; It ends, in no hurry, with the environmental decline enacted by President Donald Trump and the energy crisis the Biden administration is now facing due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. The final note is one of predictable lamentations: a professor whose work has facilitated fracking’s growth—and thus the lifespan of the fossil fuel industry—is wondering “what kind of hell” his grandchildren will have to pay. If they were watching, it’s doubtful they would have much sympathy.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.