Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Phelim McAleer's 2009 film "Not Evil, Just Wrong" kicks off the modern era of climate denial. Although thoroughly debunked by scientists, the film still careens endlessly through the self-referential echo chamber of right-wing media, impervious to reason and evidence.

McAleer's next film, "FrackNation," extends the tactics honed by climate deniers to the debate over fracking. The film is a collection of pseudo-science, pseudo-inquiry, along with personal attacks against scientists and activists, masquerading as objective journalism. To borrow a term from James Inhofe--the Orwellian climate denying senator from Oklahoma--FrackNation is a hoax. The film is not "another point of view"; it is a collection of deliberate lies and deceptions designed to further the interests of the oil industry. As such, it does not deserve to be taken seriously, and certainly has no place in the national discussion about the role of fracking and natural gas in national energy policy.

Major news media have started to accept that people denying the existence of climate change do not deserve a seat at the table for discussions about energy policy. Both the New York Times and the Los Angeles times have specific editorial policies excluding letters or serious news room consideration of climate denier "arguments."

Fracking is the new frontier of climate denial.The oil barons stand to make trillions if they can hold off a serious national discussion of the issue long enough to build the infrastructure that will commit us to another 50 years of fossil fuels--basically a death sentence for human civilization if we take consensus climate science seriously.

The oil industry has pulled out all the stops in its fracking denial campaign. Huge donations from the Kochs and other energy companies have made climate denial and support for fracking a litmus test for Republican politicians at all levels of government. Relentless lobbying and legal pressure have neutralized or bought off regulators at both the state and national level. Boxed in by geostrategic pressures and Republican obstructionism, the Obama administration has embraced natural gas as a way to generate some kind of progress on climate change, creating political pressure on the EPA and other federal regulatory agencies to avoid hard questions about fracking-related water and air contamination, wide-spread methane leaks, and the long term climate implications of a commitment to natural gas.

The conservative push to dominate the national discussion on fracking has created huge demand for fracking denial "journalists" and "experts." McAleer is, in essence, a content provider servicing this lucrative market. As in the ever more unhinged world of Fox News and other right-wing media outlets, McAleer has hacked out a market niche by being more ruthless, more brazen and more contemptuous of evidence and reason than his competitors.

"FrackNation" should be viewed for what it is: a bare-knuckled hoax designed to make a buck, even if it means selling out the planet in the process.

There is an ongoing debate in progressive circles about the best way to respond to the kind of pseudo-journalism embodied by "FrackNation." Right-wing demagogues like Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh thrive on provoking liberal intellectuals and progressive activists. Outraged liberals who try to point out the idiocy or  childishness of their attacks just increase their market share, and many liberals have concluded that ignoring them is better than getting diverted into an endless whack-a-mole round of fact checking and setting the record straight.

We have decided to take on fallacies, distortions and just plain viciousness of "FrackNation" for two reasons. First, the film has had wide influence and has been cited as serious journalism by a number of mainstream news organizations. Even the reviewer for the New York Times was hoodwinked by the "investigative journalism" facade. We think it is important to set the record straight in order to clean up the national discussion on fracking so that some kind of rational policy deliberation is possible.

Second, the film is at the forefront of fracking denial propaganda. The stakes in this debate are too large to ignore. The fracking denier position will eventually be discredited as another form of climate change denial. But the time frame is crucial here. If the oil industry can  use tobacco war tactics to string along the debate, forestalling meaningful action for another five or ten years, it will be too late. Decisions about R & D and infrastructure spending need to be made now if we are to have a meaningful chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, irreparable damage to our national environment, the perversion of our economy to service the needs of the oil industry, and the harm done to many thousands of our fellow citizens, many of whom are living through the poisonous consequences of the fracking boom right now.

Despite the dangers of getting sucked into a right-wing rabbit hole, where reason and evidence become unrecognizable caricatures of themselves, we think this is a risk worth taking.

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