Climate Hustle, the climate change denying film by Marc Morano, is not funny.
But Climate Hustle is billed as a comedy, and when I settled into my seat at the Regal Cinemas in New York's Union Square to watch the film on a recent Monday evening, I was told it would be funny.
In lieu of movie-themed trivia quizzes, Regal aired promotional footage for the film ahead of the 7 p.m. showing. A countdown clock at the bottom right corner of the screen kept us apprised of the minutes left until showtime, as satisfied Climate Hustle viewers gushed their praise. “I really appreciate the comedy, and the science” one woman leaving the film's European premier said, adding, “and blending those together.”
“I really did laugh,” another man said. “I really enjoyed it.”
Fifteen minutes before Climate Hustle started and I was already being hustled.
🙈🙉🙊Back in March CFACT, the conservative nonprofit group that runs Climate Depot, announced that Climate Hustle would premiere (in the U.S.) in April on Capitol Hill, and that the screening would be followed by an invitation-only panel discussion. That discussion, CFACT boasted, would be shown in addition to the film to viewers on May 2 in hundreds of theaters across the nation. Two names were dropped to draw the crowds: Sarah Palin, a panelist, and Bill Nye, who would also be somehow involved.
I, however, was primarily interested in hearing from Congressman Lamar Smith, the Republican representative from Texas who chairs the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. Smith, notorious for his anti-global warming stance, was to give the opening remarks ahead of the panel. I was curious what he had to say, and why he would want to lend credibility to the film by commenting on it at all.
I don't doubt that climate change is a human-caused phenomenon. But I came into the theater hoping that Climate Hustle might make me think twice. The future as laid out by climate scientists is dire: Experts predict periods of severe drought and flooding, shortages in food and water that'll prompt mass migrations and war, a weirding of the weather that will leave our lives in shambles. I fear a near future of earthquakes and superstorms, a far future of tsunamis and coastal flooding. In some parts of the world, those fears have been realized. It's a gloomy picture, and I welcome any convincing argument that shows a brighter future.
But Smith never appeared onscreen, and representatives told me that the congressman was unable to offer remarks due to votes that were called for the same time. Instead, the film opened with an introduction from John Coleman, 81, who founded The Weather Channel and is himself a staunch climate-change denier. "The event you're about to see is a game-changing exposé of the so-called global warming," he said.
Then Climate Hustle started, and I spent 78 minutes trying to figure out what, exactly, was supposed to be so funny about this movie.
The conceit of the film is that scientists, and anyone else who asserts confidently that technology is changing our climate in a dangerous and significant way, are conning the public. Morano, who hosts the film, purports to debunk a number of what he implies are climate change myths, and walks us through a tortured and extended metaphor of climate change science as a three-card Monte scam.
To be clear, this was not a fun movie to watch. Morano is not an actor, and he delivers lines in a flat, atonal way. He is either shot in front of tacky green screen backgrounds (a graffitied brick wall; the sun) or, inexplicably, between boulders and in front of trees in an unremarkable park. Interviews with skeptics are poorly lit, and awkwardly edited.
Music swells throughout the entirety of the film, altering between ominous and upbeat depending on, respectively, if a climate change believer or skeptic is speaking. The graphics are amateur, the clips played, grainy.
I couldn't tell if the yuks are supposed to be at Morano's awkward physical comedy ("Whoa," he says, in the throes of a pretend storm, umbrella turned inside out by pretend wind) or inspired by his attempted gotcha moments with mainstream scientists.
At one point, he prepares to ask scientist Michael Oppenheimer about a quote he gave to The New York Times in 2000. "I bought a sled in '96 for my daughter,'' Oppenheimer said at the time, "It's been sitting in the stairwell, and hasn't been used. I used to go sledding all the time. It's one of my most vivid and pleasant memories as a kid, hauling the sled out to Cunningham Park in Queens.''
Morano was going to ask him about the quote, and question if he's changed his mind because it's snowed in New York City since 2000. He never got to confront the scientist, because Oppenheimer was abruptly pulled into a meeting. This, I guess, was supposed to paint Oppenheimer as a coward and a liar, and evoke Daily Show levels of mirth in the audience.
Mostly, I felt like I was watching the source material for every single public access show parody. I cringed a lot, but I didn't laugh once.
🙈🙉🙊Climate Hustle did not make a convincing case against human-driven global warming. Morano, aided by statements from a collection of prominent climate deniers like Judith Curry and Patrick Moore, is most concerned with attempting to poke holes in mainstream science. For example, he argues that the statement that 97% of climate scientists agreeing that climate change is real and caused by humans is based on a faulty study.
According to Morano, the 97% statistic is drawn from a review that found that 75 out of 77 climate scientists agree that climate change is a manmade phenomenon. This hinges on the assumption that any discrepancy among climate scientists is proof that their data is bunk, their motivations political. It doesn't matter that, by this logic, just two of 77 climate scientists would agree with him. It's a conspiracy theorist's approach, nothing more.
🙈🙉🙊Some levity was finally, if unintentionally, on display during the panel discussion that followed the film. Moderator Brent Bozell, founder of the conservative Media Research Center, asked Palin and disgraced scientist David Legates to weigh in on the movie as Morano smiled on and chimed in occasionally. Bozell addressed Palin, a woman famous for her inability to string together a coherent sentence, as a policymaker who "presumably knows a lot more about climate than the people reporting on it."
Her take, basically, was that scientists who say we can control the weather are intentionally putting Americans at risk by denying them access to energy prosperity. Legates made a more level-headed case. He's concerned that scientists who oppose the mainstream on climate change could be treated as pariahs.
But in reality, the voices of the few climate change deniers are most strongly heard.
🙈🙉🙊Relief from Climate Hustle came in the form of Bill Nye, who spoke to Morano in a remote clip that was aired during the panel discussion.
Simply put, Bill Nye schools Morano. It's incredibly gratifying to watch.
"You're not worried that there's a chilling effect on any scientists who disagrees [with climate change]?" Morano asked Nye.
"That there's a chilling effect upon scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think is good," Nye says, adding, "Extreme doubt about climate change people are… leaving the world worse than they found it. They're keeping us from getting to work. They're holding us back."
In another clip, Nye told Morano. "I hope your point of view will be absurd and shown to be invalid." He said, adding to the audience, "Views presented by Mr. Morano in this film are overwhelmingly discredited by the mainstream science."
He was cut off by Morano, who asked if his film will be healthy for scientific debate. "I think it will be a footnote," said Nye.
Legates' response to this sick burn? "Bill Nye, anti-science guy."
Followed to its logical conclusion, the Climate Hustle thesis is deeply nihilistic. The audience is told that the phenomena we're seeing are naturally occurring.
The argument is that any documented evidence of climate change—rising sea levels, melting ice caps—is really evidence of a naturally volatile environment. In other words, we don't know what's going on, and we certainly don't know how to protect ourselves from nature's wrath. Any and all attempts to stop the destructive course of nature is futile. There's no point in trying to change.
As the panel wrapped up, Morano said something that was supposed to make us feel better, but sent a chill down my spine.
"If we actually did face a global warming crisis—Thank God, and I'll announce this now, the great climate catastrophe you heard about, has been canceled! And this movie will announce that." This movie did not announce that.
He continued, "If we actually did face that crisis, we would all be doomed if we had to rely on the U.S. Congress and the United Nations to save us."
On screen, people chuckled.
Danielle Wiener-Bronner is a news reporter.