How American Tea Partiers, Big Oil, and the Kochs Used Al Gore's Inconvenient Truth as Target Practice

DeSmog UK’s epic history series continues with a look at how Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth became target practice for Koch think tanks and the Tea Party caucus in the Republican Party.

There appeared to be a new international bipartisanship on the issue of climate change when, during his 2006 campaign, Conservative leader David Cameron emphatically called on the public to watch American Democrat Al Gore's climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

But the highly-influential tribune for climate policy would soon receive heavy criticism from Big Oil, Koch think tanks and American Tea Partiers.

As some scientists and activists started expressing concern that the film contained serious flaws it unnecessarily left Gore, and by implication, climate research, open to attack.

Documentary Premier

The sober documentary premiered on Memorial Day weekend in May 2006 at the Sundance Film Festival in New York and Los Angeles.

The film showed Gore giving a town hall-style presentation and within months it had overtaken The Da Vinci Code, released around the same time, taking more than $51million at box offices around the world. It went on to win two Oscars including best documentary feature.

During the same month Sir David Attenborough presented  a major two-part television documentary The Truth About Climate Change for the BBC as part of a long-planned Climate Chaos season.

Attenborough told viewers sitting at home that he had once been sceptical of climate science but had come to understand the evidence as being “overwhelming”, citing in particular journal articles demonstrating a correlation between the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global temperatures

Al Gore and the BBC had raised their heads over the parapet and would come in for vociferous and unceasing attacks from sceptics, furious that such broadcasts would prove so effective in convincing audiences that climate change was a threat, and directly relevant to their lives.

According to a 2007 survey by The Nielsen Company and Oxford University, 66 per cent of viewers who claimed to have seen An Inconvenient Truth said the film had “changed their mind” about global warming and 89 per cent said watching the movie made them more aware of the problem.

More importantly, three out of four viewers said they change some of their habits as a result of watching the film.

ExxonMobil Viewers

The public wasn’t the film’s only viewers however. An Inconvenient Truth was shown six times at ExxonMobil's offices in the think tank hotbed of Washington's K Street where its highly paid lobbyists prepared arguments to undermine the power of the message.

A few months later a short film was posted to YouTube, apparently by a 20-something amateur filmmaker titled Al Gore's Penguin Army in which Gore is presented as “a sinister figure who brainwashes penguins and bores movie audiences by blaming the Mideast crisis and starlet Lindsay Lohan's shrinking waist size on global warming”.

Antonio Regalado, the same journalist who once pumped Steve McIntyre, ran a story in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette stating that the IP address of the person who posted the film could be traced to the DCI Group, the Washington based public relations and lobbying outfit whose clients include ExxonMobil.

The 'mad men' at DCI refused to confirm or deny making the video but the viral hit proved a huge embarrassment for the makers as much as it was inconvenient for Al Gore.

Sceptics Attack

The film also came under attack from atmospheric physicist at the Massachusetts Institute for Technology (MIT) Richard Lindzen. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, he argued: “A general characteristic of Mr Gore's approach is to assiduously ignore the fact that the earth and its climate are dynamic; they are always changing even without any external forcing. To treat all change as something to fear is bad enough; to do so in order to exploit that fear is much worse.”

James Delingpole, a hapless blogger writing for The Telegraph website from his home in run-down Camberwell, claimed Gore's dramatic use of a stair lift to demonstrate the recent rise in global temperature after two thousand years of relative stability was based on poor science.

This was poor journalism however as Gore was in fact referring to the rise in CO2 over the last two million years.

As Mann said: “In the climate change denial playbook, facts must never get in the way of a good smear opportunity.”

Next time in the DeSmog UK epic history post, the battle between Bob Ward – working at the Royal Society at the time – and ExxonMobil’s army of climate deniers heats up.

Photo: Open Democracy via Flickr