On October 7, Phelim McAleer joined the Society of Environmental Journalists. Three days later, he took advantage of his new membership to attend former Vice President Al Gore’s speech to the group in Madison, Wis., and to rush up to the microphone afterward to ask a question. Reading from a small scrap of paper, an assistant filming the whole thing, McAleer asked Gore about a court case brought by British parents who challenged the veracity of nine facts in Gore’s documentary “An Inconvenient Truth,” and argued that the film should be taken out of schools.
“Do you accept the findings,” asked McAleer, “and have you done anything to correct those errors?”
Gore had heard this before. McAleer, a journalist-turned-documentary filmmaker, was promoting an upcoming documentary, “Not Evil Just Wrong,” which takes aim at environmentalists in general and Gore in particular. The film’s official premiere was only a week away. So Gore tried to move on. “Well, I’m not going to go through all of those,” he said. “The ruling was in favor of the movie, by the way. The ruling was in favor of showing the movie in schools.”
But while dismissing the question, Gore joked that one of the controversies in his documentary was whether polar bears were endangered. “Word didn’t get to the polar bears,” he chuckled.
McAleer saw an opening and took it. “Well, the number of polar bears have increased, and are increasing.”
Gore raised an eyebrow. “You don’t think they’re in danger, do you?”
“The number of polar bears have increased.”
“Do you think they’re endangered?”
“The number of polar bears have increased.”
The event’s organizers mobilized, cutting the sound on McAleer’s microphone as he continued to pose questions. Moderator Tim Wheeler called it a “Warholian moment,” implying that McAleer had wrought 15 short minutes of fame out of the encounter. He had a point. Within 48 hours, McAleer had appeared on “Fox and Friends,” “Your World With Neil Cavuto,” and “Lou Dobbs,” and video of the encounter had appeared on “The O’Reilly Factor.”
This is shaping up to be a big week for McAleer and his co-director Ann McElhinney, and a celebratory moment for climate change skeptics everywhere. Two years ago the pair of Irish journalists broke the mold for conservative documentaries with “Mine Your Own Business: The Dark Side of Environmentalism,” a look at a Romanian town’s battle against foreign environmental activists who wanted to stop the building of a local gold mine. That portrait of poor, benighted Europeans flummoxed by jet-setting elitists set the stage for “Not Evil Just Wrong: The True Cost of Global Warming Hysteria,” which was funded, according to McAleer, by less than $1 million from wealthy real estate investors. The slick documentary, by turns sardonic and grim, could do for opponents of the green movement what “No End In Sight” did for Iraq War opponents or — ideally — what Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” did for McAleer’s foes.
“The strengths of the climate change skeptic movement, the ‘let science be science’ movement, have always been intellectual,” said Fred Smith, the president of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank that goes after greens. “The strength of the alarmist movement has always been emotive. This movie brings the human element in. It’s the first attempt, of a serious type, to put a human face on disastrous environmental policies.”
The film’s publicity campaign has targeted the conservative activists who should be most interested in watching Al Gore get ripped to shreds. Its promotional team includes movement new media pros like Danny Glover, formerly of National Journal, and Elizabeth Terrell, formerly of the David All Group. They’ve held pre-screenings for bloggers and brought the film to every major conservative conference of 2009, including the Values Voter Summit and Americans for Prosperity’s Defending the American Dream Summit. At the Conservative Political Action Conference, McAleer and McElhinney spoke right before Rush Limbaugh, whose presence helped them fill the Omni Shoreham’s ballroom in Washington.
“The left has figured out how this is done,” said Andrew Breitbart, the conservative new media mogul who anchored the CPAC panel. “This is primary tool they use to influence political debate: one-way communication using film and television. We need to get into this game. Here you have a movie that is fact-based, that tugs at the heartstrings.”
The 90-minute documentary alternates among interviews with climate change skeptics, embarrassing encounters with environmentalists, and emotional looks at people whom McAleer and McElhinney say are being victimized by well-meaning greens. Some of its content will be familiar to conservatives who’ve long considered Gore, Greenpeace, and other environmentalists nothing but hoaxters.
Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace who has become a critic of the group, appears in several interviews to make the case that environmentalists are hyping a non-existent threat of man-made global warming. “I don’t think it would be a bad thing for this earth to warm up,” says Moore, arguing that man-made warming might be staving off the effects of an ice age. In a brutally sarcastic narration, McAleer says that “environmentalists claim, and children believe, that melting glaciers and colder ice will cause catastrophic sea level rise.” To bring that point home, he interviews schoolchildren in Northern Ireland who’ve been convinced by Gore-style propaganda that sea levels are rising and polar bears are dying.
McAleer and McElhinney quickly move on to more obscure topics. In interviews with conservative civil rights leader Roy Innis and Ugandan activists, they argue that Rachel Carson’s campaign to ban the pesticide DDT was a case of junk science winning out over facts, and one that has led to the death of millions of Africans from malaria. A white American scientist is made to look like a buffoon who is horrified by the prospect of a DDT-soaked Uganda with more people and fewer birds. “Imagine Elton John without a piano!” she says.
That isn’t the only trick the directors borrow from Michael Moore. The case against cap-and-trade legislation is made with visits to Vevay, Ind., a small midwestern town with a profitable coal plant that employs thousands of people. McAleer found the location, he told me, because the energy company went to Vevay instead of a town in Spain after that country passed stricter environmental regulations. Vevay residents like Tim and Tiffany McElhany are shown fretting about the jobs they’d lose if coal was banned. The film ends with Tiffany McElhany trekking to Al Gore’s Tennessee mansion to deliver a letter, begging him to look again at the science and reconsider his ways. It’s a perfect illustration of the film’s message: Not only are environmentalists misguided, they’re ruining the lives of ordinary people of whom they know nothing.
“I hear a lot about clean coal,” McAleer said at a Washington screening of the film. “I don’t know the science but I think clean coal is crap. That guy in the film, Tim McElhany, has a white car, and he lives beside a coal plant.”
Some conservative films like last years “An American Carol” have been given mass releases that backfired when audiences failed to show up. “Not Evil Just Wrong” is bypassing that route, being sold directly over the Internet for $20, with buyers encouraged to wait until October 18 at 8 p.m. ET and press “play” at the same time. The website tells prospective viewers that the diffuse release plan can be a way to “have your own cinematic tea party.” According to McAleer, around 4,500 copies of the film have been distributed for screenings that could include dozens of people. McAleer, who is based in Washington will join Breitbart, Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund, and several conservative scholars for a special screening at the Heritage Foundation; on Tuesday afternoon, the conservative American Family Association forged a deal to stream the film live for anyone else who wanted to see it.
“We may at last be getting our Michael Moore,” said Fred Smith. “A virtuous Michael Moore!”