From a certain angle and with a sympathetic camera positioned just right, a triumphant Marc Morano emerges from a stretch white limo and raises his hand to an out-of-shot Paris crowd as he hits the red carpet for the world premiere of his new movie Climate Hustle.
Behind him comes a gaggle of suited climate science deniers, the stars of a film that producer Morano promised would “rock the climate debate”. To many, the big night appears to be a roaring success.
But just like many of the arguments from professional climate science denialists, what at first might appear a cinematic coup d'état turns out to be little more than fakery and stage management.
How do I know? I was there.
Marc Morano is one of the most recognisable faces of professionalized climate science denial in the United States. He is the communications director for the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT), a think tank that claims human-caused climate change is either overblown alarmism or a hoax.
The Paris “premiere” took place on 7 December 2015 at the tiny Cinéma du Panthéon, about 15 kilometres away from the actual venue of the major United Nations COP21 climate talks, which were beginning their second week.
Following Morano out of the back of the Hummer limo was a guy dressed in a large white teddy bear costume (I’m guessing the costume store was all out of polar bears).
Then came the denialists — Dr Fred Singer (who doubts secondhand tobacco smoke causes cancer), Lord Christopher Monckton (who claims Barack Obama’s birth certificate is almost certainly fake, and also lots of other stuff), Dr Bob Carter (an Australian geologist who advises a string of climate science denial groups) and Dr Willie Soon (whose research is exclusively paid for by conservative causes and the fossil fuel industry).
What was odd about this scene was that these special guests turning up in the limo had, just 20 minutes earlier, walked away from the front door of the cinema to a bar about 150 metres away, to then be driven back to the place they had just come from for their apparent grand arrival in a stretch Hummer.
Earlier still, the scene in the front of the cinema had resembled a surrealist passion play as not one, but two sets of climate activist protestors turned up to ridicule the documentary. One group was dressed as coal barons, another as spoons (I really have no idea).
During the chaos, I asked Morano if he was worried that in light of how 2015 was likely to be declared the hottest year on record, people might dismiss the claims in his movie.
Morano said the “hottest year” was dealt with by scientists appearing in the film and that in any case, the declaration would only sneak above the margin of error for global land-based measurements.
But when I asked if I could have a seat in the premiere to see the arguments from these scientists myself, Morano said he would have loved for me to be able to watch, but they were full. I was given the same story by CFACT's executive director Craig Rucker, who also cited a fire marshal excuse about the theatre's capacity.
The author interviewing Marc Morano. Photo by Brendan DeMelle
I had previously asked a French group helping to organise the premiere, Institut Coppet, for a ticket. They had accepted my RSVP, but a few days later said I wasn’t welcome. Other reporters at DeSmog and at the Irish Times had a similar experience of having a 'yes' turn to a 'no' days later.
Morano has told sympathetic media since the premiere that there were “hundreds” of people queuing down the street and that they had to turn people away. But one person who watched the Paris premiere, but asked not to be named, told me the cinema was “half empty” during the screening. An estimated 100 people had been inside for the cocktail reception, the source said. Another attendee told DeSmog after the film let out that the theatre was at best 70 percent full.
Those being “turned away” it seems were those most likely to criticise the film’s content.
Morano also told me he would be at the Paris conference later that week, but complained that “we only have two passes for our organisation” — continuing a theme that denialists were being shut out.
According to a list of Paris conference participants, the UN actually granted passes to six representatives from CFACT. Three (Morano and his CFACT colleagues Craig Rucker and David Rothbard) were accredited with a CFACT delegation and three more were listed as CFACT representatives in a ten-strong delegation from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, another conservative think tank that pushes climate science denial.
Morano has, of course, featured the movie premier on his ClimateDepot blog, where he has pictures of the “paparazzi” at the steps of the cinema. Except these were not paparazzi, but a mixture of curious DeSmog staff, bemused onlookers armed with smartphones, a filmmaker from Latvia who was following the protestors, and Chris Rogers, the producer and director of Climate Hustle. The crowd was rounded out by a few Paris police on traffic duty to keep the narrow street clear, and a half dozen private security guards hired by CFACT.
British peer Lord Christopher Monckton, the self-titled crown prince of climate sceptics, was one of the first to emerge from the back of the Hummer limo. In typically vaudevillian manner, Monckton played to the cameras by pointing at the University of Queensland’s John Cook — who was there to interview sceptics — calling him a “crook” in French and English. Cook is the bête noire of denialists, being the lead author of a science study finding that 97 per cent of peer reviewed studies on climate change agreed that it was mostly caused by human activity.
When I asked Monckton for an interview, he briefly paused, asked my name, and then said: “I only give interviews to adults”. He said he would only answer questions about science. Perhaps childishly, I pointed out that I wasn’t a scientist and neither was he. This didn’t help.
Monckton did grant an interview that week to the most certainly adult Sydney Morning Herald correspondent Peter Hannam, in which the hereditary peer Monckton said the Paris talks were an attempt to set up a “nasty totalitarian kind of global governance”. Monckton also thinks the UN had plotted to overthrow former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who once described the science of climate change as “absolute crap”.
Climate Hustle is due to premiere back in the United States some time in the new year, although Morano and Rucker were cagey about details when asked by DeSmog.
Which brings me back to the red carpet itself — an odd spongy plastic stuck to the concrete steps of the cinema. Even Morano’s red carpet was a poor imitation.
Image: Outside the Cinema du Pantheon in Paris for the premiere of Climate Hustle