Sizzle: A Global Warming Comedy

by John Hocevar

July 15, 2008

Covering nearly 70% of the surface of the planet, the oceans are not escaping the impacts of global warming. Bleaching is threatening our spectacular tropical coral reefs, and melting sea ice is reducing critical habitat for seals, polar bears, and other marine mammals. And everywhere in between, rising temperatures are starting to change currents, migration patterns and even species composition. The fish that used to live in a particular area are often no longer there. On top of that, acidification, global warming’s evil twin, is turning the oceans into a corrosive bath that is rapidly becoming inhospitable to clams, corals, and everything else that forms a calcareous skeleton.

So when Randy Olson asked me to review his new movie, a “global warming comedy,” I have to admit I was curious to see where he was going to find the humor in all this. As it happens, Sizzle is a very funny film, sometimes even spit-out-your-drink funny.

Similar to Randy’s last film, Flock of Dodos, which focused on Intelligent Design, Sizzle tries to grapple with questions about the causes of global warming, the seriousness of the problem, and the degree to which humans can do anything about it. For Randy, the hordes of scientists involved in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and most people who read the news, these are not controversial topics. The science is clear: global warming is happening, humans are a major cause, and we can and must do something to reduce greenhouse gas emissions immediately.

Of course, some people don’t see it that way, and Randy takes his low budget camera crew out to get their stories. Other than the guy who works for Okie Senator James Inhofe, who looked like an attack dog in search of someone to bite, the climate skeptics come across as surprisingly nice guys (if occasionally hapless). Most of these interviews are followed with a scene with Randy muttering “that’s not true” or “he’s got it all wrong,” and there are some strong segments from scientists like Naomi Oreskes, but in general there’s not much of an effort to debunk the skeptics. The sense you get is that there’s really no need – everyone knows the truth already. But if that’s true, why bother with the skeptics at all?

So I was left wishing for a little more exploration of the forces behind the skeptics. Greenpeace has researched this in depth, showing how leading climate skeptics tend to be funded by ExxonMobil. If something smells funny, follow the money.

Dr. Oreskes saves the day by convincing the crew to abandon plans to film yet another scientist and to go to New Orleans instead. In the most emotionally compelling part of the film, Randy and his crew see firsthand the impacts of the kind of disasters global warming will cause. The film points out that the biggest victims will be poor people, whether in Africa or in the richest nation on earth.

If there’s a take home message, other than the fact that it IS possible to find humor in even the most dire topics, it may be a reminder that it’s probably not going to be the newest data, powerpoint slides, or speeches from scientists that convince people to take action. The stories are there, but we may need more story tellers like Randy if we’re going to wake people up in time.

John H

John Hocevar

By John Hocevar

An accomplished campaigner, explorer, and marine biologist, John has helped win several major victories for marine conservation since becoming the director of Greenpeace's oceans campaign in 2004.

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