Climate Corner: Bigfoot and the big lie

Apr 17, 2021

Aaron Dunbar

Parkersburg News and Sentinel

I write a lot about climate change, given that it’s one of the greatest existential threats ever faced by humanity. But my first true love has always been for the art of cinema, and animation in particular.

And so it was with great interest that I recently stumbled across an animated Netflix film called “The Bigfoot Family.” Specifically, I found myself enthralled by the real life drama of Netflix being attacked over this seemingly innocuous kids movie by the Canadian Energy Centre, a government funded Alberta lobbying group.

The money of Canadian taxpayers, in other words, is being used to go after Bigfoot.

“TELL THE TRUTH NETFLIX!” urges a petition on the CEC website, which sits at 3,545 signatures as of this writing. I’m not sure which is funnier — the fact anyone would expect a cartoon film about Bigfoot to be an accurate, nonfictional retelling of events, or that the same industry that’s spent half a century lying about climate change is suddenly wringing its hands about truth and transparency.

In any case, I decided to watch this apparent bombshell of a motion picture for myself, just to see what all the fuss was about.

The film focuses on Bigfoot, as introduced in a previous film entitled “The Son of Bigfoot,” as he joins a group of environmental protesters attempting to stop an oil company called XTrakt from blowing up an Alaskan wildlife refuge, in order to gain access to its oil.

I’m going to be blunt here and say that this was a pretty bad movie, even for children’s fare, which makes the attacks from fossil fuel lobbyists seem all the more pathetic. And yet I found myself impressed that, for such a generally dull waste of an hour and a half, the film punches surprisingly above its weight in highlighting several of the real life malicious practices utilized by the fossil fuel industry.

The basics of the movie’s plot, as wacky as they sound, actually have at least one oversized foot in reality. Alberta’s own government, for instance, once concocted an insane plan to release oil from subterranean bitumen by dropping up to 100 nuclear bombs near Fort McMurray, in a proposal known as Project Cauldron.

The movie also successfully highlights the common practice of greenwashing, or “the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound.”

In the film, XTrakt can be seen touting its revolutionary new “clean oil,” which it insists has zero environmental impact. The most obvious real life analog to this is the myth of “clean coal” that’s been pushed by the industry for some time now. Parallels can also be drawn to fossil fuel companies promoting the use of natural gas along with “gray” hydrogen as climate-friendly sources of energy, when in fact they remain massive sources of climate-killing greenhouse gases.

But there was one scene from the movie in particular that really resonated with me. At one point, Bigfoot and his environmentalist friends are interviewed by a TV news network about their efforts to shut down XTrakt’s operations. Immediately following this segment, the network segues straight into an interview with XTrakt CEO Conor Mandrake, who insists that the project will have zero environmental footprint, and that “Nobody cares more about the environment than me.”

Bigfoot’s son Adam, watching the report as it airs, indignantly exclaims, “That was like a commercial for the oil company!” His mother chimes in, “Taking ad money from the people you’re interviewing? So much for journalistic integrity…”

In point of fact, the column you’re now reading exists as a direct response to fossil fuel PR men being given significant column space in local newspapers, essentially amounting to unlimited free advertising. Several of our own writers recently received national recognition in a piece by The New Republic for their efforts to combat fracking advocate Greg Kozera, whose propaganda appears regularly in the Parkersburg News and Sentinel, along with papers throughout Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania.

As grateful as we are to be able to respond to Kozera’s industry-funded messaging through our own weekly grassroots column, it’s baffling to our writers that the News and Sentinel regularly offers space to this bought and paid for outsider to peddle his lies and half-truths to local readers.

That said, the News and Sentinel is far from alone in offering this type of unlimited free advertising to the fossil fuel industry. The role of major news outlets in giving industry-funded climate change deniers a platform is a major reason that any “debate” about climate change exists in the first place.

What’s more, while oil and gas advocates are up in arms about kids being “brainwashed” by Bigfoot, they’re also busy disseminating their own misinformation in school classrooms across the U.S., suppressing teachers’ ability to teach the science of climate change while creating propaganda cartoon characters like Oklahoma’s “Petro Pete,” to instill the lesson that “having no petroleum is a nightmare!” in children’s minds.

And so I suppose it’s hardly any wonder that fossil fuel companies should find a bland children’s movie like “The Bigfoot Family” so threatening. This is a dying industry whose last gasp at survival hinges on misinforming and confusing the public, beginning at a young age. Industry leaders are desperate to continue enriching themselves at whatever cost to workers, communities, and the planet, and any effort to expose their underhanded tactics must not be tolerated — even if that means chasing after mythical cartoon characters with torches and pitchforks.