Not so long ago you couldn’t open a newspaper or turn on the TV news without seeing pictures of “stranded” polar bears (who weren’t stranded), “collapsing” ice sheets (ice sheets have collapsed for as long as there have been ice sheets), or Manhattan under water to illustrate some new claim about how runaway global warming was going to lead to imminent catastrophe.
Alongside the propaganda masquerading as news, Hollywood and TV companies have been churning out fictional disinformation in the shape of films such as The Day After Tomorrow and Happy Feet (any self-respecting propaganda machine knows the importance of catching ‘em young), and various small-screen dramas and “drama-documentaries.”
But with no significant increase in global temperatures for the past ten years or so, and atmospheric monitoring failing to find any evidence of the much-vaunted “greenhouse signature,” what used to be a steady stream of apocalyptic stories emanating from the newsrooms has all but dried up, and the job of trying to persuade us that the threat from global warming is real is increasingly being left to the entertainment divisions of the mass media. The BBC has long been one of the worst offenders in terms of biased reporting on the issue, and now the Beeb has stepped up to the plate to address the propaganda deficit with its two-part drama Burn Up.
[Note: Burn Up is a joint BBC-Canadian production, which just aired in Great Britain. It will also air in Canada, and it'll likely find its way on to US television at some point. There are no outright spoilers in what follows, but a couple of minor ones.]
The plot of Burn Up revolves around the newly appointed boss of Arrow Oil, Tom McConnell, who’s drawn into all manner of intrigue surrounding attempts to get the United States to sign a “Kyoto 2″ treaty at a climate change summit in Canada. Tom begins to question his company’s commitment to fossil fuels when he falls under the spell of Holly (Neve Campbell), Arrow’s hot new appointee to the supposedly token position of head of renewables.
Battling Holly for Tom’s soul is oil lobbyist Mack, played by The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford. Mack is essentially JR Ewing without the good points, and in case the viewer should be in any doubt as to the extent of his moral bankruptcy, in one of Burn Up’s many gratuitously America-bashing scenes Mack is shown watching a faith healer at work on cable TV, and exclaiming, with tears in his eyes, “Praise the Lord!” It’s not bad enough that he’s a shill for the oil industry — he’s a Bible-bashing shill for the oil industry.
Tom’s conversion from oilman to eco-warrior is helped along by an encounter with another pretty woman, an Inuit scientist and environmental campaigner called Mika. Mika serves Tom with a writ alleging that Arrow’s activities are destroying her people’s habitat, then immolates herself outside the ensuing court hearing (a feat which, ironically, she wouldn’t have been able to achieve without the help of a large can of gasoline — try committing ritual suicide with a solar panel and see how far you get).
Before going up in flames Mika hands Tom a DVD, which turns out to be her martyrdom video. (The parallel between the behaviour of environmental extremists and Islamic extremists is no doubt unintentional, but it’s food for thought.) Having watched the video, Tom vows that Mika will not have fried in vain.
Tom and Holly travel to Canada for Mika’s funeral (irony alert number two: they have to bury her under a pile of rocks because the ground is frozen). Having paid their respects, Holly and Tom promptly shack up together (literally — they do it in a shack).
Note to lefty environmentalists everywhere: it’s okay to cheat on your wife and destroy your family, just so long as you care sufficiently about the planet.
And so to Calgary, where the bullying, insensitive American delegation is riding roughshod over global opinion and doing everything it can to sabotage Kyoto 2, with Mack and his sinister cabal of businessmen pulling the strings. It’s no exaggeration to say that the fate of the world depends on Tom and Holly. Can they succeed?
You don’t want to know. Burn Up is lousy drama. Every character is a stereotype, particularly the Americans: Mack and his cronies wear stetsons in the bar while celebrating the anticipated demise of Kyoto 2. The plot is simplistic and far-fetched, while the dialogue sounds like something cooked up at a drama workshop for teenagers: I know this because my partner, who teaches drama workshops for teenagers, overheard a snippet (“You could help start a third energy age — the one that’ll save us. The solar one, the wind one, the one that won’t kill us.”) and remarked “it sounds like one of my kids’ plays.”