Op-ed by Michelle Stirling © 2021
Michelle Stirling is the Communications Manager for Friends of Science Society.
Media pundits have had a field day mocking the Canadian Energy Center (CEC- aka “The War Room”) for daring to post a petition to Netflix, which demanded that the oil and gas industry be portrayed in a realistic light, rather than the rapacious, evil, environment-wrecking villains of the X-Trackt oil company shown in the kids’ animated film “Bigfoot Family”.
In a March 28, 2021 story by CBC, “Bigfoot” director Ben Stassen of Belgium, reported that thanks to the attention driven by the CEC’s petition, the film’s viewership has spiked. In the CBC story, Stassen says a few revealing things.
“I know nothing about the oil industry, but I’m not that stupid to think that you extract oil by exploding a megaton bomb on the ground,” Stassen said.
If so, why did Stassen put this into a kid’s film, to misinform them? As noted in a recent interview that I did with journalist Andrew Lawton of True North, he pointed out that children do not have a broad world view and accept things in the media at face value.
Stassen goes on to tell CBC -“It’s just entertainment. It has nothing to do with Alberta,” he said. “Why they felt targeted by the film, that I do not know.”
Let me tell you why, Mr. Stassen. For the past two decades, the Alberta oil sands have been the target of a global smear attack called the Tar Sands Campaign, driven by foreign funding and various activist groups around the world. Most of the Tar Sands Campaign relies on exaggerated misinformation about the oil industry, spread by unaccountable, unelected environmental groups. Being nice, polite Canadians, for the longest time we did little to challenge these groups, believing that people are entitled to their opinions. But now with over a hundred thousand Albertans out of work and investment driven off by intentional demarketing campaigns like those of Greenpeace and BankTrack, people want to fight anti-oil misinformation, no matter where it appears.
Since Mr. Stassen admits to knowing nothing about the oil industry, perhaps Netflix should have better vetted the script and production.
“Bigfoot” reinforces energy illiteracy. How does modern society operate? On oil, gas, and coal. In the film, from the get-go, a car drives by (using gas), the racoon cooks pancakes (on a gas stove), Bigfoot flies in a gas-fueled plane (to the remote Alaska location) the mom and son and critters drive to Alaska and they even stop at an X-Trackt gas station (for food and gas), they use cellphones, which are made from the product streams of oil, natural gas and coal, and which operate on power that is generated by fossil fuel energy sources, and the film is streamed by Netflix which consumes 15% of all bandwidth in the world, and that is provided by servers powered by oil, natural gas and coal (which provide 84% of world energy), complemented by hydro and nuclear. The Internet is said to account for 3.7% of global emissions; same as aviation (pre-COVID). Everything in the film relies on oil; the demonized substance of the film! (See Netflix statement on renewable energy).
CBC reports that “He [Stassen] added that he’s proud about possibly raising awareness of how bad drilling can be for wildlife….”That’s the only thing that I was hoping people would get out of it.””
In fact, the film shows nothing of the kind.
It is ironic that this Netflix film was jointly financed by Belgian and French film funds, two countries that are net importers of oil, much of it from places that would be defined as despot nations. Nations with no environmental regulations whatsoever.
Alaska, like Alberta, is an oil-rich region but oil and gas developers in both places are subject to rigorous safety, socio-economic and environmental standards, contrary to what is shown in the film.
If Ben Stassen thinks his film is saving wildlife, what does he say of his own country importing oil from places that have little regard for their people or the environment?
This is not the first time that Netflix has been petitioned about a film. In 2015, New Zealand required Netflix to remove a film classified as ‘objectionable’ – the story was “The Bridge” – a film showing people committing suicide by jumping off the Golden Gate bridge. New Zealand has the highest youth suicide rate in the OECD according to a 2017 UNICEF report. The film “The Bridge” took place in another country, but it obviously had a potentially detrimental effect on the people of New Zealand. Netflix complied.
In fact, if anything, this is one reason many Albertans would be outraged by “Bigfoot” – because thanks to the intentional demonization and economic destruction of Alberta’s oil, gas and oil sands industries, wrought by the Tar Sands Campaign, hundreds of Albertans have committed suicide due to the collapse of the industry.
On Feb. 06, 2015, the Financial Post reported that Canada had avoided being labelled as ‘dirty’ oil by the EU Fuel Quality Directive, and thanks to that clarity, pipelines to access European and Asian markets were planned for construction. Optimistically, many Albertans started gearing up to serve the supply needs of the four major pipelines planned or approved at the time. (Northern Gateway, twinning of Trans Mountain, Keystone XL, and Energy East) It seemed a ‘no-brainer’ that at least one or more pipelines would be built.
By 2017, ENGO activists were crowing that they had cost the oil sands industry $19 billion in delays in pipeline projects since 2011. By 2018 all four major projects had been cancelled or, in the case of Trans Mountain, work was suspended, then the federal government bought the pipeline.
The pipelines to access European and Asian markets were blocked by activist environmentalists and ENGOs, rather like the folks Ben Stassen shows in his film.
So, Mr. Stassen, it is not ‘just entertainment’, especially when children are being told that oil companies are reckless corporations, run by evil villains.
But to my mind, the worst aspect of “Bigfoot” is the psychological training of children for eco-martyrdom. What we see in the film is that all “Bigfoot” needs for evidence to jump into the cause is the plea from two people in polar bear outfits. He jumps in with no expertise – but to find meaning in his own life and capitalize on his new-found celebrity and ‘do good’. In the film, the environmentalists claim that because there are armed guards and a security fence, there ‘must be something going on’. In fact, most industrial facilities are fenced to keep the public out because it is dangerous on site, especially for the untrained public.
When Bigfoot arrives, he does not try any other method to assess whether or not the oil company is following regulations. In places like Alberta and Alaska, at environment ministries, there are binders full of compliance requirements and reporting, most of which is open to public review. Nope, Bigfoot just accepts the word of the polar-bear costumed activists, then unlawfully breaks into a high security industrial area. When Bigfoot goes missing, his wife and son take the law into their own hands.
What message does this send children?
Ben Stassen says he does not know anything about the oil industry, so he probably does not know that in Canada we have had eco-warriors illegally hang from the Calgary Tower with a banner, causing the shutdown of the downtown core and putting lives at risk. In Alberta, we have had eco-warriors illegally break into secured facilities to chain themselves to dangerous equipment, where they created a serious risk to themselves and the public. We continue to have illegal nation-wide disruptions by activists who blocked railways and roads last year for about two months because they disagreed about a ruling on a gas pipeline to the west coast. While Canadians have the legal Charter Right of peaceful assembly, riots or disturbance of the peace are not protected, nor do protestors have the right to physically impede or blockade lawful activities. This is a breach of rule of law that “Bigfoot” encourages, no matter how ‘noble’ the cause in the fairy-tale.
And worse – in Canada, we continue to have eco-activists booby trapping roads and rights-of-way where legally authorized oil, gas, and pipeline workers go to work. Yes, these activists are willing to maim or kill people for their ideology, the exact opposite of what is shown in the movie “Bigfoot”.
Media pundits and opposition politicians in Alberta feel the petition is a waste of public funds, but it costs virtually nothing to post a petition. Activists do it all the time. Like those climate and eco-activists, the CEC ‘War Room’ got the public’s attention and has stimulated a discussion about this film and its negative, misinformed representation of the industry that drives Canada’s economy, and the economies of thriving countries of the world. That would seem to be a constructive outcome.
The same parties have also mocked the Alberta Inquiry into the foreign-funded Tar Sands Campaign, but sadly the movie “Bigfoot” reflects the kind of ‘lone wolf’ eco-activist ideologue that Prof. Barry Cooper discusses in his paper, commissioned by the inquiry.
So, in my mind, that is the real problem with “Bigfoot” – it is a fact-free, cute, animated adventure for kids made by someone who admits he knows nothing about the oil industry, that ends up prepping little minds for anti-oil hatred and eco-martyrdom.
However, I am not into cancel culture. I propose that as a counterpoint, Netflix provide its platform for the distribution of the Alberta film “Global Warning”, made by award-winning director Mathew Embry. It is a touching, informative, and nuanced film that addresses the gut-wrenching depths of despair that many Albertans are feeling. It shows the gutted downtown core of Calgary – once a beehive of activity, now a real estate ghost-town. “Global Warning” addresses humanity’s need for energy and the challenges of diverse conflicting concerns about climate change, the environment, First Nations heritage, social, and economic realities of resource development. Unlike “Bigfoot”, “Global Warning” embraces opposing views and tries to work them out through dialogue and understanding.
Isn’t that what we should be teaching kids? That, along with energy literacy, civics, and observance of rule of law.