Cool It
Directed by Ondi Timoner
Starring: Bjorn Lomborg, controversial author of The Skeptical Environmentalist
Rated PG for thematic
89 min.

When it arrived in theaters, An Inconvenient Truth was a brash, wildly successful call to arms for the environmental movement. With Al Gore wielding nothing but a wonky slideshow, a sense of righteous indignation and a series of disarming statistics, the ex-vice president dragged eco-consciousness back into the mainstream. Before Truth, global warming — for the most part — wasn’t given nearly the sustained, urgent media treatment that it now commands.
Yet, for all the awareness the film brought to a planet in peril, Al Gore’s opus also spawned an even more virulent backlash to the idea of global warming. Skeptics gleefully noted numerous incidents — D.C.’s “Snowmageddon,” the “coldest” British winter in 2009 — where the weather appeared to be cooling, not warming. The snark, cynicism, misinformation and well-reasoned disbelief mounted over the last five years, ironically coinciding with the rise of the faddish, corporate “green” movement .

In this frigid climate, Bjorn Lomborg’s documentary Cool It has deftly inserted itself into the debate billed as the anti-Inconvenient Truth, the “counterpoint” to Al Gore’s “propaganda” — but it isn’t a cynical backlash film. Lomborg, who authored The Skeptical Environmentalist, has been branded a “heretic” among some global warming proponents.

But his mission is not dissimilar from Gore’s. He just happens to disagree with nearly every solution to global warming that the Oscar-winning, climate-change crusader prescribes. How can that be?

Global warming is a very real phenomenon, argues Lomborg. Having said that, the methods most commonly associated with “curing” the problem — carbon credits and comprehensive cap-and-trade legislation — will only lead to more corporate corruption (energy companies are champing at the bit to exploit loopholes) and will only lower the rising temperatures over the next century by a negligible fraction. If world governments are planning to throw hundreds of billions of dollars at the problem, Lomborg would like them to at least get a decent return on the investment.

That’s where the author’s Denmark-based think-tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, enters. The organization’s mission is to gather leading economists to provide governments a blueprint of efficient ways to spend their aid money to make the most impact. The range of issues that the center deals with goes beyond global warming. Health, hunger and infrastructure needs are — in Lomborg’s view — more important than “directly” tackling the problem with previously mentioned cap-and-trade methods.

Since the doc isn’t solely an investigation of climate science, director Ondi Timoner (Dig) also takes a considerable amount of time to retell Lomborg’s life story through the lens of favorable academics and researchers who extol the virtues of the author. In this documentary, at least, audiences will not understand The Skeptical Environmentalist to be an anti-global warming treatise (which Lomborg vigorously argues that it’s not), which is what many of his detractors assert.

Keeping in mind the apparent slant of the documentary — which, like An Inconvenient Truth, carries an implicit agenda for its policy proposals — here are a few of the global warming solutions that the center advocates. Although it seems as if alternative energy spending has increased in recent years, Lomborg insists that the funding isn’t nearly enough. A significant number of billions should be redirected to wind, solar, wave and algae fuel projects, which one day may be economically feasible as energy providers. Geo-engineering, which many scientists scoff at as undue meddling in the environment (e.g., seeding clouds with chemicals etc.), should be given serious consideration. After all, Lomborg notes, we are currently meddling with the environment every day with emissions from cars and smokestacks.

Finally, among a blizzard of experimental proposals, Cool It argues for more attention to be more focused on practical development spending (such as halting the still-virulent disease malaria, investing in third-world education and sturdier levees in New Orleans) rather than “inefficient” treaties like Kyoto or last year’s Copenhagen conference. And again, Lomborg stresses the point that cap-and-trade legislation would be an expensive mistake that wouldn’t halt global warming.

If An Inconvenient Truth’s enduring legacy was to “scare the pants” off the public to get the mainstream to recognize global warming as real, then Cool It serves to advance the agenda by fleshing out Al Gore’s manifesto with some alternative proposals. Even though the documentary takes pains to point out in detail all the facts that Al Gore got “wrong,” it does so with a certain reverence for the title. Without An Inconvenient Truth paving the way, Cool It wouldn’t exist.