He would pry us from our Prius
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, November 12, 2010
For a lot of folks, "An Inconvenient Truth" was a kind of Global Warming 101, an eye-opening if wonky cinematic classroom complete with PowerPoint slides and impassioned lecturer in the person of Al Gore. Now comes "Cool It," another personality-driven climate change documentary that makes that 2006 film seem less like a college seminar than a bedside alarm clock.
Now that we're all awake, ladies and gentlemen, and now that Mr. Gore has gotten our full attention, Bjorn Lomborg would like to send us back to school.
Who's Bjorn Lomborg?
The controversial tree-hugger at the center of "Cool It" may be less well known than Gore, but he's just as polarizing a figure. The Danish-born author of "Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming" (the 2007 book on which documentarian Ondi Timoner's fascinating film is based) has been a frequent whipping boy. Not by climate change deniers, but by his fellow climate change activists.
Lomborg's crime? He doesn't actually believe that reducing carbon emissions will fix anything.
Oh, it might help a bit, he admits. But Lomborg's opposition is based not on science, but economics. (Lomborg is an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School.) Applying a cost-benefit analysis to the effort to reduce worldwide carbon emissions has led him to conclude that the policy is a colossal waste of money that would be better spent on other things. By his estimation, it would cost hundreds of billions of dollars a year to bring the temperature down by half a degree - and that's after 100 years of trying.
This - along with Lomborg's assertion that global warming hysteria has blown the threat out of proportion to the problem - has resulted in his being branded a dangerous obstructionist by detractors, one who would rather do nothing than do something ineffective.
"Cool It," in other words, is an attempt to rehabilitate Lomborg's image. But it also presents an alternative to solutions like cap-and-trade legislation. Several alternatives, in fact. If it's propaganda, it's surprisingly effective.
With the charismatic, articulate (and, yes, kind of hunky) Lomborg in front of the camera for much of the film - along with a parade of scientists who support his views - "Cool It" makes a convincing case that there are better things we can do than drive a Prius. Not that there's anything wrong with that, he says; it's just not going to solve much.
And here's where the classroom kicks in. Lomborg presents a host of promising ideas that alternate between the startlingly simple and the scientifically sophisticated: Paint city roads and roofs white, for instance, to reflect sunlight, thereby lessening the urban heat effect; explore the use of algae as fuel, along with hydrogen and oxygen (both of which can be produced by "splitting" plain water). Lomborg even suggests cloud whitening - making thicker clouds, essentially, with giant, steam-generating boats - as a temporary fix that will buy us both more time and more shade.
Some of it sounds, quite frankly, nuts. And a few of Lomborg's enemies have said as much. But throwing tons of money at the problem with little result? That also sounds kind of crazy.
Contains some disturbing talk about the end of the world.