This film, which showcases the controversial ideas that Danish academic Bjorn Lomborg has expressed in print about how to address the problem of climate change, will probably be characterized as a cinematic rejoinder to “An Inconvenient Truth.” But although Lomborg is certainly not walking in lockstep with Al Gore, that wouldn’t be fair. “Cool It” doesn’t dispute that climate change is occurring, or that humans are largely responsible for it; it doesn’t allege, as some do, that “global warming” is a hoax. It does, however, question the alarmist way in which the idea has been sold to the public and the solutions that have been proposed as necessary to address the problem if utter calamity is to be avoided. It instead proposes that we talk about the matter using reason rather than fear, and consider a response based on cost-benefit analyses rather than political correctness.
One might think that such a temperate, rational approach would attract widespread support, but in fact it’s elicited sharp condemnation instead. One of the threads that director Ondi Timoner (“Dig!”) includes in the picture is the storm of criticism that Lomborg’s arguments have engendered. There are harshly negative comments from scientists and activists, as well as an account of a 2003 finding by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty that accused him of distortion and fabrication of data in his book “The Skeptical Environmentalist.” But that finding was effectively revoked by Denmark’s Ministry of Science later in the year, which Lomborg reads as vindication of his work. (Indeed, too much of “Cool It”—the title taken from one of his later books—is devoted to exculpating Lomborg from charges of dishonesty. It comes to seem like too much special pleading.)
Apart from that, however, the picture succeeds in presenting Lomborg’s arguments in a cogent, persuasive way, an accomplishment to which he contributes substantially by serving as its articulate, personable narrator. His basic premise is that while Gore and those who think as he does have done a great service by bringing public awareness to the issue of climate change, their predictions of immediate catastrophe are exaggerated and the means they propose to address the problem are not only impractical but so hugely expensive that adopting them would undercut efforts to address other pressing social and economic problems.
By contrast, Lomborg contends that while climate change is a very real problem, it doesn’t pose the threat of imminent disaster that fearmongering has impressed on so many, especially the young. Moreover, the solutions thus far proposed to combat it would be either be ineffectual or so costly that they would be almost impossible to implement or, if undertaken, would cripple society in other important areas. But he doesn’t stop there: he investigates a variety of innovative alternative solutions and calls for increased R&D support for them, not because all of them would pan out but because some of them might, and would help to solve the problem at significantly less expense, both in dollars and social dislocation.
Throughout Lomborg, apart from those moments when he’s the aggrieved victim of unfair attacks, adopts a pose of reasonableness that contrasts with the angry outbursts of some of his critics, and the tactic certainly earns his point of view—as well as the man himself—a great deal of viewer sympathy. But one can see difficulties that aren’t considered in the film. Lomborg may well be correct in asserting that extreme fearmongering about climate change might simply encourage people to think it’s an insoluble problem and lead to apathy on their part. But couldn’t his contention that the prospects aren’t as potentially catastrophic as has been claimed lead to apathy, too? And while the various projects he investigates as possible solutions seem promising, there’s the chance that none of them will be the golden bullet he’s searching for. He’d probably respond that they’re only a sample, and others will certainly emerge to replace them. But one has to question whether his faith that science will ultimately find a solution isn’t just a pious hope. And if it is, wouldn’t adopting the cap-and-trade policy that he curtly dismisses be better than doing nothing at all, however imperfect and expensive it might be?
So “Cool It” doesn’t have all the answers any more than “An Inconvenient Truth” did. But it does possess the virtue of trying to start a civil conversation on climate change that’s based on reason rather than fear. Even Jon Stewart might agree that’s a good thing.