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Toronto 2010: Is the global-warming threat overstated?

September 13, 2010 |  7:00 am


Documentary smackdown is one of those pleasant oxymorons, like graduate student, or entertaining VMA telecast. But for a movie with and about wonks, Ondi Timoner's "Cool It" manages to start a fracas or two with Al Gore and his "An Inconvenient Truth" while offering its own thought scoops to slurp down.

Timoner's movie, which world-premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sunday evening and will be released in theaters this fall, espouses mainly the point of view of one Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish environmentalist whose views somehow manage to seem both provocative and prosaically sensible.

Lomborg is the author of a 1998 bestseller titled "The Skeptical Environmentalist" as well as the "Cool It" of this movie's title. Mainly, it seems from this film, he travels the world researching and speaking out about his own brand of eco-justice. Lomborg isn't exactly skeptical about climate change, but he does think that a) there's a disproportionate amount of resources spent on it relative to the world's other problems and b) the solutions to global warming, even when they should be undertaken, are often unimaginative and cost-ineffective.

Timoner's film follows a similar format to Davis Guggenheim's 2005 Oscar winner -- it's constructed around a touchstone lecture -- though with more outside talking heads and less professorial-style explanation. (The director behind the wild digital-media doc "We Live In Public," Timoner is behind the camera but mainly silent, as Lomborg not only appears in much of the film but narrates it.)

The Dane, a boyishly likable sort who speaks near-flawless English, goes after Gore for scaring us too much and for the feelings of hopelessness the former vice president creates with some of his more starling claims. Lomborg also gets plenty of scientists to roll their eyes at Gore's alarmism.

Speaking to 24 Frames, Lomborg continued the skepticism about Gore's message. "This isn't an anti-Al Gore film; all the people who were energized by "An Inconvenient Truth" are good people. But it is a corrective to some of Al Gore's scenarios," he said. "'An Inconvenient Truth' certainly put global warming on the map, but it did so by scaring the pants off people. That doesn't motivate people to make sensible decisions. It just puts them in panic mode. I want to show what we can really do if we want to tackle this problem."

Though occasionally the Gore-ishness seems gratuitous -- it's not as though Lomborg disagrees with the basic diagnosis that the greenhouse gases are causing a rise in the Earth's temperatures -- some of the interviews with scientists about "Truth" serve as an intriguing perspective on a film many of us take as a given.

As for its more substantive claims, "Cool It" doesn't actually look as much at environmental science as you'd think. Lomborg is instead very interested in the allocation of resources toward the world's biggest problems. Many of his solutions are simply common sense (e.g., some say the fight against global warming is necessary in the fight against malaria, but Lomborg says that's too indirect; better to spend money on medical research).

The accuracy of some points is hard to divine from the doc itself, but, if true, they are thought-provoking. Lomborg argues, for instance, that some of the efforts to curb carbon emissions are too expensive relative to the very small incremental temperature reductions they'll bring about. So instead of, say, changing to more environmentally friendly light bulbs, we should be pushing politicians to make alternative energies more affordable.

But it's the last section of the film in which he gets most provocative. Lomborg claims that at least part of the solution to global warming should lie with climate engineering, in which the rising mercury is moderated not by mankind producing fewer carbon emissions, but by simply redirecting the warmth outward. Painting streets white, for instance, would mean less heat absorbed into the surfaces of our cities. There's also a water-bound machine from an out-of-the-box-scientist that would send particles into clouds, thickening them so they can better absorb the sun's rays.

It sounds whimsical, but Lomborg marshals plenty of facts and credentialed talking heads to make his case for this kind of engineering. And, in any event, he's saying it's a stopgap, not the grand solution.

"Cool It" isn't always convincing, but it's enlightening, brain-nourishing stuff. And with a long discussion with the audience following its premiere, Sunday's was the kind of movie event -- informal, eye-opening, with just the right amount of heat -- that Toronto does best. We can only wait for Gore to make his sequel.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Bjorn Lomborg in 'Cool It." Credit: Roadside Attractions


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Actually, if you have been following the latest scientific developments (i.e. the stuff being published in peer-reviewed scientific journals), you will find that the global-warming problem is turning out to be at least as bad as (or even worse than) what was depicted in An Inconvenient Truth (AIT).

Gore's AIT was dumbed-down too much in places (it was aimed at non-science-literate audiences), but it definitely did not overstate the problem.

If you talk to real climate scientists who have doing real climate research, you will get a much different picture than what Lomborg (a non-scientist who has published no climate research) has been painting.

Let me point you to in particular to a talk that was given at the 2010 American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference that was recently held in San Diego. The talk was entitled, "Use of Scientific Certainty Argumentation Methods in Climate Debates". The abstract can be viewed here: http://aaas.confex.com/aaas/2010/webprogram/Paper1639.html

And here is the "money quote" from the abstract:
New scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is "worse than previously expected," rather than "not as bad as previously expected," strongly supporting the ASC perspective rather than the usual framing of the issue in the U.S. mass media.

The bottom line is, non-scientist Al Gore has a much better handle on the science than non-scientist Bjorn Lomborg has.

"Few seem to realise that the present IPCC models predict almost unanimously that by 2040 the average summer in Europe will be as hot as the summer of 2003 when over 30,000 died from heat. By then we may cool ourselves with air conditioning and learn to live in a climate no worse than that of Baghdad now. But without extensive irrigation the plants will die and both farming and natural ecosystems will be replaced by scrub and desert. What will there be to eat? The same dire changes will affect the rest of the world and I can envisage Americans migrating into Canada and the Chinese into Siberia but there may be little food for any of them." --Dr James Lovelock's lecture to the Royal Society, 29 Oct. '07

This CO2 mistake, the longer we try and milk it, will keep us out of power for a decade or more. Climate Change is OUR Iraq War of lies and WMD's and will do to liberalism what Bush did to the neocons.
What isn't sustainable is another 24 years of climate change warnings. A new generation of liberals will have to evolve so we can again be a party that challenges authority instead of legitimizing authority like obedient Greenzis. Scientists, politicians, Bernie Madoff, bad cops, bad judges, priests............ Let's get ahead of the curve and drop this mistake because the first party to renounce the CO2 theory and push for more research and more population control will get a majority.
The voters have the consensus that matters and if you still think the voters will vote YES to tax me, tax me, tax me and YES to lifestyle sacrifices to SAVE THE PLANET, well, YOU are the new denier.

al-gore theory is not based on research as much as on guessing. for example he says that temperature on venus is 867 degree becouse of carbon dioxide and then he says that co2 on the earth is a cause for warming. but sorry conditions on venus are not well-known and it is wiered to make conclusion without enough information.

Well gee I can't wait for the articles now asking what he spends for electricity monthly and his carbon footprint. How big is his house? How much carbon was expended making this movie? Did he fly anywhere? What kind of energy does he use in his house? What's good for the goose right?

It is really so apparent what this is really all about. Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth did not spend one moment fearmongering and anyone who actually watched the documentary knows it. And I find the timing of this suspicious as well. Just as more people are becoming aware of the clear effects of climate change and calling for the exact changes he claims to support he comes onto the scene professing to be "calm and logical" to set them straight.

Well, Al Gore has been calm and logical on this for over thirty years, only the political partisans and corporate masters who control our energy policy feel it necessary now to once again use their influence to try to quash the truth. And he has also stated that there are more important things than climate change. Really? Sounds like an oil industry line to me. Just whose money backed the making of this btw?

Revenge against the man who actually awakened the population to the truth the special interests Lomborg supports by putting this out now were hiding for over forty years is all this looks like. Not cool. And of course he thinks some methods to solve climate change are too expensive because he is reportedly a proponent of geoengineering schemes. So is he positioned to make money off the climate getting worse? How ironic. This is really just a show piece for him so this is definitely one movie I won't waste my time looking at.

I agree with Lomborg that we need to look at our priorities. Too many climate change activists seem to be ignorant of more pressing problems faced by people in the world who are not as privileged as they are.

For example, for someone who lives from paycheck to paycheck, the risk of unemployment is much more pressing than the risk of melting icecaps.


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