‘Cool It’ takes a dig at ‘Truth’
‘Cool It’’ arrives having been labeled the anti-“An Inconvenient Truth.’’ It is. But not in the philistinistic way you’d expect. The lanky Swedish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg runs around this documentary — mostly in snug black T-shirts — telling people that money devoted to rolling back global warming, which he acknowledges as a true problem, is being misspent. Rather than trying to ratify costly, ineffectual international accords, the nations of the world should be paying to fight, say, malnutrition and improve education, and they should back the development of clean-energy solutions.
I’d back the development of a better strategy for how to put Lomborg’s frustration across in a movie. Ondi Timoner, whose previous, much better documentaries include “Dig!’’ and “We Live in Public,’’ directed “Cool It,’’ and she tosses in a little of everything. But to what end? In the opening minutes, a cartoon Earth melts like a scoop of ice cream while British children whine about how scared they are of global warming. Lomborg contends that they — and we — have been brainwashed into thinking that climate change is the greatest threat to mankind. He contends, mostly from the stage of a Yale lecture hall, that it’s a manageable crisis.
Most of his lecture is devoted to debunking “An Inconvenient Truth,’’ Davis Guggenheim’s runny film of Al Gore and his famous global warming PowerPoint show. Assertion by assertion, Lomborg disputes Gore. The movie’s talk of apocalyptic sea levels and hurricanes, epidemic malaria, and the end of polar bears is a stretch; all Gore does, Lomborg says, is hyperbolize.
On one level, this is one filmmaker thumbing her nose at another. Unfortunately, a lot of what was wrong with Guggenheim’s movie is wrong with Timoner’s. “Cool It’’ has just as many lifeless shots of a man pleading for change during a slide show. Lomborg’s beliefs about bad priorities might be true, but the movie doesn’t make much of a case for them.
First-world children are overly paranoid about global warming, Lomborg insists. They’re victims of fear-mongering. As evidence, the movie visits uniformed English school kids (presumably the ones from the opening sequence) working on global warming projects. They seem worried about climate change when, really, Lomborg says, they should be worried about worldwide famine and illiteracy. A scene or two before that Lomborg asks a classroom full of the British kids’ less well-off, uniformed African peers whether global warming is a concern (a few hands go up). Then he asks whether health care is a problem. More hands go up. Is he making a point about class? Is global warming a bourgeois concern? Maybe, but the movie isn’t brave enough to make that argument along class lines.
The criticisms that Lomborg’s detractors provide are also vague. He was once tried for (and cleared of) scientific dishonesty for his book “The Skeptical Environmentalist.’’ The Stanford professor Stephen Schneider tells Timoner’s camera that Lomborg is “a massive negative force on this issue.’’ For one thing, Schneider says, he doesn’t know anything about climate change. That doesn’t seem to be the big problem (it doesn’t even appear to be entirely true). The trouble is that Lomborg might be siphoning money away from Schneider’s research and attention away from global warming.
The movie makes Lomborg appear reasonable. I don’t know if that’s what Timoner intended, but he doesn’t seem all that radical. He actually seems rather kind — I’d feel that way even if the movie omitted that inexplicable visit to Lomborg’s ailing mother. Timoner definitely means “Cool It’’ to be constructive. To that end, she’s turned the last block of her movie into an infomercial showcasing the work scientists are doing with alternative energy and how much it will all cost. There are a lot of entertaining alternatives, too: urban cooling, geo-engineering, wave energy, algae fuel, something called stratospheric aerosol injection. You realize that Timoner has trumped up Lomborg as a giant problem only so she can say her movie is part of the solution.
Wesley Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.