Cool It

underdog's picture

Reviewer: James van Maanen
Rating (out of 5): ***½

I hadn't heard of Bjorn Lomborg before I sat down to view Ondi Timoner's new documentary about Lomborg and his unorthodox but seemingly more intelligent (and probably infinitely more useful) approach to climate change and global warming than what we've been served up until now. Cool It is a smart title on several counts. It's swift and even a bit cute, while telling us not to get so worked up and apocalyptic about global warming and its results upon our tired and increasingly put-upon Mother Earth.

Timoner has given us of late -- just as has another female documentarian, Lucy Walker, with her Waste Land and Countdown to Zero -- two very different documentaries: We Live in Public and now this new one (in addition to her memorable rock-doc Dig!). Like Walker's Countdown, Timoner's Public was equally a downer, though very well put together. Now, as with Walker's Waste Land, Timoner has turned her attention to a subject that is equally fraught but because of Lomborg's beliefs, his cool and convincing arguments (and her filming of same), we leave believing that there are many better ways around and through climate change than we had imagined, and that these can actually be affected -- if our politicians will only listen, think and act.

Of course those last few words are key -- and given the completely negative and unhelpful stance of Republicans and the dithering of Democrats over the past decade, we cannot be terribly hopeful. But should Cool It get the kind of response that was given An Inconvenient Truth -- unlikely, I'm afraid, but we can hope -- who knows what might be accomplished? I say unlikely because Lomborg and Timoner deliberately refrain from scaring us the pants off us the way the Gore-narrated movie tried to do. And succeeded, too: it was very successful at the box-office. But where are we now?

Fear might make a good wake-up call, Lomborg suggests, but fear is finally unhelpful because it can also paralyze us. In the first half of the film, Timoner shows us what a controversial figure Lomborg is, despite his easy charm and non-confrontational approach (he gets a pie in the face, a la Anita Bryant, in one scene). Lomborg himself explains why what we're doing now is too little and, in any case, is barely working: the idiocies of "cap and trade," the unhelpful control of the "Environmental Establishment" (somewhat like the AIDS and Cancer Establishments, perhaps?), the importance of prioritization and -- especially -- what might be the most economically efficient manner in which to handle and hopefully reverse climate change.

Once Lomborg has laid out his very rational reason why the efforts we're making now (the Kyoto Treaty and the very minor lessening of carbon monoxide emissions) are doing too little, he then hits us with much better and more economically feasible alternatives such as artificial photosynthesis, fuel cells, algae and especially wave energy. The section devoted to this latter alternative energy source, the benefits and use of which have been known for some 35 years and which leaves no "nuclear waste" to deal with, makes our rocky love affair with nuclear energy seem stupid, horrific and extraordinarily wasteful of precious time, not to mention money.

There is so much that's positive and intelligent to consider in Cool It that I walked away from it with the first sense of hope I've experienced on the subject of climate change in a long while. Of course one of my critic compatriots, who agreed what a fine film it was, quickly burst the balloon: "They left out how hard it's gonna be to get U.S. politicians behind any of this." True. But the job of Lomborg and Timoner is to bring us the news. They have. It's our job to hear and see it, spread it, and make sure those politicians act -- and in enough unison to get something done. Wait a minute: our politicians? Now I'm depressed all over again.

There was a time when the USA was looked at as a world leader. More and more, we're simply a follower (and of some of the worst, rather than best, ideas and politicians). Perhaps it'll be the job of the smaller western countries to show the world that these economically feasible climate-change ideas can work. Let's hope so.

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