At breakneck pace, Ondi Timoner’s “Cool It” profiles the controversial environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg and, in so doing, tries to encompass the myriad controversies and solutions that surround the global-warming debate. As author of “The Skeptical Environmentalist,” Lomborg has consistently asserted that the attention global-warming receives in popular culture and the academia is wildly out of proportion to the problem itself. Moreover, he argues that the billions dedicated to lowering carbon emissions will yield correspondingly miniscule results and that there are far more pressing problems – poverty, education, malaria – that instead demand our focus.
As head of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, a think-tank devoted to prioritizing and finding sustainable solutions to global problems, Lomborg continues to argue for a rational, realistic attitude to global warming. By consulting economists and environmental experts, the Center seeks to find smart, creative solutions that depend more on grassroots ingenuity and less on corporate strategies (cap and trade, carbon tax, etc.), which – as “Cool It” points out – would only result in corruption and mismanagement.
Timoner starts off with a quickly drawn sketch of Lomborg himself – a bright, young, informed individual who, it seems, represents a voice of reason in the often-hysterical climate debate. Here, the filmmaker goes for easy bids for sympathy in somewhat cheesy segments showing, for instance, Lomborg spending a day with his ailing mother or sitting distraught at his desk while Lomborg’s voiceover narrates how dejected he felt by the hostility the scientific community directed at his book.
Indeed, “The Skeptical Environmentalist” was seen as a broadside against the U.N.’s PR campaign to make global warming on par with our worst crises – a campaign that reached a fever pitch with the success of the Oscar-winning, Al Gore-starring “An Inconvenient Truth.” In a series of persuasive, balanced rebuttals, Lomborg addresses all of Gore’s claims in “Truth” and proves that, well, they weren’t that true after all: The science was skewed. Sea levels aren’t going to rise so catastrophically, for instance, and the plight of polar bears isn’t due to melting ice caps but, rather, overpopulation and rampant hunting.
In identifying the best strategies for lowering carbon emissions, Lomborg interviews several inventors and scientists as they weigh the pros and cons of everything from wind and solar power to more exotic concepts like geo-engineering. Bemoaning the shoddily made levees that caused the Hurricane Katrina disaster, he meets with experts in New Orleans and The Netherlands to discuss viable, high-tech engineering solutions that could prevent another such event from happening.
That this documentary is solution-oriented rather than fear-oriented as so many recent ones (“Inside Job,” “Countdown to Zero”) have been is itself a reason for touting it. The film is packed wall to wall with fascinating concepts and novel solutions and has an intelligent, conscientious central figure in Lomborg to guide us through it all. But Timoner’s ambition to cover so much ground and in so little time (her film runs only 85 minutes) is its main undoing: Intent to keep galloping forward, many of the issues discussed in the film’s latter half are glossed over, and we feel as if we’ve watched an infomercial rather than a substantive essay on the subject. A two-time Sundance Film Festival award winner, Timoner has previously proven herself an astute filmmaker (watch “Dig!” as evidence), but “Cool It’s” frenetic construction undermines her best intentions – and Lomborg’s. It would’ve served the film to heed the advice of its own title.
Directed by: Ondi Timoner
Written by: Terry Botwick, Sarah Gibson, Bjorn Lomborg, Ondi Timoner
Cast: Bjorn Lomborg