"Cool It": Climate Contrarian Bjorn Lomborg Takes His Message to the Movies

By Jennifer Welsh | November 12, 2010 4:41 pm

cool-it-movie-posterClimate change is causing areas of the world to heat and cool, and it seems a controversial new climate change film is doing the same to reviewers.

The film is titled Cool It and was based on a book of the same name by Danish writer Bjørn Lomborg, a contrarian who delights in questioning the gravity of our planet’s environmental problems. The movie was directed by Ondi Timoner, an award-winning documentarian.

Lomborg has raised the hackles of environmental activists since he published The Skeptical Environmentalist a decade ago. Since then he has drawn closer to environmentalists on some issues–for example, he now maintains that global warming should be one of the world’s “chief concerns.” But in the new documentary, Lomborg still argues that money spent on trying to limit carbon output would be better spent on investment in green technologies and geoengineering. The film is currently enjoying a limited release across the United States.

New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andrew Revkin compares Lomborg’s Cool It to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth:

Does the film succeed? “Cool It” is eminently watchable — which is no surprise given Timoner’s involvement. Lomborg, as always, is charming and persuasive, frequently shown riding his bicycle through Copenhagen’s busy streets — in what has to be seen as a dig at Gore, who in his film is often seen racing through airports.

But it suffers from the same simplification syndrome that weakened “An Inconvenient Truth.”… In “Cool It,” Lomborg breezily ticks down a laundry list of high-tech ways to engineer the atmosphere, for example, but punts on the tougher questions related to such planet-scale enterprises — such as the inevitable diplomatic dispute over who sets the planetary thermostat and how blocking the sun does nothing to stem the buildup of carbon dioxide, much of which will stay in the atmosphere for many centuries. [The New York Times]

In the opinion of Wired’s Hugh Hart, Lomborg is a “charismatic tour guide” who ultimately fails to convince.

But when Lomborg — presented much of the time in full lecture mode — takes to the blackboard and scratches out figures numbering in the billions of dollars as estimates for what it would cost to make recommended fixes, one wonders if his largely untested propositions truly carry more weight than the doomsday extrapolations proffered by Gore and company. [Wired]

In contrast, the LA Times’ Betsy Sharkey seems very convinced. She doesn’t question Lomborg’s credibility, and finds the film hopeful and creative:

The range of ideas is eclectic, from the practical simplicity of cooling cities by changing the color of the streets to highly complex systems designed to alter atmospheric conditions. By suggesting there is light at the end of the global warming tunnel, Timoner has made “Cool It” a hopeful film. We just have to know where to look for the switch. [Los Angeles Times]

Michael O’Sullivan with the Washington Post was also swayed by Lomborg’s presentation:

If it’s propaganda, it’s surprisingly effective. With the charismatic, articulate (and, yes, kind of hunky) Lomborg in front of the camera for much of the film — along with a parade of scientists who support his views — “Cool It” makes a convincing case that there are better things we can do than drive a Prius. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, he says; it’s just not going to solve much.

All these critics seem to agree that Cool It is engaging, but none of them really grapple with the ideas presented in the movie. For example, some of the geoengineering schemes that Lomborg advocates could, if adopted on a grand scale, turn down the global thermostat by reducing the amount of sunlight hitting the Earth. But that wouldn’t stop the carbon dioxide in our atmosphere from gradually turning the oceans acidic, a change that could have enormous repercussions.

Watch the trailer below for a better idea of the film’s voice and tone:

Related Content:
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Discoblog: Chatbot Debates Climate Change Deniers on Twitter so You Don’t Have to
DISCOVER: Reviews: Global Warming, the Great Lifesaver
The Intersection: Okay, Climate Scientists: Time to Fight Smart
The Intersection: Al Gore’s New Book: A Focus on Solutions

Image: IMDB / Cool It

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Technology, Top Posts
  • Bigbadbob

    What an idiot!

  • kirk

    At least he doesn’t have a CGI Jesus riding a dinosaur that shoots clean coal flames from its mouth. Inevitable warming is inevitable.

  • http://brianforwater.org Brian Schmidt

    Lomborg is slippery, be careful with anything he claims as factual. An entire book was written Howard Friel about mistakes in The Skeptical Environmentalist, with most (not all) of the critique being pretty accurate.

  • Meme Mine

    Convince me:
    -that climate change is unstoppable warming
    -and convince me that all the denial scientists are dishonest.
    Until then, (unless I’m swimming down my street in a Canadian winter), I’m a Green Liberal Climate Change Denier.
    The new denier actually is a climate change believer who still thinks voter support is still there.

  • bskb

    People who are serious about the issue of climate change need to look at the costs and benefits of various programs. Like all decisions, they must be economically sound and more importantly, effective. Lomborg has simply raised the issue of the real cost of environmentalism.

    California’s new cap and trade will do nothing for the environment, it won’t lower the world’s temperature by one 100th of a degree. But it will raise money for an indebted state. Many of these so called green shoots are interested in only one thing, pious handwringing while reaching fory our wallet.

  • Chris

    “The science has been hijacked by the alarmists…”

    “Many of these so called green shoots are interested in only one thing, pious handwringing while reaching fory our wallet.”

    That pretty much sums it up. I’m glad Mr. Lomborg has the stones to bring some truth to the public that all these “green” schemes are nothing more than smoke and mirrors used to garner more tax dollars, much like traffic cams and speeding tickets. Hopefully this will bring about real change like nuclear/geothermal power.

    Taxing carbon emissions, setting strict fuel mileage standards, and building more hybrids will do nothing more than cost the consumers more money as all liabilities and taxes are passed down to the consumer. It’s for this reason that the majority of Americans (and those internationally) are skeptical of the measures the governments want to take to curb emissions. The public is far smarter than the “alarmists” portray them to be in the media and such. The biased media sources often take a condescending tone to belittle the opposition and elevate their own “elitist” conclusions.

  • Robert Holmes Herzstein

    @Meme Mine: Do you have to be convinced that there is 100% certainty that your house is going to burn down before purchasing Homeowner’s Insurance? Rational decisions in the face of uncertainty need to include assessments of the worst-case scenarios, if they have any reasonable, non-zero chance of happening.

    @bskb, Chris: Raising the market price of fossil fuels, whether by a tax or cap-and-trade (which are NOT the same thing), will benefit the environment in the long term by creating a more level playing field for other sources of energy. In the short term, it can also benefit a lot by encouraging energy efficiency and conservation, which are often the most cost-effective ways to reduce emissions.

    Currently producers and consumers of carbon-based energy don’t pay anything close to the true costs of these fuels. These externalities cause market failure and give fossil fuels a huge competitive advantage over other sources of energy. So, if you believe in the power of the “free market” to promote rational decision-making and investment, then you should support taking steps to fix what is probably the most broken, distorted, un-free large market in history.

  • cray

    Watermelons. Green on the outside, red on the inside. “Stupid” Republicans are on to you, and you won’t win. And thank God for that. (Holy sh*t!!!!! I said “God”. Snicker, snicker.)

  • Same Ordinary Fool

    Kare Fog discusses Cool It on his Lomborg-errors website:

    http://www.lomborg-errors.dk/

  • John

    Global warming is a HOAX idiots!

  • Chris

    “Currently producers and consumers of carbon-based energy don’t pay anything close to the true costs of these fuels. These externalities cause market failure and give fossil fuels a huge competitive advantage over other sources of energy. So, if you believe in the power of the “free market” to promote rational decision-making and investment, then you should support taking steps to fix what is probably the most broken, distorted, un-free large market in history.”

    A free market is defined by the market alone, not the government “leveling the playing field”. Oil is a traded commodity and thus subject to market speculation, hence periods of inflated prices. Oil trading countries require oil to sell above $50 per barrel to make a profit. It generally sells for around $80 per barrel. Also, see Europe for what happens when fossil fuels are taxed and essentially punished by the government… you get years of extremely high prices and people get forced into tiny cars. Europe also uses primarily diesel because they’re more efficient, however they emit more carbon that an internal combustion engine (exception: last few years of VW’s clean diesel tech). In Europe, the market historically worked to provide better fuel mileage, not better emissions or “green” tech, as a result of government “leveling the playing field”.

    Alternative sources have no competition with fossil fuels, not only because the technology is much more expensive, but because no alternative sources are nearly as efficient as fossil fuels. Current technology cannot meet our energy needs without astronomical costs, therefore the market isn’t dominated by such technology. When the tech becomes cheaper and just as efficient as fossil fuels, then the market will see real competition.

  • dcwarrior

    Well – if you want a “free market” because it is better economically, it’s important to understand what a free market IS. One of the assumptions underlying a free market is that there are no “externalities” – that the price includes all costs of the item being purchased. Carbon-based fuels in the US do NOT include all the costs to society that use of the fuel causes – including the effects of carbon and all other pollution. So you really should not use “free market” as a reason taxes on gasoline should not be increased – if this were a perfect market, gas would cost more on its own.

  • Chris

    “Carbon-based fuels in the US do NOT include all the costs to society that use of the fuel causes – including the effects of carbon and all other pollution. So you really should not use “free market” as a reason taxes on gasoline should not be increased – if this were a perfect market, gas would cost more on its own.”

    Oil is a commodity, traded on the market and speculated based on supply/demand, therefore the costs of using oil are indeed reflected in the market price. “Externalizes”, as you refer to, including emissions, do indeed raise the price of products: cars for example, the costs of making cars more efficient are reflected in the selling price. Also note, the state of California has stricter emissions than the rest of the country and, subsequently, cars are more expensive in that state due to the necessary costs of complying with their regulations.

    If this were a perfectly free market, gas prices wouldn’t be very different from today because the US is generally free (with the exception of costs associated with regulations and such – which make it less free), but if prices were artificially inflated by taxes, it would certainly cost more to the consumer and force the market to build tiny, powerless econo-boxes to comply with costs and emissions regulations, thus forcing people into tiny, underpowered cars. It would also force people to pay more for fuel, especially targeting those who require trucks for business and those who need a car big enough to haul around families. Therefore, raising the price of gas would indeed take away financial freedom of these people, some more than others. It would also result in higher costs to heat homes and conduct business. Since all additional costs are ALWAYS passed down to the consumer, the consumer would also be paying more for utilities and any products from businesses that use fossil fuels for energy.

    Finally, “green” technology is no where near meeting our energy needs and is far from efficient (cost and energy wise) that there’s no way raising taxes on gas will change a thing. People with families or those requiring a truck for work will not buy a tiny electric car simply because gas is so expensive and if trucks were made with powerful hybrid motors, they would cost twice as much as they do now and be negligibly more efficient. What will help develop cheaper and more efficient technology are research and development, period. In fact, our most promising alternative fuel source is currently natural gas – abundant in the US, cheaper than gas, and the technology is already available to implement on a large scale.

    I believe you need to read up on the definition of free markets if you believe a perfectly free market would yield higher gas prices: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Free_market

    The US is considered a free market under the modern definition, that is: containing regulations and subsidies, but no state control like those in Europe for example. Therefore, adding more government intervention in the economy makes it less free by definition.

  • dcwarrior

    Chris, I don’t think you are grasping what an externality is. Or why economists think a free market, generally, is a good thing. Economists think a free market is good because in a theoretically completely free market, with perfect information, perfect rationality and no externalities, the price and quantity supplied to the market are exactly that demanded by the market and in an economic sense is “efficient”.

    Given that we are in an imperfect world, people are not perfectly rational and do not have perfect information, and many items are subject to externalities: the costs and benefits of many items are experienced by people other than the one buying the item. What I was saying about a perfect market is that a buyer of gas would experience all of the costs associated with that gas, which does not occur now. The market imperfections in the real world allow buyers of gas to not experience all of those costs, and that’s why I suggest that gas would cost more in a perfect market (which does not exist).

    In that sense, a “freer” market does not necessarily lead to an economically better result. If I save money by doing without a pollution control device on my car, I don’t feel all of the economic pain caused by my extra pollution. In those cases, regulation is important because rational people in that situation would choose to pollute, since they do not bear all of the costs and consequences of their actions.

    This is not to say that regulation is always good either. The US has relatively less regulation than other countries, and yes that is a strength. But freedom from regulation for its own sake only goes so far, especially when there are countervailing concerns.

    It is true that not every green tech will solve every problem. But that is a weak way to think about solving the problem. There isn’t a single answer out there right now and to say that useful and helpful technologies should be disregarded because no one of them solves all our problems is just plain silly. Of course a person who needs a truck is going to buy a truck. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t raise the gas prices. Look at what happened in 07, when gas prices skyrocketed. Funny, Americans drove less vehicle miles in 08 than in 07. What higher taxes will do is, make the people at the edges choose differently. The guy who needs a truck, well he needs it. But the guy deciding between the truck and the cool sedan might choose the sedan, and the guy who wasn’t sure between the sedan with and without the hybrid would be more willing to buy the hybrid and so on.

  • Chris

    “Funny, Americans drove less vehicle miles in 08 than in 07. What higher taxes will do is, make the people at the edges choose differently. The guy who needs a truck, well he needs it. But the guy deciding between the truck and the cool sedan might choose the sedan, and the guy who wasn’t sure between the sedan with and without the hybrid would be more willing to buy the hybrid and so on.”

    That was exactly the point, people drove less because it was too expensive. I’m not advocating for driving around aimlessly, just noting the fact that because gas was so expensive, people didn’t have the money to do so, therefore taking away a bit of their freedom they had when they could afford to do so. That was also a decision based on the markets, not targeted taxes. It’s also a good reason for why the US needs to become energy independent from OPEC since they generally control the world’s supply and can thus drive up prices by purposely limiting production, which contributed to that market spike.

    The fact that small cars and hybrids currently do sell well, as well as higher mileage 4 cylinder sedans and small SUVs, suggests that people already care about saving money on fuel costs and the environment. Raising taxes specifically to force people to do that only results in less freedom, let the market decide by offering the choices and people will decide what sells in the market. Prices are then determined by the supply and demand of people, not the artificial market forced upon them by government driving up prices to where people simply cannot afford a mid-sized sedan they need for a family with 2 kids and all their stuff. High fuel prices would negatively impact the middle and lower middle class more than any other demographic, that’s the majority of the country.

    Emissions/efficiency regulations are also in place, CAFE standards, in which the government has already used their power to force car companies to build more efficient cars. The difference between CAFE and high gas tax is that CAFE is an average across the product line of car manufacturers, while a tax would affect everyone, specifically those who do not buy hybrids/compact cars, essentially a punishment for not doing so. Furthermore, hybrids are significantly more expensive than their internal combustion counterparts, therefore the guy looking to buy a sedan will likely opt for the non-hybrid. If you do the math, the premium for most hybrid counterparts are typically recoverable around 8 to 10 years and the government cannot afford to subsidize hybrids forever, which is why those subsidies are phasing out for most models. The subsidies were an attempt to draw attention to hybrids and people have been buying (regardless of the fact they cost significantly more than non-hybrid counterparts), which is all good because they had the freedom to choose to do so.

  • s

    wow! Discover actually put an anti-global warming blog on their site! If if see this actually published in their magazine, I might just renew my subscription.

    Way to go Discover!!!

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/ Eliza Strickland

    @ s:

    80beats is a science news blog, and it covers the most interesting findings, events, and conversations in science every day. 80beats is not an “anti-global warming blog” — we agree with the scientific consensus that human activities are warming the planet. Bjojrn Lomborg also agrees with that statement — but he thinks it may not be a complete and total catastrophe, and argues for green tech innovation instead of limits to CO2 emissions.

    — Eliza, DISCOVER online news editor

  • victor

    I agree with Chris and respectfully point out to dcwarrior that trying to influence an economic outcome by taxation usually results in unintended consequences. Raising funds for R&D is much more efficient and eminently appropriate for the Global Warming issue.

  • http://19er.info/a490/ Karrie Batdorf

    Fantastic submit! I definitely consent.

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