Debating the Climate Change Proposals In 'Cool It'

New documentary aims to be counterpoint to An Inconvenient Truth

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Last week, Cool It—a documentary billed as a counterweight to An Inconvenient Truth—debuted in a limited number of theaters. The brain behind the project is Bjorn Lomborg, author of 2001's The Skeptical Environmentalist, a book that downplays dire predictions about global warming. While Lomborg is careful to note that the global warming threat is something to be taken seriously, he argues that governments are combating it in a way that is costly and extremely inefficient. In Cool It, he gives several examples (more investment in alternative energies, geoengineering, third world health and education) of what he believes are better investments in the future. Carbon credits and cap-and-trade legislation, he argues, are vulnerable to corruption and will only have a negligible effect on stopping rising temperatures.

Needless to say, Lomborg's sentiment has been championed by conservatives and derided as dangerous by some scientists who believe that his argument only emboldens climate change skeptics. Here's what critics are saying about the film's arguments, and how Lomborg is actively responding to these charges.

  • His Willingness To Think Outside the Box Is Welcome  In a National Review article that is mostly laudatory, Brian Bolduc quibbles with one detail in particular in Lomborg's film. "If Lomborg’s film suffers one flaw, it is its overoptimism in suggesting that global poverty is much easier to solve than global warming. In the final scene, Lomborg is testifying in front of a congressional committee, whose chairman, Democratic representative Jay Inslee, smugly asserts the United States will take care of malaria and other diseases. With a mischievous smile, Lomborg asks, 'Why haven’t you solved all these problems?' We haven’t because, as the film shows, throwing money at a problem doesn't solve it."
  • An Admirable Attempt to Inject Reason Into the Debate   Alex B. Berezow, editor of RealClearScience, notes that polarized debate isn't getting anywhere: "Those on the Left insist climate change mandates a dubious cap-and-trade policy, while those on the Right insist climate science is a fraud or a United Nations-sponsored conspiracy. Put simply, the Left rejects practicality, and the Right rejects reality. Bjorn Lomborg's movie attempts to spark a reasonable conversation about an important topic badly in need of sanity." However, he notes, Mr. Lomborg does not address his solutions "in great detail."
  • Lomborg Is Twenty Years Behind the Cutting Edge of Climate Science  Christopher Mims, a writer at the environmental news site Grist, points to several factual errors in Cool It (even as Cool It points to factual errors in An Inconvenient Truth). "He likes to claim, for example, that sea level is likely to rise only 20 inches over the next century, when scientists now believe that the actual figure will be between three and six feet, and that more importantly, sea level will continue to rise, possibly quite rapidly, for centuries after. Lomborg is also a fan of the kind of geoengineering that resembles artificial volcanoes, but he neglects to mention that it would turn the skies orange and do nothing to stop ocean acidification that will destroy the world's fisheries and could eventually threaten the ability of the seas to sequester the carbon they're currently hoovering up, leading to nightmare feedback scenarios."
  • Geo-Engineering Is One Method To Help Stave Off Global Warming  In an opinion article in Time, Bjorn Lomborg defends geo-engineering (defined as any "deliberate" modification of the environment to suit human needs) as a solution to global warming. What all geo-engineering efforts "have in common is the potential to have a large and immediate impact on global temperatures at relatively low cost. None represent any kind of permanent solution to climate change. They are, as many critics have pointed out, merely Band-Aids. But Band-Aids have their uses. The only real solution to global warming is to end our dependency on fossil fuels."
  • It Does A Great Job of Mocking Environmentalists' 'Sky is Falling' Mentality, but Wired's Hugh Hart isn't quite convinced by the "charismatic tour guide." He writes, "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."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.