Cool It -- Film Review

Climate change doc overreaches its attempt at relevance.

The economics of climate change policy get a thorough dissection in "Cool It," from two-time Sundance grand jury doc winner Ondi Timoner. Polemical in tone, wide-ranging in scope and persuasive to a degree, the film seems unlikely to find as many fans as either of her more engaging titles ("Dig!," "We Live in Public"), but may attract modest art house interest — although cable and DVD likely offer broader audiences.

Again focusing on another maverick, Timoner turns her lens on Danish political scientist Bjorn Lomborg, author of the 2001 best-seller The Skeptical Environmentalist, which argues that the actual and predicted impacts of global warming have been exaggerated and that attempts at transnational policymaking are ineffective.

In the film, Lomborg emphasizes that he’s not a global warming denier, but rather a proponent of more effective approaches to the problem. As a business school professor and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center economics think tank, he has a high-profile perch to preach his view that climate change strategies should be both politically practical and scaled to deliver the best possible return on investment based on cost-benefit analyses of available options.

Setting up both Al Gore and Davis Guggenheim’s Oscar-winning docu An Inconvenient Truth as all-purpose stand-ins for climate change alarmists, Lomborg contends that Gore’s scientific sources are highly selective and sometimes inaccurate. International institutions and national governments are faulted for short-sightedly focusing on carbon-reduction and energy-conservation schemes.

Instead, Lomborg and his colleagues contend that the most efficient use of limited funds would be massive investment in alternative energy development to sharply reduce demand for carbon-producing fuels, as well as implementation of low-tech methods to reduce climate change impacts.

After setting up his controversial background and proposals, Timoner leverages a wide-ranging lecture Lomborg delivered at Yale that touches on many of his policy recommendations as the launching point for a whirlwind of globetrotting. Along the way, Lomborg speculates that expenditures on many of the innovative technologies profiled could slow global warming with an efficiency that would leave ample funds available for other pressing social issues, including poverty, education and AIDS.

The film purports to examine the “real facts and true science of global warming and its impact,” but Lomborg’s contention that the effects have been exaggerated is less than convincing. Despite the film’s inclusion of some impressive scientists, the absence of widely respected environmental experts (Paul Ehrlich, Lester Brown and Bill McKibben to name a few) undercuts his position. The irony of Lomborg’s incessant carbon-emitting globetrotting -- multiplied by the accompanying filmmakers -- is not lost either.

A mix of interviews, location footage, animated sequences and archival material support Lomborg’s point of view, which Timoner treats without any noticeable skepticism, even including him as a co-writer on the script. Despite some interesting ideas, Cool It’s conventional camerawork and unexceptional editing don’t contribute much additional value to a package that’s unlikely to alter Lomborg’s outsider status.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 12 (Roadside Attractions)
Production: A 1019 Entertainment Production in association with Interloper Films
Director: Ondi Timoner
Screenwriters: Terry Botwick, Sarah Gibson, Bjorn Lomborg, Ondi Timoner
Producers: Terry Botwick, Sarah Gibson, Ondi Timoner
Executive producers: Terry Botwick, Ralph Winter
Director of photography: Nasar Abich
Editor: Debra Light, Brian Singbiel, David Timoner
Rated PG, 87 minutes