To devotees of Al Gore's prophecy of a soon-to-be-parboiled Earth, Skeptical Environmentalist author Bjorn Lomborg is the devil. So what does an ecologically incorrect demon look like?
Like an aging Danish surfer dude, it turns out, with a mop of blond hair and an aversion to suits, ties and even collared shirts. The 45-year-old Lomborg's youthful informality is one of the many disarming aspects of Cool It, an unabashedly favorable portrait of the Anti-Gore. The bike-riding, T-shirt-wearing skeptic certainly appears to have a smaller carbon sneakerprint than Mr. Inconvenient Truth. Plus, he's good to his mom.
Lomborg's likability is actually something of a problem for Cool It director Ondi Timoner, whose previous films have sketched biographies of more flamboyant characters: a manipulative online maestro in We Live in Public; a high-strung alt-rocker in Dig! Her latest documentary includes Lomborg's critique of Gore's more alarmist pronouncements and gives a few minutes to some of the Dane's ideological adversaries. But there's not much drama in the movie, which is generally as mild-mannered as Lomborg himself. This is a guy, after all, who runs an institution called the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
For those with a strong interest in the climate-change debate, though, Cool It is worth 90 minutes in a fossil-fuel-heated theater. Lomborg's analysis isn't definitive, but he has some provocative things to say. Some sensible ones, too.
Nowadays, Lomborg accepts both that climate change is real and that human activity is implicated. (He was more of a contrarian on these points when he first came to prominence.) But he rejects the scariest scenarios and is far less inclined than Gore to attribute every weather-related mishap to increased temperatures. So he persuasively blames the post-Katrina drowning of New Orleans on the Army of Corps of Engineers, not a sultrier Gulf of Mexico -- and the fast-paced film promptly hops to the Netherlands to show how modern engineering can protect people who choose to live below sea level.
Lomborg enjoys thinking about fixing stuff, in other words -- and he often rejects political solutions such as cap-and-trade. (He calls it both "an invitation to corruption" and ineffective, since such large emerging economies as China and India's wouldn't be covered.) He prefers such seemingly pragmatic ideas as increasing the reflectivity of "urban heat islands" -- that is, cities -- by lightening the color of asphalt roads and dark-hued roofs.
But not all of Lomborg's favored proposals are so simple. He touts a new sort of nuclear reactor that might -- or might not -- be cheaper and less hazardous than contemporary models. He's also favorably inclined toward "cloud brightening," which would involve sending fleets of ships into the oceans to pump sun-blocking dust into the sky.
That dosn't sound any more practical than Gore's preferred schemes. But however well Lomborg's prescriptions ultimately work, the Danish consensus-seeker's drive, passion and goodwill are not in doubt.
Lomborg is as committed to battling disease and illiteracy as to combating climate change, and he addresses all those issues in the movie's final scene, which shows him -- in a T-shirt, of course -- addressing a Capitol Hill hearing. Informed by an imperious congressman that the U.S. can solve the world's problems, Lomborg responds with an inconvenient question: Why hasn't it done so already?