Cool It: The Anti-Scarefest Documentary of the Year

You can’t say An Inconvenient Truth wasn’t a monumental film. It did exactly what it was supposed to do — it terrified vast numbers of people into favoring irrational behavior. It is correct to compare the Al Gore eco-alarmism film with the most notorious propaganda movies ever made.

But … somewhere along the line, as Al Gore stood chuckling offstage like the Joker, expecting to profit hugely through his greentech venture-capital investments as panic ruled public life, some kind of rationality inexplicably prevailed. As in The Dark Knight ferry scene, neither side blew up the other. By the time West Virginia’s new Senator-elect Joe Manchin made the formidable case that the only way to deal with cap-and-trade regulation was to shoot it (and this was a Democrat talking), calm had already carried the day. The United States, it is now firmly established, will deal with global warming in a non-hysterical way. The Joker is looking uncharacteristically glum these days.

The spokesman for the new approach is Bjorn Lomborg, a blond, bike-loving, affable Danish academic and author whose op-eds frequently appear in the Wall Street Journal and whose pleasingly chill vibe provides the mood and the title for the exciting new global warming documentary Cool It. So sensible are Lomborg’s ideas for cooling the planet without destroying our economic competitiveness that even the Los Angeles Times dubbed it “enlightening,brain-nourishing stuff.”

It simply is not possible to decarbonize Western economies anytime soon, and cap-and-tax plans would have such a ridiculously small effect on global climate patterns, at such massive cost, that Lomborg, in his charming way, treats them as the childish ideas they are. (In one especially memorable scene, British kids are interviewed about the prospects for the planet: seemingly all of them have been coached to believe that a flame-broiled apocalypse is imminent. Another comic interlude, featuring bubble-headed celebrities delivering climate-science verdicts from red carpets, captures actors telling us we should all switch our light bulbs because “every little bit helps.” No it doesn’t, replies Lomborg. Such actions are meaningless against the size of the climate issues.)

Lomborg, visiting poor African kids in Kenya, points out that if global warming is likely to lead to a three percent rise in malaria cases, it would be smarter to directly attack the other 97 percent than to remove a smokestack in Pittsburgh in hopes that it would eventually lead to less malarial infection thousands of miles away. He visits with scientists working on clever solutions that would actually absorb solar radiation, such as cloud whitening and using sulfur dioxide above the atmosphere to imitate the cooling effects of a massive volcanic eruption. Meanwhile, checking in on such popular, highly subsidized ideas as purchasing “carbon offsets,” Lomborg finds them to be corrupt and nonsensical. A company might find itself wallowing in profits simply for threatening to build dirty-energy plants — then not building them. Encouraging such extortion as a national policy is madness.

Speaking of which, Lomborg shows that, notwithstanding Al Gore’s warnings of ocean levels increasing 20 feet and swamping coastal cities, scientists expect the level of rise to be more like a foot — which is about what it was in the previous century. Does anyone rank that level of increase as one of the more alarming events of the past 100 years? More to the point, Lomborg asks: did anyone except specialists even notice?

“If you scare people to try to motivate them,” Lomborg adds, “over time they turn off.” He sees this as a dangerous trend. Global warming is “real and it’s an important problem,” he judges — but keeping a level head can lead to surprisingly simple solutions. For instance, if you’re among the Gore faithful who believe that Hurricane Katrina was caused by global warming, how optimistic can you be about the future of the Gulf Coast? Even if your fondest dreams for cap and trade should come true, the warming trends are likely to continue. But Lomborg visits the Netherlands, which like New Orleans must deal with the problem of cities being built below sea level, and illustrates how a system of seawalls that can be open and closed depending on weather conditions has kept Dutch feet dry for many years. Lomborg declares forthrightly that Katrina was a “man-made” catastrophe caused by badly engineered levies and a general failure of preparation.

You can see how Lomborg’s film, directed by Ondi Timoner, is the anti-scarefest of the year. It considers a problem, outlines solutions, and looks forward to a bright future in which dynamic economies continue to create wealth while phalanxes of scientists discover surprising new ways (such as wave energy and artificial photosynthesis) to power the planet and subtract carbon from the atmosphere. So non-scary is this film, in fact, that it terrifies statist liberals who are already howling in despair at the idea that the West need not move everybody out of SUVs and into Schwinns. Are we all doomed, just as the liberals warned we were when they told us a new ice age was dawning in the 1970s? Not by a long shot. Bjorn Lomborg is so sunny, likable, and empowered by common sense that he could be the Ronald Reagan of climate science.

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