If 'An Inconvenient Truth' is our ass-kicker designed to make us put down that bottle of water and rethink our environmental attitudes, Ondi Timoner's 'Cool It' is our level-headed documentary designed to make us think rather than just react. Moving away from personal, small-scale stories like music rivalry with 'Dig!' and how social experimentation and the Internet intermingled in the '90s with 'We Live in Public,' Timoner grabs onto one of the world's most prevalent issues and rocks it.
Always one for unique stories outside the normal public sphere, Ondi Timoner teams up with author of 'The Skeptical Environmentalist' Bjorn Lomborg to discuss what's really at stake with climate change, and what's actually necessary to make true advances in the fight. Lomborg has been a controversial figure in the environmental circuit for years, fighting claims of scientific dishonesty, and gaining a lot of ill will for his fight against the Kyoto Protocol. His approach is one of cost-benefit -- how to bring on all the changes the world needs, while spending money for the fight in a responsible manner. The kicker -- he thinks there's a lot more that's pressing in this world than climate change.
'Cool It' takes a diamond approach to Lomborg's work. The film starts focused on its subject -- who Lomborg is, what he does (and what controversy he's stirred up), and how his background informs his current work, before expanding to encompass the environmental debate, and then zeroing in on what Lomborg thinks we need to do to solve the problem. Though his ideas might be provocative in an 'Inconvenient Truth' world, they also come off as quite rational. Wanting to move away from scare tactics -- and let's face it, today's climate change debate is quite based on fear -- Lomborg offers some alternative thoughts on hot-topic issues. He combats Al Gore's lonely polar bear with statistics that the species' numbers are on the rise, and that more get shot each year than die of climate change-related problems. He states that the rising need for hurricane relief is directly proportionate to the larger, denser populations that reside in those same areas, and that even if everyone in North America drove hybrids, that's only a ridiculously small fraction of the full problem.
Then Lomborg looks at the possibilities for change. The gist of 'Cool It' is that we should not funnel our focus and spend billions on slivers of the problem. Armed with data from leading economists, Lomborg argues that politicians should put a large portion of environmental funding into research and development, to find real, palpable ways to fight climate change, from techniques that can make clouds whiter and thus reflect more heat (and doing likewise in cities where temperatures continue to rise in a black-top world), to wind power, algae, and discovering a way to contain the energy, and not just generate it. The film examines how policy and politics interfere with action, and how promising to cut emissions year after year isn't the right path. Moreover, that while climate change is a problem, there are a myriad of other world issues to also address.
What makes this documentary a must-see is not his opinions, whether you find them to be incendiary or logical. It's the overall feeling and push to personal thought and exploration. The entire feature is fueled on discussion, rather than purporting to have the finite answer. Timoner adeptly includes a multitude of opinions and ideas, all of which have some validity. The audience is urged to move beyond the hysteria and to think rationally about the issues, something that becomes quite apparent as Timoner and Lomborg visits schools. British children explain their environmental fear, and belief that worldwide doom is mere moments away, while the youth of Nigeria are concerned with more basic human demands like health and home. Both groups of children are the result of the environment around them.
Right now, the western world is in a reactionary fervor. We see a problem and react, whether it's helpful or actually harmful (like shutting off our lights for an hour and lighting CO2-releasing candles). Lomborg asks us to step back and understand the true limits to our efforts and how we can push for scientific thought and exploration to breed real change quickly. Bringing up the Wright Brothers, he has a point. If it only takes roughly 60 years to evolve from the first attempts at flight to having a man in space, just imagine what research and development could do for the environment.