Under the Bravado, Cool It Is a Complex and Exciting New Documentary

11/16/2010 05:00 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bjorn Lomborg has been called a global warming denier, a traitor, an idiot, and a parasite, mostly because he wrote a best-selling book (printed in English in 2001) called The Skeptical Environmentalist that infuriated climate change activists across the globe.

The Skeptical Environmentalist sought to convince its readers that claims about the causes and impacts of global warming were either greatly exaggerated or outright false. The accusations that Lomborg was a "global warming denier" were justified then, but are not anymore.


Today, Lomborg is on a rampage trying to convince us how to invest in alternative energies. He's irate that we're currently spending $250 billion on green energy initiatives that will reduce global temperatures by only "one-tenth of a degree by the end of the century."

If you Google Bjorn Lomborg's name you'll see that the man sounds like a broken record stuck on the same song: Al Gore and environmentalists are trying to scare the sh*t out of us about climate change, and their "hysteria" not only "blocks clear thinking," but (worse?) misdirects billions of dollars into alternative energy projects that won't even begin to solve the problem.

"We're wasting our money on the people who shout the loudest." Thus begins an exciting new documentary on Bjorn Lomborg's quest to refocus our attention on funding new alternative energy development projects. The film promises to show how Lomborg, in stark contrast to loudmouth environmentalists, is a clear-thinking rationalist with new answers about how to combat global warming -- if only people would listen.

But Lomborg, and the filmmaker, Ondi Timoner, start off the film with some scare tactics of their own. As the opening credits roll, we see pictures of the earth drawn by children, and hear their voices saying, "The animals and trees are going to die, and the whole world is going to be underwater or a desert." They're accusing Al Gore of fear-mongering, and this is how the film begins?

The trailer of Cool It does some fear-mongering of its own

But once that chord has been struck, the film moves quickly into showing us a variety of exciting new ways to create alternative energy. Many of the methods the film explores are both innovative and affordable, like "urban cooling," which involves painting rooftops and other black surfaces white, or "water splitting," which is a kind of artificial photosynthesis that stores solar energy in fuel cells.

But some of the methods Lomborg explores sound absurd, like the one that proposes to float a hose attached to a series of balloons fifteen miles into the stratosphere to release a cloud of sulphur dioxide to diffuse the sun's rays. This idea was modeled on a volcano that went off in Iceland in 1783, that made the following winter disproportionately cold. In the film, we hear an enthusiastic scientist tell us that to implement this sulphur-spraying hose would not only be quick and affordable, but that a two-inch hose would cool an entire hemisphere.

I don't have the expertise to say whether or not these experiments will work, but I will say that it was a lot of fun watching the film explain them to me. This is the part of the documentary that's worth watching. The whole song and dance about how Al Gore is a propagandist -- and especially the claims that humanity as a whole is doing better and better every year -- strike me as both presumptuous and dangerously unproductive, but if you can get past that bluster, you're in for a treat.