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EDITORIAL- 28/6/2012: COOL IT – A FILM GIVEN THE COLD SHOULDER

It was to have been released on June 28 in cinemas around Australia, but cinemas around Australia didn’t want to book it – because it was made in 2010, was one reason given to the distributor (Umbrella Entertainment). Cool It is a film version of Bjorn Lomborg’s coherent and rational arguments urging the world to cool it – the heated debate about climate change. It is just as relevant today as it was in 2010 – maybe more so, argues Andrew L. Urban. 

Hitting Australian cinemas three days before the July 1, 2012 introduction of the controversial carbon tax, Cool It would have been perfectly timely. I would argue it should have been required viewing in Canberra before the Gillard Government drew up the relevant, much despised carbon tax legislation, which in the election campaign will have Julia Gillard saying: “There will be no Labour Government under the carbon tax I lead…”

Of course, she and her fellow carbon tax travellers could have read Lomborg’s 2001 book (The Sceptical Environmentalist), but this updated 87 minute film presenting those views is a faster take – and arguably more readily accessible, if you recall the impact of An Inconvenient Truth. 

"Cool It delivers another inconvenient truth"

Cool It delivers another inconvenient truth – inconvenient for supporters of carbon taxes and other expensive but useless attempts at emission reduction. 

So let me declare my bias: I am supporter of Lomborg’s learned, lucid, common sense driven approach to tackling the issues raised by global warming. This is not a critique of those proposals but a review of the movie. I am not regurgitating the Lomborg manifesto except to summarise its thrust: it is evident that the world has been repeating failed climate change policies “over and over and it’s about time we realised the current approach is broken.”

He cites the European target of reducing emissions by 20% below 1990 levels by 2020 and doing so by employing 20% renewable energy. Economists estimate the cost at $250 billion a year, and if continued throughout the entire century the resultant reduction in temperature is estimated at 1/10th of 1 degree F. “For every $1 dollar spent you will have avoided half a cent of damage…” 

Lomborg posits that there is a better way – and he outlines how $250 billion can be better used viz climate change, but also help solve some of the world’s most desperate problems, from poverty and malaria to lack of education.

"more personal in its focus on Lomborg"

Although there is some footage of Lomborg at a lectern, this is not an Al Gore-style presentation. The film is more personal in its focus on Lomborg - and the attacks he has weathered after his book was published. The vitriol against him is reminiscent of the inquisition. He has been demeaned, but he’s never been proven factually wrong where it matters. He cites his mother’s love as his source of his confidence in the face of those attacks – and we even meet her on one of his regular visits.

And of course the film doesn’t have the frightening and depressing fire and brimstone message of global doom that raised our consciousness about global warming. For doing that, at least, Lomborg credits Al Gore.

To the film’s great credit, it explains subjects in simple language (eg how cap & trade works, what’s wrong with the policy and how it’s open to extreme corrupt conduct). But there are other, more directly emotional elements, like Lomborg’s visit to a school in a Nairobi slum where he talks to the kids and asks what they aspire to in the future. Mostly a nice house and cures for diseases like Malaria and HIV - and better education. 

"how fear has corrupted and twisted the facts in order to scare us into a false sense of doom"

The film sets out to show how fear has corrupted and twisted the facts in order to scare us into a false sense of doom. Lomborg counters this with rational and factual argument. An Inconvenient Truth was promoted as the most terrifying film you’ll ever see. Cool It is level headed, incisive and practical, and about half of the film is devoted to alternative approaches – alternative to paying lip service (or pushing new taxes) to carbon reduction schemes.

Cool It rips up four of the biggest frights (sea level rises, more hurricanes, more malaria, less polar bears) of An Inconvenient Truth that have fuelled our fears. Lomborg offers a strong argument for being rational instead of fashionable. He is persuasive when he suggests that instead of making fossil fuels overly expensive, we should focus on making alternative energy cheaper. This doco is more relevant and valuable than An Inconvenient Truth.

The power of cinema as a battleground for ideas should never be forgotten. 

FOOTNOTE: 
Writing in the pre-Rio Earth Summit in Rio (June 21, 2012) June 18 edition of The Australian, Lomborg continued his criticism of the world’s mistaken targets in climate change policies. Here are a few extracts – or if you are a digital subscriber to The Australian, READ the entire article.

Global warming is by no means our main environmental threat. Even if we assumed unreasonably that it caused all deaths from floods, droughts, heatwaves, and storms, this total would amount to just 0.06 per cent of all deaths in developing countries. In comparison, 13 per cent of all Third World deaths result from water and air pollution.

"210 times as many people in poorer countries might die needlessly"

By focusing on measures to prevent global warming, the advanced countries might help to prevent many people from dying. That sounds good until you realise that it means that 210 times as many people in poorer countries might die needlessly because the resources that could have saved them were spent on windmills, solar panels, biofuels, and other rich-world fixations.

Without a hint of irony, the leaflet is called The Future We Want. But, in a world where a billion people go to bed hungry, and where six million die each year from air and water pollution, most of those in the developing world likely have a very different set of priorities for their future.

The (Earth summit) leaflet cheerfully claims that China's shift "to a low-carbon growth strategy based on the development of renewable energy sources (has) created jobs, income and revenue."

In fact, over the past 25 years, China has quadrupled its CO2 emissions. While China does produce about half of the world's solar panels, 98 per cent are exported to reap generous subsidies from rich-world markets. Only 0.005 per cent of China's energy comes from solar panels.

China's decades-long economic expansion has lifted 600 million people out of poverty, but the enormous pollution that this has entailed does not fit into Rio+20's green narrative.

Likewise, the brochure explains that some farmers in Uganda have embraced organic farming. Unfortunately, Africa is almost entirely organic now, leading to low yields, hunger and deforestation. Africa needs to boost its yields, and that means enabling farmers to use modern crops, fertilisers and pesticides. Producing less with more effort might appeal to well-fed First Worlders, but it is literally starving the poor.

"This breezy focus on trendy topics and unrealistic solutions is deeply disturbing"

This breezy focus on trendy topics and unrealistic solutions is deeply disturbing. A disconnected global elite is flying to Rio to tell the world's poor to have a solar panel. Rio+20 could do more good for humanity and the planet by focusing on the top environmental problems and their simple solutions.

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Andrew L. Urban

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Dr Bjorn Lomborg is an adjunct professor at Copenhagen Business School and regularly works with many of the world’s top economists, including seven Nobel Laureates. His think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center, was ranked by the University of Pennsylvania as one of the world’s Top 25 Environmental Think Tanks. His monthly column is published in 19 languages, in more than 30 newspapers with more than 30 million readers.







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