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In a new documentary, Bjorn Lomborg says ” Cool It “

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Cool It movie posterDoes Bjorn Lomborg add value to the global warming conversation or does he set it back? That depends on whom you ask. In 2008 The Guardian named the Danish academic and author of the 2004 controversial bestseller The Skeptical Environmentalist "one of the 50 people who could save the planet." In contrast, many see him as a disruptive and even damaging force in the ongoing debate regarding humanity’s best course for dealing with global warming.

A similar dichotomy characterizes the political discussion, at least in the United States, around the issue of climate change. Some elected officials say global warming is cause for dire concern for the future of humanity. Others, including roughly half of the new Republican members of the U.S. Congress, deny that man-made climate change exists at all. (Of course the scientific consensus is that anthropogenic climate change is under way and a cause for concern.)

Lomborg takes issue with both sides. Man-made warming is indeed happening, but conventional wisdom within the climate science and environmental communities exaggerates doom-and-gloom scenarios that do not reflect the data, he says—and the notion that urgently capping CO2 emissions is the best solution is counterproductive. These are the underlying arguments of a new documentary, Cool It, based on Lomborg’s 2008 book of the same title. The 128-minute film, directed by Ondi Timoner, opens November 12 in 20 metropolitan areas nationwide.

"It’s not about whether it’s happening, but how we are tackling it," Lomborg explains in the new film, which points to the actions of former Vice President Al Gore and the European Union (EU) as examples of how not to "tackle" global warming. Rhetoric like Gore’s insistence that "the future of humanity is at stake" precipitates hysteria that gets in the way of clear thinking, says Lomborg. This, he argues, is what leads governments like the EU to take measures like pledging to cut 20 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2020—a goal projected to cost $250 billion per year. Lomborg, who runs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which claims to commission research that "analyzes the optimal ways to combat the biggest problems facing the world," says the EU’s plan will not be worthwhile, since every dollar spent will only prevent about a half a cent’s worth of climate damage.

Lomborg uses the film to argue that, instead, much of that that $250 billion should be spent on a global program that addresses, along with climate change, more immediately solvable problems such as disease, water scarcity and malnutrition. He would also use a big portion to fund research into the effects of sea-level rise, upgrade protections to vulnerable cities, and make urban areas cooler by installing white roofs and perennial shade trees. Direct climate change mitigation should receive $100 billion a year in funding, he says. But as opposed to the EU’s focus on emissions caps designed to make fossil fuels so expensive that nobody will buy them, we "need to make green energy so cheap that everybody will want to buy it."

Whereas Lomborg’s critique of expensive emissions cuts—in particular his point that problems like malnutrition and malaria deserve a portion of the money that would be spent on such cuts—may be a good one, his argument for increased investment in green energy is not unique. Most of the environmentalists he criticizes would agree that more R&D money should be spent to develop cheaper wind and solar power systems, and to advance potential solutions like artificial photosynthesis, wave power and algae-based biofuel—three technologies the film highlights. Likewise, many would agree that climate-related geoengineering—another potential solution the film mentions—deserves more research attention. 

On the whole, Cool It is too promotional of Mr. Lomborg and his ideas, glossing over many of the obstacles in the way of his plan to combat global warming by focusing primarily on adaptation strategies and clean energy research and development. He may be correct that doom-and-gloom rhetoric is counterproductive, but viewers will be forgiven if they exit the theater without having reached a clear answer to the question of whether he is adding to—or holding back—the discussion.

Image credit: Lomborg

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  1. 1. doug l 8:34 pm 11/10/2010

    Odd, another article regarding aspects of global climate change and our energy sources, but no mention of nuclear. Hard to imagine those who are strategizing our future energy pathway aren’t thinking of using the one proven economical energy source we have with an emissions and other impacts level that are really acceptible. I don’t advocate a simple "status quo" or even just "more of the same" but along with a major program to develope 100 nuclear plants over 10 years, should be the creation of a new government service similar to the Coast Guard whose mission is to assure safety and security when it comes to all things nuclear…officers, enlisted men, training and travel and early retirement…bingo. Maybe have the Air Force do it as they seem to be in search of something that is usefull to do.

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  2. 2. halneufmille 9:29 pm 11/10/2010

    Funny how he’s able to give such precise estimates of expected cost of global warming when no climate scientist aren’t even sure of its future speed and economists aren’t sure of the economic impact of trying to tackle it. Maybe it’s going to be cool. Or maybe we’re on the verge of irreversibly changing world climate for centuries to come. If the later happens, will Lomborg still act cool?

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  3. 3. jtdwyer 9:48 pm 11/10/2010

    Well, the EU’s pledge "to cut 20 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2020–a goal projected to cost $250 billion per year" is actually more an EU government funding request than an actual cost… Think of it as a business opportunity for emerging new industries…

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  4. 4. jbairddo 10:33 pm 11/10/2010

    Is the implication then that if a scientist isn’t among the "scientific consensus is that anthropogenic climate change is under way and a cause for concern" he/she is an idiot and not to be taking seriously. Some really brilliant researchers with great credentials seem to have some doubts, so why are the chastised?

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  5. 5. robert schmidt 10:39 am 11/11/2010

    @jbairddo, I think you are looking at this backwards. You appear to be implying that scientists come up with the consensus first, the facts second. The consensus exists because of the overwelming evidence. The implication is that Lomborg’s conclusion do not have a solid scientific basis. It is fine to take a different tangent in science, you just need to support it with facts. Take a look at physics and the search for the grand unifying theory. There are many current hypotheses such as string theory and variations on the standard model. Clearly there is nothing wrong with diverse opinions, as long as they are based on good science. In the case of physics the jury is still out as there isn’t enough evidence for physics to form a consensus yet. That is a different story in AGW. There are certainly still things left to be discovered but the fact that the climate is changing, that the change has been caused by human behaviour and that the change will, by and large, be negative for human populations not to mention other species is established well enough that we should act on it. People playing with numbers and words are not contributing to finding solutions, only in creating confusion and playing into the hands of those with an anti-science, anti-change agenda.

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  6. 6. MidWest101 2:01 pm 11/11/2010

    My take on what jbairddo was trying to say is that the "concensuse" really isn’t as sound as AGW proponets say it is. I too know of many researcher with great credentials with real, or at least convicing, problems with AGW. Becuase of these arguements, along with the anti-change types messages, the public is increasingly becoming more skeptical. The AGW side would benefit if they did more than just dismiss these concerns and engage in an actual dialoge. If they don’t they will remain easily vilified.

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  7. 7. ssm1959 3:08 pm 11/11/2010

    According to this article, are we then to believe that the GW gloom and doomers never act in a way that is grossly promotional of their positions? Please, give me a break. I find that most critics of Lomborg have never actually read his work. They dump him in with the "wingnut skeptic" crowd and walk away. Unbelievable given that Lomborg has never supported the head in the sand skeptic argument. He openly admits we are contributing to the problem. The only thing he debates is what will be the consequences and what do we do about them.

    The bulk of arguments regarding the potential doomsday effects of GW are based on perceived threats to our human condition. Lomborg makes prescient arguments based limiting the degree of human suffering to be experienced in a warming world, regardless of the cause! He recognizes that the resources we have to allocate towards these problems are finite. Consequently our obligation is spend them in the most efficacious manner possible. Dumping money that could be far more effective elsewhere into plans that might, just might, lower the total predicted temperature change by 0.2C is a lousy investment, particularly when that reduction falls well within the error range of the prediction. Statistically, we may have no effect on the warming process and yet we will have blown the resources we could have used to make a real difference.

    I find far too much blame game on the ProGW side. Blame industry, blame coal , blame petroleum etc. Consequently their proposals have a component of exacting revenge from the perceived culprits. In truth, the blame begins and ends with the person you see in the mirror. We did not plan to do it; it was an unforeseeable consequence of our desires to have warm homes and wanting our trendy Birkenstocks shipped in from Scandanavia. Blame and revenge are a waste of time and money.

    It is clear that we only have minimal if any ability to mitigate the problem because we still need our warm houses (personally I can do without the Berkies). Lomborg’s focus on getting the most return for our investment is truly the only option available; the question is how long we are going to keep messing around wasting our resources before we realize we have to do it.

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  8. 8. robert schmidt 5:18 pm 11/11/2010

    @MidWest101, "really isn’t as sound as AGW proponets say it is" I have seen nothing to indicate that, in fact so far the alarmist forecasts of yesterday are showing themselves to be conservative with today’s data. The case for AGW only becomes stronger with each now piece of evidence. Of course if your only source of info is denier blogs you wouldn’t be aware of that.

    "I too know of many researcher with great credentials with real, or at least convicing, problems with AGW" dismissing the appeal to authority of a moment I am really surprised that you know that many climate researchers. You must live in Climate Research city or somewhere nearby. I actually write scientific models and I know very few climate scientists, none actually. Then again, every denier seems to know thousands of well respected climate researchers that have solid proof that AGW is a hoax. The funny thing is, these so called experts don’t seem to write any papers about it. I know what you are thinking, of course all of them are writing papers supporting AGW because of their lust for government grants and fear of AGW denier death squads. Still you would think there would be a few in the crowd that would be willing to take on the man, armed with all those incontrovertible facts. If only the deniers had a powerful and well funded ally like the fossil fuel industry…

    "The AGW side would benefit if they did more than just dismiss these concerns and engage in an actual dialoge. " and the scientific community should also dedicate resources to engaging the creationists, the UFOlogist, the big foot hunters, the superstitious and the astrologers, to name only a few. Or, they could do what scientists do and review the science rather than the wishful thinking of the radical right. It is not the responsibility for the scientific community to convince ignorant people that they are ignorant. It is the responsibility of the scientific community to presents the facts as they are known.

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  9. 9. Chris G 7:38 pm 11/11/2010

    There are too many advocates of what to replace our fossil-fuel-based energy production with. It really doesn’t matter what we replace it with, we need to replace it. The simple answer is reduce subsidies for this industry, and implement a tax-and-dividend. From there, the market will sort out what is are most efficient replacements.

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  10. 10. Bill Crofut 1:08 pm 11/12/2010

    One of the more interesting interviews on the subject of alleged anthropogenic global warming/climate change was recently conducted on an Australian Broadcasting Corporation episode of “Counterpoint”:

    Click on: “The Royal Society updates its climate guide”

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