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Film on climate change bad boy says 'Cool It' over panic

by Staff Writers
Stockholm (AFP) Nov 13, 2010
Humanity has what it takes to adapt to global warming and there's no need to panic: so goes the message in a new documentary on the bad boy of the climate change debate, Bjoern Lomborg.

The towering Dane, who catapulted onto the global stage in 2001 with his book "The Skeptical Environmentalist", was emphatic in a telephone interview with AFP ahead of the release of the aptly entitled "Cool It".

"Panic is not a good state of mind if you want to make sound decisions," said the 45-year-old whose book challenged the mainstream global climate debate, which he says is exaggerating the dangers.

"Cool It", released in the US on Friday, is seen as a response to the Academy Award-winning documentary by former US vice president Al Gore, "An Inconvenient Truth".

Lomborg, with his mop of blond hair and boyish grin, has often been labeled a climate change denier, a notion he rejects, insisting that "global warming is real, but we are tackling it stupidly."

In the film, which he co-wrote with US documentary filmmaker Ondi Timoner and others, he offers a litany of ideas he feels the world should invest in to counter climate change: paint cities white to better reflect sunlight back into the atmosphere and thereby cool ground temperatures, capture the energy of waves, and even create artificial clouds to keep the planet cooler.

The one thing we should not be spending so much time and money on, the film says, is the narrow focus on curbing carbon emissions that dominates today's debate -- the focus of the Kyoto Protocol that Lomborg has fought.

His stance has caught attention, putting him on the Time Magazine's list of the world's 100 most influential people, while in 2008 he was named by the British paper the Guardian as "one of the 50 people who could save the planet."

He says he admires Gore's documentary since "his movie made us all aware of climate change".

However, "it did so by creating panic, and we need to move on from that," he told AFP.

"Cool It" opens with British school children recounting, in drawings and tales, what they expect to happen "quite soon": most countries will flood, others turn into deserts -- a prospect one girl says keeps her awake at nights.

"I'm scared because it's going to get very, very hot," another child says.

"The animals will die, the trees will all die and fall down. Everyone is just going to die," a third warns.

"The whole climate debate has been marred by the fact that just two positions have been viewed as acceptable: either you are a climate change denier or you are Al Gore and the world is coming to an end," Lomborg told AFP.

"The problem is neither position is true.

"There is no middle ground, and that is what we need, very, very much," he said, urging alternatives to the current focus on cutting carbon emissions.

"The current approach has failed for 18 years and there is no reason to believe that it will suddenly begin to work," added Lomborg, a professor at the Copenhagen School of Business and founder and head of the Copenhagen Consensus Centre think-tank.

He feels it is both costly and inadequate, "sort of like buying a fire insurance policy for your house -- a very expensive one -- that only covers the door frame and nothing else."

Lomborg estimates that the total cost of implementing the Kyoto Protocol -- which requires wealthy nations to cut carbon dioxide emissions blamed for global warming until the end of 2012 -- amounts to 180 million dollars a year.

He says a separate plan by the European Union to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent from 1990-levels by 2020 will cost 250 billion dollars a year -- more than five times the amount calculated by the bloc itself.

Yet the two projects will each only lead to a temperature drop of between 0.08 and 0.1 degrees Fahrenheit (about 0.05 degrees Celsius) by 2100, the film insists.

The world would be better served, he feels, by investing say 100 billion dollars a year in research and development of new scientific solutions to curb warming in the long-haul, as well as geo-engineering solutions like building resilient levies for a quick fix to imminent dangers.

"If we are going to spend money to fix this problem, we should not spend money on stupid solutions, but instead on smart ones," he said.

This alternative approach, he insists, would leave money left over to tackle other major world problems as well, such as AIDS, malaria and providing clean drinking water.

Lomborg also insists that the worst-case climate change scenarios were unlikely to happen, and that it was not helpful trying to scare people into action.

"There are many well-meaning people who think you need to 'sex up' the message a little to get your point across.

"That didn't work with the Iraq war, and it won't work if what you're looking for is long-term solutions," he insisted.

In a bid for balance, "Cool it" interviews numerous renowned scientists on both sides of the debate.

It has been shown at several festivals, including in Toronto and Copenhagen, and is scheduled to open in Europe after the US launch.

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