When I was approached to make Cool It last year, all I knew about climate change or global warming was what I'd gleaned from An Inconvenient Truth and a few newspaper and magazine articles. I was the mother of a five year old and was worried for his generation's future on the planet, but I didn't think about it very much beyond switching to a clean diesel car and florescent light bulbs. As I read Bjorn Lomborg's books and struggled to wrap my head around this daunting subject matter, I reminded myself that the reason I was originally attracted to making documentaries was because the camera is a bridge into worlds I haven't explored deeply, and that I invariably learn and am profoundly changed by crossing those bridges. I am then compelled to share what I've learned with audiences in as exciting and engaging a way as possible. It's an incredibly challenging and fulfilling pursuit.
In this case, I must admit I approached the subject tentatively, as I was uncertain what I could bring to the table that would make it valuable, as well as entertaining, for audiences. I also was wary because of the controversy surrounding political scientist/economist Bjorn Lomborg. He had, after all, been accused of scientific dishonesty (later overturned) by the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty for his assertion in his book, The Skeptical Environmentalist, that the world was actually much better off than it was at the beginning of the century and getting better all the time, and that we needed to prioritize some of the world's most massive problems – like malaria, HIV/AIDS and the lack of clean drinking water for 2 billion people on the planet right now – alongside our concerns about man-made global warming. I was intrigued, but wary. I discovered that since the first climate summit in Rio in 1992, there had been no global agreement to make much-needed changes in our way of living. Yet here we were heading towards another such meeting at Copenhagen in December, 2009, and still there was noise that no such consensus would emerge. I wondered how it was that we're being told that the sky is falling, or rather temperature and the seas are rising — yet we couldn't get past our differences in politics and geography to reach a viable solution?
So I asked to meet with Bjorn last May, and prepared a litany of questions aimed at shooting holes in his findings. We met at the Cosmic Diner in New York City for what I thought might be an hour or two – I emerged five hours later. I asked him probably a hundred questions, and he had fast answers – answers that made sense. When he responded with something I couldn't quite understand, I pushed him further until I got to an answer I could digest. I realized that although my head hurt, I was learning a lot – and that in fact I might be the right person for the job for the very fact that I could bring the intricacies to a level we could all access because I too couldn't understand it any other way! More importantly I was mystified that what I was hearing had drawn so much controversy and ire. It was a big red flag, and intriguing to me, that I felt I was facing a real "solutionist" (a term Perry Farrell applied to me in his web series a few years ago) - a pragmatic and practical person intent on making the world a smarter, better, more efficient place. So then I had to wonder: Whose interests was he threatening? Why was this man being vilified from both the right and the left at the same time? It was a red flag to me that something more was going on here.
I realized that no matter what I found over the next year, it was worth taking on this project to see if perhaps I could create a film that would help push through the polarizing logjam that had become the never-ending (and extremely expensive) climate debate towards real and practical solutions. I also realized that though I am a liberal democrat and Bjorn told me that day in the diner he is left of left, this shouldn't be about politics, and it was really important that we elevate this pressing matter out of that contentious realm. We all breathe the same air, and we all need to unite to focus on the right priorities at this crucial tipping point. I had a new goal. I wanted to make a film that would replace fear with hope and stagnation with definitive progress. Fear is a topic that Bjorn discusses at length in his books – fear, he says, blocks clear-eyed thinking and causes people to reach for the most immediate, frequently incorrect solutions.
I told Bjorn I would make the film, but only if we could leave audiences with a sense of specifically what can be done. I asked him to spend the next year vetting all of the best solutions for the problems we face and then to make a budget. We know the European Union is currently moving toward spending about $250 billion per year to curb their carbon footprint, so we used that same $250 billion as our budget, and highlighted alternative ways to spend that money based on Bjorn's cost/benefit analysis. This device allows us, the audience, to be armed with solid ideas of how we raise the money and how we spend the money to save our planet and its inhabitants.
I was compelled to break this subject matter down and get to the bottom of why there had hardly been any progress in nearly 20 years to counteract something we are in fact causing, and which we have been told will kill us all. I challenged Bjorn, and everyone I interviewed, to give me answers I, and the audience, would understand. I conducted interviews with many of the world's foremost engineers, scientists, politicians, sociologists and climatologists to get to the heart of innovative solutions that are just over the horizon. While there is no solid data about what will happen to us – because it's all modeling – it was clear lots of people were out there applying their inventive and alternative reasoning to approach our energy needs. Some of them were suffering from a lack of funding and others had been shut down decades prior due to competitive industries wanting to maintain their financial edge.
Among our puzzling findings was the resistance to advanced thoughts in geo-engineering, especially considering that this is the quick-fix solution that would buy us time if any of the worst-case scenarios so effectively painted for us in films like An Inconvenient Truth actually came true. My logical brain asked: How can we be told Antarctica or Greenland may fall into the ocean, putting us all under water, and yet find minimal support to fund research & development to discover the benefits of geo-engineering solutions?
On the flipside, we found there were some basic, immediate things we could do very inexpensively that would present immediate relief to people living in heat-swollen cities, with the same ideas saving the most vulnerable, impoverished people on the planet from avoidable death. Aside from this being the right thing to do, this would actually bring up everyone's standard of living! I started to get excited by something I had steered away from for 35 years: Economics!! And science!!
This was definitely not my usual suspect: Cool It would be a socio-political film we would shoot in a year, not only about the climate change crisis, but how to prioritize solutions to major problems according to a cost-benefit analysis – as opposed to a Dig, Join Us, or We Live in Public, where I would follow a story unfolding over years based on a single question and then connect the dots later to draw an intimate dramatic portrait… of art colliding with commerce (Dig!), mind control (Join Us), or the willing loss of privacy in the digital age (We Live in Public). What I came to find out shooting Cool It though, was that once I plunged into the exploration, it contained the intrigue and drama that all of the other films had. It had conspiracy, controversy, politics, this time surrounding a subject matter that basically affected ALL of us. Bjorn's story mirrored the entire problem with the climate change world: Open access to information and free debate is actually discouraged – anything aside from the same single solution of cutting carbon through cap & trade seems to be shot down and discredited before it is allowed to be heard and evaluated. Yet the developing world, since they are just emerging from poverty, simply can't afford to transition away from fossil fuels until alternative energies are less expensive. So simple and easy to understand. Then why don't we switch gears?
I decided this was the best and most engaging way to tell the story. Meet Bjorn and the storm that surrounds him. Let it all hang out right up front. Then let's find out why there has been a logjam. Quickly, effectively, with movement, music, easy (well, easier!) to understand graphics that distill the data into digestible form. A tour of all the wonderfully practical solutions we should be researching and developing right now with double or triple force, so we can make the switch faster! When we realize that our main character's story is emblematic of what's happening to all of us, we will wake up and take action– especially armed with a budget and inspired to make some sacrifices to raise the money and apply it now. At least that's my hope!
About Bjorn Lomborg
Bjorn Lomborg is adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School and director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which brings together some of the world's top economists, including five Nobel laureates, to suggest priorities for solving the world’s most pressing problems. Time magazine named Lomborg one of the world's 100 most influential people in 2004. In 2008, he was named "one of the 50 people who could save the planet" by the British newspaper The Guardian, "one of the top 100 public intellectuals" by Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine, and "one of the world's 75 most influential people of the 21st century" by Esquire.
Lomborg's 2007 book Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalists Guide to Global Warming, in which he challenged conventional wisdom about the best ways to deal with climate change, is the inspiration behind a documentary film of the same name, directed by Ondi Timoner, that was selected to premiere at the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival.
Lomborg first came to prominence in 2001 with the publication of his best-selling book The Skeptical Environmentalist, in which he argued that while pollution and other environmental woes needed to addressed, real progress had been made and the situation was not nearly as dire as many activists maintained. The book, which led the World Economic Forum to select him as a Global Leader for Tomorrow, inspired intense debate and still provokes strong feelings nearly a decade later.
Ever since then, Lomborg has been a frequent participant in public debate about climate change and global economic priorities. His commentaries have appeared regularly in such publications as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, Newsweek, The Economist, Forbes, Le Monde, Toronto Globe & Mail, Washington Post, The Guardian, The Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Times of London, The Australian, the Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe. He has appeared on TV shows ranging the BBC’s "Newsnight" to HBO’s "Politically Incorrect" as well as CNN’s "Larry King Live," ABC News’s "20/20," and Australian Broadcasting’s "60 Minutes."
Born in Denmark in 1965, Lomborg earned his M.A. and Ph.D. at the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen. He taught in the Political Science Department of the University of Aarhus from 1994 to 2005. From February 2002 to July 2004 Lomborg was also director of Denmark’s national Environmental Assessment Institute. During this period he was named by Business Week as one of the nine top "agenda setters" in Europe. He organized the first Copenhagen Consensus in 2004, bringing together some of the world's top economists to prioritize the best solutions to the world’s biggest challenges. Essentially, he asked these experts to tackle the question: With limited resources, how can we do the most good possible? It is a question he continues to ask today.
About the Filmmakers
Ondi Timoner (director/producer/co-writer) is the only filmmaker to win the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival twice. Her 2004 Sundance-winning doc, DIG! about the collision of art & commerce through the lives of two bands, and her 2009 top prize-winner, We Live In Public, about an internet visionary who showed by example how willingly we will trade our privacy and eventually sanity in the virtual age, were both acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in New York for their permanent collection. She also directed the socio-political feature documentaries, Join Us (2007), about the cult epidemic in America, and The Nature of the Beast (1994), a hard-hitting look at the US prison system, and the short film Recycle, which premiered at Sundance in 2006, and subsequently screened at Cannes and in schools worldwide. Timoner looks forward to premiering her fifth feature-length documentary, Cool It - a film that blasts through the polarizing logjam of the climate change debate to bring a solid plan for solutions - at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2010, and releasing it theatrically this fall.
In any format, Ondi loves to use her camera as a bridge to bring herself and the audience deep into worlds they may never otherwise enter. In 2000, Timoner created, produced and directed the original VH-1 series Sound Affects, about music's effect at critical moments in people's lives. She has directed commercials and web series for such companies as McDonalds, State Farm, Ford, The Army, and others, and is currently helming the next two short films for Honda's innovative series, entitled "Dream the Impossible," which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.
Having made dramatic documentaries with strong narratives (and witnessed many documentaries that fit this bill) Ondi likes to call her next directorial effort a "pre-scripted actor film." Entitled The Perfect Moment, it will be her first of this kind, and will be about the life of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, which her company Interloper Films and Eliza Dushku's Boston Diva are producing. She attended the Sundance Director's and Screenwriter's Lab as a fellow in June to develop The Perfect Moment and is aiming to shoot the film in 2011. She is also developing Cycler to direct, with Don Murphy's Angry Films and Susan Montford producing.
Born in Miami, Florida, Timoner graduated Yale University, Cum Laude, with a double major in American Studies (concentration in Film and Literature) and Theater Studies.
Terry Botwick (producer/co-writer) is managing principal partner of 1019 Films, and oversees all aspects of the company's business as well as production. Mr. Botwick is recognized as an entertainment company president with the strategic vision, business execution and brand-building skills necessary to increase a company's market share. Mr. Botwick previously served as President of Vanguard Films & Animation. Vanguard was principally owned by John H. Williams (Shrek, Shrek 2, Shrek The Third) and Starz Media. During his tenure, Vanguard produced and released Space Chimps (Fox), and expanded into a direct to video venture with MGM. Prior to Vanuard, Mr. Botwick formed Thunderpoint Partners, a structured film portfolio co-finance and production company that closed a deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment for the co-financing and distribution of its films. Mr. Botwick also served as President and Chief Operating Officer for Big Idea Productions, where he successfully brought the VeggieTales brand onto the big screen with an award winning, record-breaking box office performing, major motion picture release, Jonah, A VeggieTales Movie. In addition, he increased revenue for the company by 25%, following two flat years of performance prior to his arrival. Previously, Mr. Botwick was Senior Vice President of Current Programming and Specials for CBS Entertainment, overseeing both the creative and business aspects of the network's comedy and drama series in production, alternative series in development and in production, as well as large special events such as the Grammy Awards. He helped grow CBS into the leader in network television. Mr. Botwick has also served as President of Distribution and National Programming for the entertainment division of the Hearst Corporation, a worldwide distribution company and producer of television movies, animation and television series. Prior to the Hearst Corp., Mr. Botwick served as the Vice President of Original Programs for the Family Channel and Executive Vice President of Family Productions, Inc., the Network's in-house production company. He helped re-position the CBN Cable Network as the Family Channel and, after raising more than $300 million for the production of original programming and brand establishment, played an important role in the company's successful IPO. Mr. Botwick has been responsible for the oversight of close to 1,000 hours of television series, special events, movies, direct to video product and theatrical films.
Sarah Gibson (producer) is an award-winning producer whose credits include two Sundance Film Festival Competition features; I.O.U.S.A., in 2008; and Small Town Gay Bar, in 2006, with Executive Producer Kevin Smith. Featuring Warren Buffett and Allan Greenspan, I.O.U.S.A. was nominated for a 2009 Critics Choice Award and shortlisted for a 2009 Academy Award.
Gibson has also produced numerous award-winning commercials and music videos (including Arcade Fire's Rebellion (Lies). In 2008, Gibson produced the award-winning documentary feature film Tapped about U.S. bottled water issues. She is currently in production on her fifth documentary feature film titled Risk – the follow-up film to I.O.U.S.A. Gibson, a Canadian from Toronto currently resides in Los Angeles with her husband Chris and son Noah.
Ralph Winter (executive producer) is managing principal partner of 1019 Films, and oversees all aspects of film production. Winter has produced six films since 2000 that have proven to be some of the most profitable films in the industry, collectively grossing over $2.4 billion in worldwide box office. Ralph Winter is a native Californian, born and raised in Glendale. He attended U. C. Berkeley where he received a B.A. in History. Mr. Winter collaborated with Twentieth Century Fox in 1999 producing Marvel's X-Men, directed by Bryan Singer. Upon realizing the profitability and achievement of the film, Fox offered Mr. Winter a deal with the studio through which he went on to produce Planet of the Apes, X-Men 2 and X-Men: The Last Stand, Fantastic Four and Fantastic Four: The Rise of the Silver Surfer. Prior to his tenure at Fox, Mr. Winter worked at Disney where he produced the remake of the 1949 RKO classic, Mighty Joe Young with producer Tom Jacobson and director Ron Underwood (City Slickers). The following year he executive produced Inspector Gadget, starring Matthew Broderick and Rupert Everett. Mr. Winter has also worked in the independent arena, producing the film Hackers starring Angelina Jolie, and directed by the critically acclaimed, Iain Softly (K-PAX, Skeleton Key) for United Artists. He also executive produced Captain Ron, starring Kurt Russell and Martin Short, Hocus Pocus, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Bette Midler, The Puppet Masters at Disney, Star Trek V and VI for Paramount, and the television show "High Incident" for Steven Spielberg and ABC. Winter most recently completed production on Wolverine with Academy-award winner Gavin Hood (Tsotsi) directing.
Hashem Akbari is a Senior Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Akabari studies cost-effective methods of combating the effects of climate change in urban areas. His recently published study of the "heat island effect" of the Los Angeles Basin found that if all black surfaces in the city were painted white, the surface temperature could drop as much as 5 degrees. Additionally, the study showed that every 100 square feet of black rooftop converted to white surface could offset about 1 ton of carbon dioxide.
Jagdish Bhagwati is a University Professor in Economics at Columbia University and a Senior Fellow in International Economics at the Council on Foreign Relations. Bhagwati’s research focuses on International Trade. He has served as Special Adviser to the United Nations on Globalization and as External Adviser to the World Trade Organization.
J.E. Bickel is an Assistant Professor at the University of Texas at Austin, serving in both the Department of Mechanical Engineering and the Department of Petroleum and Geosystems Engineering. Bickel’s research focuses on Decision Analysis, which aims to improve decision making in the face of uncertainty. Bickel has applied his research to the issues surrounding the use of geo-engineering to combat climate change, including in conducting one of the first cost/benefit analyses of geo-engineering.
Freeman Dyson is a theoretical physicist and mathematician, famous for his work in quantum field theory, solid-state physics, and nuclear engineering. Now retired, he spent much of his career as Professor of Physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ. In 2000 he was awarded the Templeton Prize for progress in religion.
Myron Ebell is Director of Global Warming and International Environmental Policy at Competitive Enterprise Institute. Ebell also serves as director of Freedom Action, a web-based grassroots activist organization and chairs the Cooler Heads Coalition, which is comprised of over two dozen non-profit groups that question what they see as global warming alarmism and oppose energy rationing policies.
Kerry Emanuel is a Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Emanuel specializes in atmospheric convection and the mechanisms that act to intensify hurricanes. A member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, Emanuel is best known for his research into the effects of global warming on hurricanes. In 2006, Time Magazine named Emanuel one of the world’s 100 most influential people.
Barry Glassner is the President of Lewis & Clark College. Glasser authored The Culture of Fear, which became a national bestseller and was named "Best Book of the Year" by the Los Angeles Times Book Review. In 2005, he was appointed Executive Vice Provost at USC, where he was also Professor of Sociology. Glassner’s research specialties include cultural sociology, qualitative methods and media studies.
James Hansen heads NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a position he’s held since 1981. Hansen also serves as Adjunct Professor of Earth Sciences at Columbia University. Since the mid-1970s, Hansen has focused on studies and computer simulations of the Earth’s climate, to better understand mankind’s impact on global climate. In 1988, he gave testimony to Congress on climate change which raised awareness of the global warming issue.
Daniel Kammen is a Distinguished Professor of Energy at UC Berkeley and climate advisor to the Obama administration. Kammen has been a co-ordinating lead author for the IPCC (the group of thousands of climate scientists which won the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for their report assessing man-made global warming). His work has focused on the value of renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind power and biomass.
Finn Kydland is the Henley Professor of Economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Kydland was a co-recipient of the 2004 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics (shared with Edward C. Prescott) for their contributions to dynamic macroeconomics.
Lee Lane is a Fellow and Co-Director of American Enterprise Institute’s Geo-Engineering Project, which researches climate engineering technologies that may counteract global warming. Conducted, with Eric Bickel, one of the first cost/benefit analyses of geo-engineering (for the Copenhagen Consensus Center).
Christopher Landsea is the Science and Operations Officer at the National Hurricane Center, where he conducts research into the seasonal and climatic relationships of Atlantic tropical cyclones, African Sahel rainfall and the El Nino-Southern Oscillation.
Richard Lindzen is an atmospheric physicist and Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT. Lindzen is known for his work in the dynamics of the middle atmosphere, atmospheric tides and ozone photochemistry. He is a critic of what he states are political pressures on climate scientists to conform to ‘climate alarmism’.
Lori Mitchell is Acting Manager of Renewable Energy Generation for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission. Mitchell formerly was senior engineer at SunPower Corporation, as well as the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the California Energy Commission.
Nathan Myhrvold is the co-founder of Intellectual Ventures, a patent portfolio developer and broker, that has acquired over 30,000 patents in the areas of technology and energy. Myhrvold formerly worked as Chief Technology Officer at Microsoft. Two of his company’s projects are the Terra Power fourth-generation nuclear reactor and research into geo-engineering to mitigate global warming and climate change.
Daniel Nocera is the Henry Dreyfus Professor of Energy and Professor of Chemistry at MIT. He is also the director of the Solar Revolution Project at MIT which seeks to create innovations in photocatalytic water splitting in order to store solar energy for use in large-scale, mainstream applications.
Rajendra Pachauri has served as the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) since 2002. In 2007, Al Gore and the IPCC won the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change. Pachauri also serves as head of Yale’s Climate and Energy Institute, and is director general of TERI, a research and policy organization in India
Peter Pagh is a Professor of Environmental Law at University of Copenhagen.
Roger Pielke Jr. is an American meteorologist with interest in climate variability and climate change, environmental vulnerability, numerical modeling and atmospheric dynamics. Since 2005, Piekle has served as Senior Research Scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at UC-Boulder and an emeritus professor of the Department of Atmospheric Science at Colorado State University.
Gywn Prins is the director of the LSE Mackinder Programme for the Study of Long Wave Events. Also a Professorial Research Fellow at the London School of Economics, who specializes in climate change policy and science politics. Prins is also Special Adviser to the Secretary-General of NATO.
Paul Reiter is a Professor of Medical Entomology at Pasteur Institute in Paris, specializing in history, epidemiology, and control of mosquito-borne diseases. Reiter is a Fellow of the Royal Entomological Society as well as working 22 years for the Center for Disease Control.
Arthur Rorsch is Emeritus Professor of Molecular Genetics at Leiden University in the Netherlands.
Stephen Salter is the Emeritus Professor of Engineering Design at the University of Edinburgh and inventor of the Salter Duck, a device which converts wave energy into electricity as well as wind-powered, cloud-whitening sea vessels for use in geo-engineering to mitigate global warming and climate change.
Mtangulizi Sanyika is a Professor of African world studies, global encounters and research at Dillard University. Sanyika also serves as project manager of the African American Leadership Project of New Orleans.
Thomas Schelling is an American economist and professor at the University of Maryland. He has been involved in climate change debate since 1980 after chairing a commission for President Carter. He shared the 2005 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for his work in game theory.
Stephen Schneider (1945-2010) was a Professor of Environmental Biology and Global Change at Stanford University. Has served as consultant for seven presidents and emerged in the 80s as leading advocate for reduction of greenhouse gases. He had been a Coordinating Lead Author for the IPCC.
Vernon Smith is a Professor of Economics at Chapman University. He was awarded the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences, largely for his work in experimental economics.
Marcel Stive is the Scientific Director of the Water Research Centre in Delft, The Netherlands and a professor at Delft University of Technology
Nancy Stokey is the Frederick Henry Prince Distinguished Service Professor of Economics at University of Chicago. She is a member of the National Academy of Science and has published significant research in the areas of economic growth and development.
Richard Tol is Research Professor at the Economic and Social Research Institute, Dublin, Ireland. He has been a co-ordinating lead author for the IPCC
Jonathan Trent is a bioengineering research scientist at the Ames Research Center. He is expert in the use of extremophile (life forms that can survive in the harshest conditions on earth) proteins to create nanoscale electronic devices.
Ivor Van Heerden is the former Deputy Director of the Louisiana State University Hurricane Center. He voiced warnings about effects of a major hurricane on Louisiana coast due to sub-standard infrastructure before Katrina.
David Vaughan is a climate scientist at the British Antarctic Survey. Vaughan’s research focus is the role of ice sheets in the Earth system and the societyal threat of climate change and rising sea levels. He has been a co-ordinating Lead Author for the IPCC