Everything's Cool

Reviewed By Mel Valentin
Posted 05/17/07 10:22:55

"It's not actually (cool, that is). It's getting hotter in here."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

SCREENED AT THE 2007 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Al Gore's Academy Award-winning documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," made a persuasive, often disturbing for global warming and the need to take concerted political action. Daniel B. Gold ("Blue Vinyl") and Judith Helfand's ("Blue Vinyl," "A Healthy Baby Girl") documentary, "Everything's Cool," focuses on the politics surrounding global warming. On one side, researchers, scientists, activists and like-minded politicians argued for global warming. On the other side, an interconnected group of think tanks funded by the energy lobby helped to delay action through artificial debate in the media and through Republican-controlled government. Environmentalists also had to contend with an indifferent media and an even more indifferent public.

Covering the months before the 2004 presidential election that saw George W. Bush win a second term by a narrow margin, through the fall of 2006, Everything's Cool begins with Gold and Helfand going on tour of the highways and byways of the United States, their goal: to discover whether public opinion polls that suggested general apathy or ignorance about global warming was, in fact, correct. It was, especially during a contentious presidential election that focused primarily on the war and occupation of Iraq and President Bush's role as commander-in-chief. Bush won, and environmentalists concerned about global warming found an administration inhospitable to their claims essentially shut them out of the policy-making process.

While Everything's Cool examines the Bush administration's efforts to ignore the mounting scientific evidence that supported global warming, often within the federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Aerospace and Space Administration (NASA), and the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Gold and Helfand draw from several whistleblowers, including Rick Piltz, a career bureaucrat with the CEQ who witnessed political appointees changing climate reports to downplay global warming, as well as interviews with several luminaries in the global warming field, including author Ross Gelbspan, as his latest (and reportedly last) book, Boling Point, gets published, Bill McKibben, an activist and author of The End of Nature who leads a symposium, and Michael Shellenger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of a controversial paper, The Death of Environmentalism, that attempts to locate where scientists and the environmental movement has gone wrong in communicating the global warming message to the general public.

Gold and Helfand also follow Dr. Heidi Cullen, a climatologist with a Ph.D. from Columbia University, hired in 2004 by The Weather Channel to explain global warming to their audience in three-minute sound bites. Cullen takes lessons on deportment and delivery while honing her message about global warming (i.e., it's here, it's real, and we need to do something about it). Cullen eventually gets the hang of cable television and even gets a weekly program. While executives at The Weather Channel accept global warming as a reality and see Cullen as a valuable addition to their staff, the other cable news networks don't have anyone of Cullen's background on staff.

Connected to the Republican Party and other conservative interests, the FOX News Network gives global warming opponents plenty of airtime, in effect legitimizing claims that global warming is theory partially supported by factual evidence (if at all). FOX News regularly includes representatives from major conservative think tanks, including the Competitive Enterprise Institute (funded in large part by the energy industry), to "refute" global warming. Simply having a second voice in the "debate" gives global warming opponents the opportunity to delay political action as long as possible while the energy industry obtains record profits with the open support of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. The November 2006 elections that switched control of the House of Representatives and the Senate from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party may have a positive effect on political action aimed at curbing global warming, but so did Hurricane Katrina almost two years ago.

In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, flooding New Orleans, leaving tens of thousands homeless and almost two thousand dead. With close to $150 billion dollars in property damage in Louisiana and Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina became the costliest Atlantic coast hurricane in history. With Cullen watching and reporting on the hurricane and its possible connection to global warming, federal inaction most likely affected the 2006 mid-term elections in favor of the Democratic Party. Here, finally, was real evidence of what unchecked global warming could do. Less than six months later, critics lauded An Inconvenient Truth for making global warming understandable to general audiences. Audiences responded by making An Inconvenient Truth a success at the box office.

"Everything's Cool," however, ends before the November elections, leaving viewers to fill in the blanks on their own. While thatís not necessarily a problem(itís just bad timing), "Everythingís Cool" could have benefited from a more focused approach. A side trip into bio-diesel as an alternative fuel source, while insightful, could have been saved for the inevitable DVD release. Gold and Helfand could have also included more inter-titles or time stamps to indicate when specific footage was shot. Sometime itís clear, sometimes itís not. These are minor issues, however, with a documentary that offers viewers an opportunity to meet the relatively unknown researchers, scientists, and activists whoíve helped shape public and political opinion on global warming for the better.

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