Environmentalist’s talk filmed for documentary

Bjorn Lomborg's lecture in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday was filmed for the documentary "COOL IT," directed by Andrea “Ondi” Timoner ’94 and set to be released in the fall.
Bjorn Lomborg's lecture in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday was filmed for the documentary "COOL IT," directed by Andrea “Ondi” Timoner ’94 and set to be released in the fall. Photo by Carol Hsin.

About 100 people filed into Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Wednesday night to hear controversial environmental activist Bjorn Lomborg — who claims spending money to cut carbon emissions is wasteful — speak about climate change. But some audience members said they thought the staged nature of the talk, which was filmed for a documentary, stifled Lomborg’s discussion of the issues.

Two-time Sundance Film Festival award winner Andrea “Ondi” Timoner ’94 filmed Lomborg’s lecture for “COOL IT,” her upcoming documentary on climate change, as he talked through 42 presentation slides. Though promotional material for the event said it would be filmed, three audience members said they were concerned about the degree to which the lecture was staged for the camera.

“He was performing for the camera, and we were the set pieces,” Marshall Duer-Balkind FES ’10 said.

A spokeswoman for the film, representing Lomborg and Timoner, deferred comment to one of the documentary’s producers, Terry Botwick, who said Thursday that the filmmakers had made clear prior to the event that it would be filmed.

“We are certainly sorry if anyone who attended Bjorn Lomborg’s lecture was irritated by the sometimes inconvenient realities of filmmaking,” Botwick said in a statement Thursday. “But we did make it clear in the invitation that the event was being filmed for a documentary.”

Duer-Balkind said he was concerned that Lomborg told the cameras when he wanted a line to be refilmed, and that the event also started 30 minutes late because the filmmakers wanted to wait for more people to fill the room.

Duer-Balkind’s views were echoed by Bidisha Banerjee ’02 FES ’11, the leader of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies’ climate change student group. Banerjee said she was asked to host a similar filming event featuring Lomborg at the environment school a few months ago. But since Lomborg’s views, including his stance that carbon emissions should not be the focus of climate change policy debates, are not generally accepted in the scientific community, Banerjee said she did not want to host the event because it would seem like the University was endorsing Lomborg’s views.

“I feel odd pimping out my university to be a prop in his film,” Banerjee said.

Lomborg said Banerjee’s concern over the filming location was unfounded since he has been invited to talk at Yale in the past by Law School professor Dan Esty LAW ’86.

Throughout his lecture, Lomborg argued that the world should change the way it tackles climate change by spending money on long-term solutions. The money spent trying to reduce carbon emissions can be better spent curing malaria since more lives would be saved for the same amount spent, Lomborg said.

“Global warming is real, but it’s not the end of the world,” Lomborg said.

Still, George Collins FES ’11 LAW ’12 said he was concerned about how the footage from the talk would be used in the documentary. Having worked on films before, Collins said he understood the amount of power an editor has in framing scenes, especially when he saw how the filmmakers directed people to sit in the middle rows in order to make the room seem more filled.

Molly Ma ’13 said she was confused by Lomborg’s answer to a question posed by Duer-Balkind in the question-and-answer session after the talk. In his question, Duer-Balkind gave numbers predicting a rise in sea level that differed from Lomborg’s. In response, Lomborg said that different studies have different numbers, an answer Ma said made her skeptical of Lomborg’s data. If what Lomborg said were true, Ma said, people could just pick and choose which data sets support their argument.

Louis Rinaldi, a 64-year old retired-computer engineer, said he thought the lecture was interesting but that Lomborg may have downplayed the immediate effects of global warming, such as the damage caused by fossil fuel spills and accidents.

“There were facts that were presented and facts not presented,” Rinaldi said.

Timoner’s documentary is set to be released in the fall.

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