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Before IDFA’s Green Screen Climate Debate began at the Escape Club in Rembrandtplein Monday afternoon, our host noted that none other than Al Gore was due to arrive at Schiphol airport at any moment (no doubt in one of his private environmentally-damaging jets). Though he was in Holland to receive an award, the Nobel laureate, unfortunately, had declined the festival’s offer to stop by to debate. Too bad because we were left with the star of Cool It, Bjorn Lomborg — the John Cameron Mitchell-resembling “skeptical environmentalist” whose book the film was based on — instead facing down Jan Rotman, an aptly named and pissed-off Rotterdam professor who had the former vice-president’s harrumphing condescension down pat. (He also looked a lot like Nicolas Cage, one audience member commented somewhat inexplicably.)

Rotman’s view is that climate scientist discontent all boils down to economists like Lomborg who worship cost-benefit analysis rather than true environmentalist principles. He claims it’s dangerous to put one’s trust in statisticians, pointing to the global economic crisis that economists themselves couldn’t predict. (Never mind that some economists did indeed predict it. Rotman should catch a screening of Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job while he’s at IDFA.) Nevertheless, the professor’s assertion that a problem lies in basing assumptions not on reality but on models does carry weight. In the case of the global financial meltdown the models often didn’t work because economists assumed that both people and markets act rationally and in their best interests. Case in point, Jan Rotman.

That’s because Rotman’s smugness towards Lomborg only alienated an audience hoping to hear clearheaded arguments. (Gore himself learned that lesson all too well a decade ago when he got hammered in the realm of public opinion during his debates with W.) Rotman came across as a bitter old academic outraged at the young upstart usurping his hard-earned turf — which only added fuel to Lomborg’s charge in Cool It that a lot of innovative ideas are being stymied by entrenched men unwilling to think outside the current climate policy box. By the time the debate ended a single consensus was reached: that climate scientists can be every bit as polarized and zealous as the pro-lifers and pro-choicers in the abortion battle. Only more annoyingly didactic.

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