Climate

Australia Pledges Millions To Help Climate Contrarian Set Up Center To Argue Against Climate Action

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott pledges $4 million to set up a climate consensus center.

The Australian government has pledged $4 million to help Danish climate contrarian Bjørn Lomborg establish a “climate consensus center” at the University of Western Australia.

According to the Guardian Australia, a spokesman for education minister Christopher Pyne said that the country would pay $4 million over four years to help Lomborg establish a center based off the same methodology used at his Copenhagen Consensus Center, which operated from 2004 to 2012. In 2012, it was defunded by the Danish government, and has been operating in the United States with backing from private investors since.

Mark Butler, an environmental spokesperson for the opposition Labor party criticized the plan to set up the consensus center, arguing that Abbott was taking funds from an already cash-strapped government to further his own anti-climate agendas.

“Tony Abbott has found millions of taxpayers’ dollars to fund his attack on renewable energy while at the same time gutting Australia’s science and university funding,” Butler told local Australian newspaper the Mercury. “…[he] has deputized one of the world’s most well-known renewable energy skeptics to continue his climate change denial and attacks on renewable energy.”

Sources at the University of WA’s business school, where the center will be housed, told the Guardian that the establishment of the center came as a surprise and that even senior staff at the business school weren’t aware of the plans until shortly before they were announced. According to Pyne’s spokesman, the proposal for the center was put forth jointly by Lomborg and the university. The center is slated to open in June or July, with a staff of three or four. Lomborg will serve as an adjunct professor.

Lomborg believes climate change is man-made but argues that it’s not a top-priority problem, claiming that when looked at from an economic point of view, spending money on tackling climate change does little to better society. He has called fossil fuel subsidies “a way for governments to buy political stability,” and has called wind and power “expensive, feel-good measures that will have an imperceptible climate impact.”

But scientists have accused Lomborg of cherrypicking data to support his claims. In 2003, a Danish government committee comprised of scientists found him guilty of “scientific dishonesty,” concluding that his one-sided choice of data shows him to have “clearly acted at variance with good scientific practice.” Author and media critic Howard Friel, who fact-checked the arguments Lomborg makes in his books The Skeptical Environmenalist and Cool It, went even further, calling Lomborg “a performance artist disguised as an academic.”

The Australian Climate Consensus Center won’t be the first time that Australian prime minister Tony Abbott, whose record on climate change includes repealing Australia’s carbon tax and neglecting to include climate change on this year’s G20 agenda, has worked with Lomborg. In late March, Abbott invited Lomborg to address Australian diplomats and government staff during the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s development innovation hub, an event aimed at finding better ways to provide aid to poor countries. “While climate change is definitely an issue,” Lomborg reportedly told officials at the event, “it is certainly not one of the biggest challenges faced by the Pacific Islands, when you ask the citizens themselves.” A 2013 Pew Research Center study on global views and attitudes found that 52 percent of Australians felt that climate change was a major threat to their country.

As Buzzfeed notes, the prime minister also quoted Lomborg in his book Battlelines. “It doesn’t make sense, though,” Abott wrote, “to impose certain and substantial costs on the economy now in order to avoid unknown and perhaps even benign changes in the future. As Bjorn Lomborg has said: ‘Natural science has undeniably shown us that global warming is man made and real. But just as undeniable is the economic science which makes it clear that a narrow focus on reducing carbon emissions could leave future generations with major costs, without major cuts to temperatures.'” Abbott, who has denied links between extreme weather and climate change, has previously called climate science “absolute crap.”

In September of 2013, Abbott dismantled the Australian Climate Commission, an independent but government-funded panel of scientists meant to study potential impacts of climate change on the country. Australia’s environmental minister Greg Hunt said that cutting the commission would avoid duplicating governmental work, saving the government some $580,000 in 2013-14 and up to $1.6 million in future years, according to the Guardian.