Australian University Cancels Plans To Hire Climate Contrarian Bjorn Lomborg

CREDIT: AP Photo/Christopher Patrick Grant

In a surprise move, the University of Western Australia (UWA) has returned $4 million in government money intended to create a “climate consensus center” because it would have required the university to hire the widely debunked champion of climate inaction, Bjorn Lomborg.

Climate Progress readers know Lomborg well from such stories as “Climate Scientists Debunk Lomborg” and “Lomborg Is Part Of The Koch Network” and “Lomborg Urges Climate Inaction With Misleading Stats In Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.”

But in Australia, where much of the media is controlled by Rupert Murdoch, the fact that Lomborg is uniquely unqualified to head a major academic center is apparently not well known. Or at least it wasn’t. That changed when UWA announced last month that it was taking $4 million from the government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott — who killed the Aussie carbon tax and has said that “coal is good for humanity” — to hire Lomborg, who has said that poor countries need more coal and that climate change is no big deal.

Since then, Australians learned from outraged Australian climate experts and others that while Lomborg downplays the threat of global warming, he “has published no peer-reviewed articles in the climate science arena” and doesn’t have any training in climate science. They learned from Dr. Frank Jotzo, director of the Centre for Climate Economics and Policy at the Australian National University, that “Within the research community, particularly within the economics community, the Bjorn Lomborg enterprise has no academic credibility.”

“It is seen as an outreach activity that is driven by specific set of objectives in terms of bringing particular messages into the public debate and in some cases making relatively extreme positions seem more acceptable in the public debate,” Jotzo said.

A Sydney Morning Herald columnist asked this week whether the Copenhagen Consensus Center — Lomborg’s current institution — was “just a U.S. postbox.” The Danish state defunded the center in 2012, but apparently Lomborg liked the alliteration, so he kept the name. The column noted that the address for the center isn’t Copenhagen but a Neighborhood Parcel Shipping Center in Lowell, Massachusetts — which it is! As the paper notes, “Nothing says “venerable research institute” like “parcel forwarding service.”

As an aside, it has been shrewd but Orwellian of Lomborg to use the word “consensus” in the name of his centers. You would never know Lomborg essentially rejects the actual consensus on climate science held by all of the world’s leading science academies and 97 percent of climate scientists who routinely publish in the peer-reviewed literature. Lomborg rejects the basic scientific and economic finding of the IPCC that even aggressive climate action is super-cheap. A few years ago, a leading climatologist called the vision of Lomborg’s Copenhagen Climate Consensus “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story.”

As the facts came out in recent weeks, and students, academics and others protested, I think it became clear to more and more people that Lomborg was indeed uniquely unqualified to head an academic center and that firing him was not a challenge to “academic freedom.” After all, is it really academic freedom when a conservative, pro-coal, anti-climate-action government tries to motivate a university with a $4 million grant to hire a pro-coal, anti-climate-action guy with very thin academic credentials?

In a statement on the UWA website, Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson announced he had told the government and Lomborg of “the University’s decision to cancel the contract and return the money to the government.” He defended the original decision, but made clear:

… it is with great regret and disappointment that I have formed the view that the events of the past few weeks places the center in an untenable position as it lacks the support needed across the University and the broader academic community to meet its contractual obligations and deliver value for money for Australian taxpayers.

In response, Australia’s education minister, Christopher Pyne, says he won’t stop until he finds some academic institution that will take $4 million to hire Lomborg.