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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Searching for climate-do-nothinger Bjorn Lomborg's millions

by Graham Readfearn, storify, June 26, 2014
  1. There are many puzzling things about Danish climate change contrarian Bjorn Lomborg - a guy often cited on lists of the world's leading influencers. 

    He admits burning fossil fuels causes global warming but says it's no big deal. 

    In fact, he claims that the economic costs of climate change will not turn negative for another 50 years. 

    He says the world should not waste billions on tackling rising greenhouse gas emissions, but should instead prioritise funding to beating poverty - like we can't do both? Energy poverty is a killer, he says, so the developing world should burn as much coal as they need.

    His critics - of which there are a great many - say Lomborg tends to cherry-pick certain chunks of data, ignore others and dismiss risk in order to make his arguments stick.  I took a look at some of his arguments on my Guardian blog Planet Oz back in December 2013.
  2. Bjorn is also a bit of a charmer and his love of the plain black t-shirt gives him an aura of practical pragmatist - the realist out there batting for the world's poor. 

    He is wildly popular and appears on major media outlets across the world, writes opinion columns in the most widely read newspapers on the planet and speaks with utter conviction. 

    But a question few people ever ask is - where does all the money come from for his Copenhagen Consensus Center think tank - and what even is that?  What are their offices in Copenhagen like?  Are they as plain and understated as Lomborg's t-shirts?

    I decided to take a look for DeSmogBlog.
  3. The think tank is actually based in the US where it registered in 2008.  My story for DeSmogBlog found his think tank has pulled in $4.3 million in funding since 2008, most of it in the last two years. Lomborg himself was paid $775,000 through the think tank for his work in 2012, which is the latest year where public records are available.  

    The majority of the income is not disclosed.

    The think tank's VP told me one reason for this was that "Donors routinely decide to be anonymous" and that one reason was that "given how some parts of the blogosphere vilify Dr. Lomborg and certain research from the Center" this kind of heat was "something donors can understandably live without". He said they most certainly don't take cash from "the fossil fuel industry" and donors have no influence on their research.

    But where is all that money coming from?  

    I discovered grants from three foundations - one in particular is strongly linked both ideologically and financially to the network of organisations controlled by the right-wing Koch brothers. Another also has ties. Following up my story, Joe Romm at Climate Progress put some flesh on those Koch links.
  4. DeSmogBlog also created a meme.
  5. New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin showed particular interest in Lomborg's hefty salary.

  6. Others wondered how many t-shirts Lomborg could buy with that kind of income.

  7. Some saw the irony of climate science denialists who love touting the conspiracy that climate scientists are only warning the world about global warming because there's a government grant cheque in it.

  8. For me, the whole story highlights two realities.  

  9. A think tank that publicly lobbies for policy positions that would hugely benefit the fossil fuel industry does not have to say where its money comes from. This applies in the US as it does in the UK and Australia and probably lots of other places too.

    When media outlets across the globe publish Lomborg's views as the "founder and president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center," readers are always left wondering.  What is that?  

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