Professor Bjorn Lomborg has become the target of environmental activists. Last week, activists convinced the University of Western Australia to cancel a plan with Lomborg to create a major research center that would focus on the economics of global development projects.
Why were global warming activists upset? Because Lomborg doesn’t believe global warming is currently the greatest threat facing mankind. Activists pressured the university to return $4 million to the Australian government that would have gone to create the think-tank Australia Consensus.
The move was celebrated by environmentalists, but bemoaned by Australian conservatives as a blow to free and open debate. Lomborg, the self-styled “skeptical environmentalist,” didn’t sit idly by, but instead took to the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal to voice his disgust.
“What is the lesson for young academics?” Lomborg asked. “Avoid producing research that could produce politically difficult answers. Steer clear of results that others might find contentious. Consider where your study could take you, and don’t go there if it means upsetting the status quo.”
Activists wanted to discredit Lomborg because of his moderate views on global warming. But therein lies the irony: Lomborg still believes humans are causing global warming (it’s just not as bad as some people say). In fact, Lomborg supports cutting fossil fuels subsidies, government spending on green energy research and development and imposing a tax on carbon dioxide emissions.
All of these things are supported on some level by most eco-activists. Where Lomborg diverges, however, is that he does not think “Kyoto-style approaches,” “poorly designed EU climate policies” or a “pledge to hold warming to two degrees Celsius” are effective ways to help the environment or the world’s poor.
“We should focus resources where they will do the most good—not where they will make us feel the most good,” Lomborg wrote in The Wall Street Journal.
“Therein lay the problem,” Lomborg wrote. “This kind of comparison can upset those who are committed to advocating less effective investments, particularly poor responses to climate change.”
Western Australia University Vice Chancellor Paul Johnson had good things to say about the partnership with Lomborg and his Copenhagen Consensus Center, but ultimately pulled the plug on the project due to the “scale of the strong and passionate emotional reaction” to it.
“Over the past few weeks, I have met and talked to staff, students and members of the public to hear their views, and to explain how the centre will operate within the university, the type of economic analysis it will undertake, and to correct many mistruths and misunderstandings about the centre,” Johnson wrote.
“I have stated many times that it is not a centre to study climate change, that the university was not providing any direct funding to the centre, and that Bjorn Lomborg would not be involved in its day-to-day operations,” Johnson explained.
The university’s decision to reject Lomborg was met with harsh criticism from Australian government officials and some academics.
“Australia’s culture of open debate is increasingly sick,” Australian human rights commissioner Tim Wilson wrote in an op-ed Monday. “Outrage, confected or otherwise, is a popular tool to condemn your opponents because it avoids the need to actually debate ideas.”
Australia’s Minister for Education and Training took to Twitter to come to Lomborg’s aid.
What a sad day for academic freedom when staff at a university silence a dissenting voice rather than test their ideas in debate #auspoI
— Christopher Pyne (@cpyne) May 8, 2015
“People have been rejected on account of insufficient abilities but not because they do not have the right type of view,” Prof. Hank Greenway, an 88-year-old fellow at UWA, told The Australian newspaper.
Lomborg says the Australian government still wants to fund a development think tank, and the skeptical environmentalist says he’s “enthusiastic about working with academics to build a research center that will be judged on its actual output, improving global efforts on aid and development.”
“Our research will continue to go where the economic evidence leads, rather than where idealism might make us want to end up,” Lomborg wrote. “Facts must never, ever be seen as an unwelcome contribution to policy debate.”
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