Dallas Morning News editorial board conducted a rare climate change-focused Q&A. The participant was a discredited climate contrarian.
Bjorn Lomborg left his right-wing bubble to speak to a major newspaper
The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board conducted an interview with discredited climate contrarian Bjorn Lomborg and published an edited version without explaining his background or contextualizing his claims. He used the opportunity to push for minor solutions that do not adequately address the scale of the climate crisis.
On December 1, The Dallas Morning News -- a top 15 U.S. newspaper by circulation -- published a condensed interview about climate change solutions with Bjorn Lomborg, a Danish political scientist and director of the think tank Copenhagen Consensus Center. Lomborg criticized current spending on climate change as inadequate and instead proposed that leaders “look at where can you spend a dollar and do the most good” -- which he suggested should include implementing a carbon tax, increased spending on clean energy research and development, investment in climate adaptation, and consideration of “geoengineering,” or using technology to purposefully change the climate.
Those proposals sound relatively benign, and Lomborg has been making these arguments for quite some time. But they are not nearly enough to tackle climate change, and they allow for the continued burning of fossil fuels when what is really needed is a drastic cut in carbon emissions. Lomborg, who has a long history of downplaying the climate crisis, offers relatively minor approaches to solving this massive problem. Unfortunately for readers of the piece, the editorial board does not provide any of this context.
What’s worse, it’s extremely rare for climate change to come up in a Q&A with The Dallas Morning News’ editorial board. Media Matters reviewed Dallas Morning News Q&As going back to January 2017, and just one -- a July 2017 interview with Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) -- included a substantive mention of climate change. When the topic of climate change was finally addressed again in a Q&A format, instead of reaching out to a climate scientist, activist, or policymaker, the paper chose to talk to serial climate misinformer Lomborg.
Lomborg is a climate contrarian who has connections to the Koch network
The only information provided about Lomborg in this interview reads: “Bjorn Lomborg is an academic and author of the book ‘The Skeptical Environmentalist.’” The interview gives the impression that Lomborg is a credible climate expert, but there are many issues with his climate-related work.
Lomborg is a contrarian who “represents an insidious form of climate change denial,” according to The Washington Post. Lomborg has been long discredited within the climate science community. He’s been caught downplaying the risks of sea level rise and even misrepresenting Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. His work showing that it’s a poor investment to limit global temperatures to 2 degrees C under the Paris climate agreement has been scrutinized and rejected by scientific experts. He’s also been credibly accused of misinforming about climate change’s effects on both poverty and extreme weather. NASA climate scientist Gavin Schmidt has said that Lomborg is “totally undermined by his whole career of cherry picking whatever the most favorable reading is and refusing to countenance any possibility of something worse.”
His book is rife with scientific inaccuracies. The one major disclosure about Lomborg in this piece is that he is the author of The Skeptical Environmentalist. This best-selling book published in 2001 helped launch Lomborg to fame, but its main claims have been debunked by the climate science community. In 2003, a Danish government committee found him guilty of “scientific dishonesty,” concluding, “Based on customary scientific standards and in light of his systematic one-sidedness in the choice of data and line of argument, [he] has clearly acted at variance with good scientific practice.” Climate news site Grist spoke with scientific experts in eight environment-related fields, and all of them found his analyses in The Skeptical Environmentalist to be fundamentally flawed -- with one expert noting that Lomborg lacks even “a preliminary understanding of the science in question." Scientific American also shared critical responses to his work. There is even a website that takes down the errors in Lomborg’s book one by one.
Groups connected to the shadowy Koch network have generously donated to Lomborg’s think tank. Since its registration in the U.S. in 2008, the Copenhagen Consensus Center has received $170,000 from the conservative Randolph Foundation, whose director, Heather Higgins, has ties to multiple groups within the Koch network. Copenhagen Consensus Center also received $300,000 from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which is part of the Koch network’s attempt to influence state and federal judges. The group also received $200,000 from conservative Republican billionaire Paul Singer, who had previously given more than $1 million to the oil billionaire Koch brothers. The Koch network has donated lavishly to climate denial efforts.
Lomborg generally appears in right wing media to make his case
Climatologist Stefan Rahmstorf said in 2015 that Lomborg’s “propaganda message is not only popular with fossil fuel interests, but continues to get ample space in the media.” Since then, and after Lomborg was thoroughly shut down by the climate science community, he has been generally relegated to right-wing media outlets to make his points (save for a few USA Today op-eds).
Lomborg regularly publishes op-eds in the conservative Wall Street Journal and New York Post. As noted above, he generally downplays the seriousness of climate change, avoids calling for a reduction in carbon emissions, and argues in favor of focusing on milquetoast approaches like increasing clean energy research and development spending.
He’s also appeared on Fox News three times in 2019 -- twice on Tucker Carlson Tonight and once on The Ingraham Angle. In all of these appearances, he’s downplayed the risks of climate change. For example, in an April appearance on Tucker Carlson Tonight, he stated, “They’re telling us global warming is a problem. But it’s also a moderate one.”
His various debunked climate views have largely kept him out of the mainstream media -- until now.
The Dallas Morning News’ news team has done a decent job with climate coverage over the past year: The September youth climate strike and the IPCC land report were important enough for the paper to feature them on its front page. They also took a look at climate change’s role in amplifying extreme weather in Texas and elsewhere. The paper’s opinion section has stepped up, too, with an op-ed from climate scientist Andrew Dessler and an op-ed linking global warming to racial equity. That’s why it’s so disheartening to see that when the editorial board conducts a rare climate-focused interview, it gives that space to such a dishonest actor.