Around the early days of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) on November 1, climate change contrarian Bjorn Lomborg was near ubiquitous in right-wing media. He appeared on Fox News and Fox Business a combined seven times, published an opinion piece in the New York Post, and wrote a series of op-eds in the Wall Street Journal since September. Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen even published an opinion piece on November 2 that drew heavily on Lomborg’s writings and statements.
This campaign fits a familiar pattern of right-wing and even mainstream news outlets promoting Lomborg to downplay the seriousness of climate change during a time when the world is focused on the need for climate action. Lomborg’s true value for the polluter industry and its fellow travelers in right-wing media is that he provides a thin veneer of seriousness and sincerity about climate change on one hand, while advocating climate inaction on the other. This cynical stance mirrors that taken by the fossil fuel industry, which has shifted tactics away from outright denial toward subtler forms of climate delay.
Lomborg has zero credibility on climate change
Lomborg’s prominent appearances to dismiss action on climate change rest less on his repeatedly debunked talking points and more on the fact that his narrative serves the interest of the powerful polluter lobby and its allies in right-wing media. His three main points -- climate change isn't that serious, the way to solve climate change is through technological innovation, and climate action as it’s currently conceived is too expensive -- all have one thing in common: They give license to industry and policymakers to kick the can down the road on fighting climate change.
Climate change is a serious threat to global humanity. Each degree of additional warming poses increasing risks for humanity in terms of health, economic well-being, and social cohesion. Staving off the worst consequences requires rapid decarbonization and transition to renewable energy sources; even with difficult tradeoffs, the technology to decarbonize by 2035 currently exists. And considering the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action, it is clear that the time to act is now.
Lomborg’s history of promoting soft climate denial in right-wing media
Lomborg is a long-time climate contrarian with connections to the fossil fuel-backed Koch network via his organization, the Copenhagen Consensus Center. As Media Matters noted in 2019:
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.
With this backing, Lomborg became a media darling, given ample space in both mainstream and right-wing news outlets to promote his brand of climate skepticism. For example, to promote the release of his book last July, Lomborg was able to publish op-eds in the New York Post and The Wall Street Journal, while getting favorable profiles in The Epoch Times and Climate Depot. He was also interviewed by fellow climate misinformer Dennis Prager. No climate-denier press run would be complete without stops on Fox. During this same period, Lomborg appeared on Fox Business’ Varney & Co. and Making Money with Charles Payne.
When he isn’t promoting a book, Lomborg often receives airtime and print coverage to downplay the seriousness of climate change when an important climate story makes headlines. At the beginning of the year, after President Joe Biden announced the United States’ reentry into the Paris climate accord, Lomborg was invited on Fox & Friends and asserted that rejoining the Paris agreement would “cost a fortune and cut almost nothing, so basically achieve almost nothing to fix climate change,” before downplaying both the severity of future climate impacts and the record-breaking 2020 hurricane season. He appeared on Fox News again in February to falsely blame the Texas blackouts on renewable energy.
More recently, Lomborg published an op-ed in the New York Post in August downplaying the urgency of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report and accused the media of “hyperventilating” about its finding that climate change is a “code red for humanity.” Ahead of COP26, Lomborg once again made the rounds on Fox News and Fox Business to claim climate change isn’t driving wildfires, even as new research finds a direct connection, and to downplay the need for global climate action.
Why Lomborg’s climate skepticism is so valuable to the polluter industry and its right-wing media allies
Even though Lomborg is “spectacularly wrong” about nearly everything, he’s the perfect poster child for an industry that knowingly drove climate change, engaged in a campaign to hide this fact, and is currently funding sophisticated greenwashing campaigns to fool the public about its meager efforts to mitigate a crisis it is primarily responsible for.
His faux-serious dismissal of the climate crisis allows companies such as News Corp. and Fox News Media, for example, to pretend to be serious about climate change, via a net-zero campaign and weather app, while their core news media property continues coverage that denies or mocks the reality of climate change. As long as climate deniers and skeptics such as Lomborg are given space to promote soft climate denial and climate inaction, one should not take conservative news outlets’ public statements about their supposed commitment to cover climate change seriously.
Lomborg’s siren song would lull us into a sense of complacency -- especially during pivotal moments such as COP26, which represents one of the few remaining chances to advance a framework that could stave off the worst climate consequences. And that's precisely why the polluter lobby and its right-wing media allies are singing his tune.