Climate-Change Skepticism and the Economic Impact of Climate-Change Research

This week, University World News includes two items on climate-change research.

The first is a summary of a news article that appeared in Science:

“The Australian government’s controversial move to host a think tank headed by noted global warming sceptic Bjørn Lomborg has unraveled-–for now. But Australia’s education minister has vowed to find a new home for the centre at a willing institution, writes Leigh Dayton for Science.

“Last month, the University of Western Australia, or UWA, in Perth announced plans to set up an Australian Consensus Centre, chaired by Lomborg, that would conduct policy research on overseas aid, Australian prosperity, agriculture and regional issues. UWA announced that the federal government would contribute roughly one-third of the Australian Consensus Centre’s operating costs. The rest of the budget would come from corporate sponsors and government grants.

“Scientists were outraged, especially when UWA revealed on 20 April that the government had already contributed A$4 million (US$3.3 million) to launch the think tank. Outrage grew after Fairfax Media newspapers revealed on 23 April that the push for the Australian Consensus Centre came from Prime Minister Tony Abbott, a Lomborg admirer who quoted the Danish researcher favourably in his 2009 book Battlelines. Lomborg now sits on a government-appointed panel advising Australia’s foreign aid programmes.”

So Australia is having the same sort of contentious political debates over climate change that we are having in the U.S., but in Australia, science seems to be winning at least some of the battles against corporate interests who benefit from climate-change denial.

The second article, “Universities Crucial in Fight against Climate Change,” has been written for University World News by Lidia Borrell-Damian. Here is the introductory section of the article:

“This year will be an important one for climate change policy in Europe and the world. In late February, the European Commission released a first communication on the ‘Energy Union’ – the ambitious project to make Europe a leader in sustainable energy technology and deployment of renewable energy sources.

“In December in Paris, world leaders will meet to discuss the future of the Kyoto Protocol in a highly anticipated COP21 summit whose outcomes might determine the global answer to tackling climate change for the coming years.

“But what role should universities play in the transition to a low-carbon, sustainable society?

“One role can be found in the research and innovation activities of academics and researchers who work on different aspects of the energy systems–-be it energy technology, economics, politics, environmental impacts of energy production and consumption or other issues.

“Universities have huge potential for research and innovation along the whole value chain. A 2009 study by the European University Association, or EUA, showed that at least 1,400 groups consisting of 20,000 people were working on energy research at 171 European universities.

“Given the limited scope of the study, this is only the tip of the iceberg – and the EUA’s ongoing UNI-SET project will chart the university landscape in even more detail this year.

“In addition to research and innovation, there is more that universities are doing to tackle the ‘energy challenge’. Education and training of professionals is crucial for delivering the large-scale deployment of energy technology, managing and integrating smart energy grids, identifying new policies, business and financing models and engaging with the public.

“According to estimates-–see the Strategic Energy Technology (SET) Plan Roadmap on Education and Training-–the creation of a sustainable energy system will create several million green employment opportunities in the coming years across Europe, many of which will require the knowledge, skills and competencies which institutions of higher education can offer.”

This article implicitly highlights the cost to the U.S. economy of the disconnection between public policy and the research on climate change being conducted at our universities. We are, in effect, sacrificing a leading position on the next big economic driver in order to wring the largest possible short-term profits out of an economic driver that is becoming obsolete.

Imagine if, a century ago, the U.S. government had decided to protect railroad interests at the expense of the automobile industry. It would not have been difficult. The current network of roadways would not exist without the huge governmental investment required to move us from the Lincoln Highway to the Interstate Highway System. It would not have been difficult, but given the economic impact of the automobile industry, it would not have made much economic sense. And now, we have an opportunity to make policy decisions and public investments that make both economic and environmental sense.

Borrell-Damian’s complete article is available at:


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