Copenhagen Weathers a Splash of Denial

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Alternativ Klimakonference closed to critics

No day can end badly when you begin by getting thrown out of a conference on climate change denial.

Even so, it was disappointing just to know that – on the eve of COP15 – Copenhagen is playing host to such an event and more disappointing yet to learn that there is a robust, if tiny rump of homegrown denial beyond even the famous (if famously discredited) Bjorn Lomborg.

The Alernative Climate Conference on Sunday Dec. 6, 2009 was booked into a small room in Christiansborg, the Danish Parliament building. In order to gain access, you had to have signed up days ago – and there was no press table, or any avenue of appeal, even for someone with UN press accreditation. Carefully checking off names at the door, it was clear that organizers had already identified their target audience.

The speakers list was also a well-known group. Usual suspects: Roger Pielke, the infamous former scientist Fred Singer, the failed politician and former journalist Christopher Monckton, and oil and gas company director Leighton Steward filled in as the out of town talent. Locals included the astrophysicist Henrik Svensmark, Jens Olaf Pepke Pedersen, from the Technical University of Denmark, Bjarne Andresen of the University of Copenhagen and hometown boy Ole Humlum of the University of Oslo.

While the out of towners are all tainted by the loyal service that they have offered oil-backed U.S. think tanks, (and in Singer’s case, tobacco companies, CFC producers, asbestos miners, DDT manufacturers …), the locals don’t have obvious corporate relationships. And this conference was officially organized by backers who are political, rather than corporate. The sponsors were the group European Freedom and Democracy, and the Danish People’s Party Delegation to the European Parliament.

But contrarian climate opinions can earn a profit in Denmark even at arms length from the corporatocracy that dominates the North American conversation. Bjorne Lomborg, for example, was  enjoying government funding in the amount of 5 million Danish kroner (DKK) ($1 million U.S.) even before this year. And you don’t have to worry about him now. In these difficult economic times, Lomborgs funding for his institute of climate quibbling, the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, went UP by 2.5 million DKK.

Svensmark has also received a handsome tranche of additional funding for his efforts to study the effects of the sun (rather than carbon dioxide) on climate change, regardless that he wasn’t winning that funding in an arm’s length competition. The Danish government gave him 15 million DKK ($3 million US) a couple of years ago.

This is not to suggest that the Danish government is officially wrong-footed on climate policy. (No Canadian is in a position to criticize.) The Danish Minister responsible for COP 15, Connie Hedegaard, has earned a good deal of credibility, perhaps more than might be expected of someone from the right-of-center Conservative People’s Party. But Hedegaard’s efforts are in danger of being undermined by troublemakers in her own coalition. Historically, the former Finance Minister and current Parliamentary President Thor Pedersen of the Liberal Party, was widely seen as Bjorn Lomborg’s biggest fan in government. As President, Pedersen is by convention elevated above the political fray. But he nevertheless reinforced his reputation for contrarian activism today, attending part of the denier fest and calling news media afterwards to stand up for “freedom of expression,” regardless of how the opinions being expressed may offend the world’s best scientists.

Even more problematic lately has been today’s opening speaker, the young Member of the European Parliament, Morten Messerschmidt (inset), a member of the hard right-wing Danish National People’s Party and a former member of the Danish Parliament. (Some Danes joked that they had voted for him in the European elections purely in hopes of getting him out of the country.)

All this denier action, in the place that is currently being branded as Hopenhagen, raises two issues. First, it is an unpleasant demonstration of the degree to which the denial industry is no longer limited to its traditional home in North America. The investment in climate confusion which has been paying industry dividends in America, is bleeding across international borders and bears watching even more closely in the coming year.

The other issue arises from President Thor Pedersen’s precious freedom of expression. Because this is NOT an issue of free speech. It’s an issue of paid speech. It is, in too many cases, an issue of people like Christopher Monckton and Fred Singer speaking up not for the climate, the future or the science, but for the clients who pay their speaker fees and expenses – who fund Singer’s website and “think tank” and who fly Monckton in high style all over the world. These people aren’t standing up for democracy. They are standing up for oil company profits, regardless of the risk that presents to everyone else. You have to wonder if the Danes truly understand what kind of company they’re keeping.

Having been following Pielke, Singer and Monckton for years, I certainly have no doubt. And given the option of spending a whole day listening to their outrageously manipulative claptrap about climate science, I should probably send the organizers of today’s even a note of thanks for blocking my entry. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, full of history and culture and, this week, melting ice sculptures. It was a much more charming option than listening to Chris Monckton trying to argue that “the scare is over.”

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