In early 2012, it seemed like the future of Bjørn Lomborg’s influential think tank was in serious doubt.
The Danish Government had changed its political stripes and the millions in public funds that had poured into his Copenhagen Consensus Center had come to an abrupt halt.
Lomborg told The Ecologist magazine he was worried there would be a limited pool of donors willing to part with cash to support his work.
“We have to make sure that that funding, if it’s going to go forward, is unassailable,” Lomborg said.
The impression back in 2012 might have been that Lomborg’s think tank was struggling for cash, but a DeSmogBlog investigation suggests the opposite.
The nonprofit Copenhagen Consensus Center (CCC) has spent almost $1 million on public relations since registering in the US in 2008. More than $4 million in grants and donations have flooded in since 2008, three quarters of which came in 2011 and 2012.
In one year alone, the Copenhagen Consensus Center paid Lomborg $775,000.
Lomborg is the blonde-haired political scientist, economist and “skeptical environmentalist” who is a beacon for many climate change contrarians and so-called “luke warmists” around the world.
While Lomborg accepts the fact that human emissions of greenhouse gases cause climate change, he argues the net economic impacts will not turn negative for more than 50 years.
If the world is to spend big money combating climate change, it should do it by “making green energy cheaper”.
His stated aim is fighting global poverty and he frequently argues that deploying renewable energy generation and cutting emissions should be well down any list of the world’s priorities.
Lomborg’s name regularly appears in lists of international influencers. In 2002, Time magazine named him as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Esquire magazine named him as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century.
According to Lomborg, his syndicated columns are read by more than 30 million people around the world in more than 30 newspapers translated into 19 different languages. He has written books, made documentary films, given TED talks and been invited to share his controversial views on television shows across the world.
The Copenhagen Consensus Project
The headline act for Lomborg’s Copenhagen Consensus Center is to bring together a group he describes as “the world’s top economists” to prioritise spending “to do the most good in the world”.
In its latest 2012 report, climate change featured three times. Ranked sixth was spending on research to improve crop yields, in 12th was research spending on geoengineering and in 17th place was money for “green energy” research.
When Lomborg told The Ecologist about his cash concerns, there was no mention that four years earlier his organisation had been quietly registered as a nonprofit think tank in Washington DC.
Documents filed with the Internal Revenue Service show that by the end of 2011, some $2 million in donations had already hit CCC’s US bank account.
Since registering as a US-based non-profit organisation in 2008, tax records show the Copenhagen Consensus Center has attracted $4.3 million in donations with almost half that coming in 2012, the most recent year where public records are available.
Lomborg’s compensation for his CCC work that year was $775,000, according to the tax records.
So where is the money coming from and who are the people pulling the strings?
Big PR spending
A strapline at the bottom of a page on the Copenhagen Consensus Center’s website reads “Cutting out special interest groups and lobbyists”.
But in 2006, when the CCC first started to look at gaining support for its efforts in the United States, the person they turned to was long-time Washington lobbyist and PR veteran James Harff.
Harff had previously served as president of global public affairs at international PR firm Ruder Finn, where his clients included the republics of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia as well as the Kosovan opposition during the Bosnian war in the early 1990s.
In March 2006, Harff declared to the US Department of Justice under its Foreign Agents Registration laws that he was acting on behalf of the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
Harff declared his company, Harff Communications, would offer Copenhagen Consensus Center “advice, counsel, media relations, logistical support and related tasks” and this work could include scheduling or attending meetings on CCC’s behalf.
A further declaration made in June 2006 stated Harff was being paid $5000 a month by the CCC.
As well as media relations, the document said Harff’s work would include identifying and arranging meetings with members of Congress, the Bush administration and policy makers.
Harff and his PR company Global Communicators, a subsidiary of Harff Communications, continue to work with Copenhagen Consensus Center.
In 2009 and 2010, the CCC paid another public relations company — 42West — more than $800,000. One of 42West’s tasks was to help spruik Lomborg’s 2010 film Cool It, based on his book of the same name.
The only income for the CCC in its first year in the US came in the form of a $120,000 grant from the New York-based Randolph Foundation.
The main trustee at Randolph is Heather Higgins, the president and CEO of Independent Women’s Voice and the chairman of its sister organisation Independent Women’s Forum. Higgins is the daughter of R. Randolph Richardson, a member of the family that sold Vick Chemical Company to Procter & Gamble for $1.2 billion.
Staff writers of both organisations regularly express scepticism about the science of human-caused climate change and cite Lomborg’s views approvingly.
A recent article from IWF senior fellow Vicki Alger claimed “a majority of scientists believe that global warming is largely nature-made” — ignoring several studies that show the vast majority of research from scientists studying climate change believe exactly the opposite.
IWF funders include the Claude R. Lambe Foundation, controlled by Charles Koch, and Donors Trust, a fund for conservative philanthropists that has pushed millions into organisations promoting climate science denial and fighting laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Higgins is also board member at the Philanthropy Roundtable, another route for conservative philanthropy which shares two members of personnel with Donors Trust or its partner organisation Donors Capital Fund.
Also on the board of trustees at Randolph is Polly Freiss, the daughter-in-law of conservative Christian businessman Foster Freiss.
Foster Freiss put more than $2 million into Republican Senator Rick Santorum’s 2012 run for his party’s nomination for the presidency. Freiss also bankrolled conservative news outlet The Daily Caller, which regularly publishes articles supporting the views of climate science denialists.
Foster Freiss and his daughter Polly attended the Koch brother’s secretive 2010 strategy meeting in Aspen, along with Heather Higgins and a host of other conservative activists.
The foundation is the legacy of pharmaceutical entrepreneur Ewing Kauffman and currently holds $1.89 billion in assets.
The only other known funder of Lomborg’s think tank is the Sevenbar Foundation — a group that gave Copenhagen Consensus Center $50,000 in 2009 but otherwise supports micro-finance initiatives to empower women using money raised from lingerie shows.
DeSmog’s analysis of the tax records of not-for-profit groups and foundations donating to CCC accounts for only $520,000 of the total $4.3 million income of the CCC since it was launched in the US. The center’s new website makes no mention of its funding.
When so little is known about the funding for CCC, it is hard for anyone to know if Lomborg’s hope to find “unassailable” donors has come true.
Photo credit: Flickr/World Travel & Tourism Council