How a university became a spineless pawn in Tony Abbott’s climate game

The University of Western Australia should be ashamed of its recent decision to create the Australia Consensus Centre headed by controversial climate critic Bjorn Lomborg, says Brendan May, chairman of sustainably advisory firm Robertsbridge.

As alumni of Oxford University (including me) threaten to symbolically ‘return’ their degrees if the institution’s governing body refuses to divest from fossil fuels, far away in Australia, a once august educational establishment is also about to feel some serious political heat over climate change.

The people who run the University of Western Australia (UWA) have taken the extraordinary decision to create an ‘Australia Consensus Centre’  (ACC). Well, to be more accurate, someone has taken the decision for them.

The UWA website proclaims that the ACC will focus on “applying an economic lens to proposals to achieve good for Australia, the region and the world, prioritising those initiatives which produce the most social value per dollar spent.”

In non-PR (public relations) language, this is in fact an institute dedicated entirely to promoting the rapidly evaporating arguments for avoiding serious action on climate change.

Who best to head up this effort, you might ask? Why, Bjorn Lomborg of course, who has been given the grand title of ‘Adjunct Professor’.  The centre borrows its name from Lomborg’s ‘Copenhagen Consensus’, famed largely for its lack of consensus, at least in the opinion of thousands of climate scientists.

Followers of the climate debate need little education on Lomborg, or why this appointment is so idiotic. His consistent ambivalence to potentially devastating temperature degree rises, debunked quasi scientific arguments and role as the rent a gob of choice for climate deniers should all have raised eyebrows.

So why didn’t they?

Here’s the answer, and it’s a sinister one. The funding for this exercise in stupidity has come straight from the Tony Abbott government.

For all his protestations about the need for tight controls on public spending and the ‘costs’ of tackling climate change, Abbott has magically conjured up AUS$4 million to turn the UWA from a respected international institution into a provincial political pawn.

For all his  protestations about the need for tight controls on public spending and the ‘costs’ of tackling climate change, Abbott has magically conjured up AUS$ 4 million to turn the UWA from a respected international institution into a provincial political pawn.

UWA now risks becoming an irrelevant press office touting fake academic credentials to support Abbott’s reckless and mad climate stance.

Yes folks, this is the Federal government abusing a naïve establishment to mislead the public and provide a pseudo academic justification for its epic failure in global leadership on the issue of our time. The ACC will of course fail too.

Intriguingly, the UWA states that it will “not be providing cash support for the ACC or its projects. The ACC will always operate within its means and will only undertake additional work beyond the Australia Consensus programme funded by the Australian Government if external funding is forthcoming.”

So there you have it, honest confirmation that this is a stitch up. It has nothing to do with climate or development research, and even less to do with education.  

Don’t expect the staff, alumni (including the CEO of Greenpeace Australia) or other donors to the University of Western Australia to take this news quietly.

And if they do, don’t expect anything useful to come out of this spin doctor conceived attempt to advance ‘debate’. This is little different to a lung health research centre being funded by a tobacco brand.

And the Abbott government, which believes coal to be ‘good for humanity’, is fast becoming just as toxic. What next, a Koch Brothers branded tea party café, perhaps? A Shell Centre for Arctic Conservation?

Tellingly, the press release announcing this massive advancement in human knowledge also confesses the initial staff appointments will be a Centre Director, a Research Project Manager and ‘media, communications and events personnel’. So from day one there will be more PR folk than academics. That tells us all we need to know.

The University of Western Australia should be ashamed, and rethink before it wrecks its hard fought reputation for quality and integrity. What an insult to the many teachers and students who made UWA what it once was, and could still remain.

Brendan May is Chairman of Robertsbridge, a global sustainability advisory firm. This article was written exclusively for Eco-Business.

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