Climate Scientists Spar With Energy Subsidy Opponents At Portsmouth Conference

Oct 19, 2018

Bjorn Lomborg, a critic of mainstream climate policy and science, speaks at the Portsmouth Conference Friday.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

A controversial conference in Portsmouth Friday focused on economic solutions to climate change – while questioning some mainstream scientific views. 

The Portsmouth Conference was the first put on by Citizens Count, a nonpartisan voter education nonprofit.

Its founder is prominent New Hampshire businessman Paul Montrone, who sat in on the conference at a hotel in Portsmouth.

“We want tea parties, coffee parties, Republicans, Democrats, special interests, climate deniers, climate positive – we want citizens to hear all the views,” he said in an interview with NHPR. “We’re not going to close our citizens off and limit the kind of information they get.”

But many scientists, young people and renewable energy advocates who were in the audience say the conference didn't live up to its promise of balanced debate.

Panelists focused on so-called free market solutions to climate change – such as prioritizing research funding to make renewable energy cheaper, instead of taxing carbon.

A Columbia University graduate student debates climate science with Lomborg during lunch at the conference.
Credit Annie Ropeik / NHPR

“Industry needs to have a stake in this – it needs to be in some ways rewarded, incentivized and also more than encouraged to go down that road,” said Charles McConnell, a fossil fuel industry veteran who worked on energy policy in the Obama administration.

Other speakers claimed it will be too expensive and even impossible to meet emissions reduction targets.

Widely accepted science says taking steps to reduce carbon emissions is not only doable, it's essential.

Cameron Wake is a climatologist at UNH who pulled out of helping organize the conference early on, but attended this week.

“I think there’s a real danger here, in that if you don’t understand that there’s a critical problem, it’s really hard to feel any urgency over it,” he said.

Citizens Count hopes to hold similar conferences on other policy issues in the future.