Climate Change Skeptics Will Debate Policy in Portsmouth

Oct 18, 2018

A 2017 king tide encroaches on homes in Hampton. Scientists say this kind of tidal and "nuisance" flooding will become more common as the climate warms and sea levels rise.
Credit Jason Moon / NHPR

Several climate science skeptics from around the world will join a controversial conference in Portsmouth over the next two days.

The event, known as the Portsmouth Conference, lost support from the city and the University of New Hampshire because of its roster of speakers.

Organizer Geoffrey Weiss says the goal is to debate the costs and benefits of the energy, environmental and social policies humanity may use to respond climate change.

But he says they won’t focus on the human causes, which he describes as too contentious.

“I think everyone agrees that climate change is real. I think there may be differences of opinion about what’s causing it,” Weiss says. “We’re not really going to get into that, because I think that’s one of the areas that’s difficult to find some agreement about.”

Mainstream science agrees that human activity is a main driver of climate change, and that human reforms could help slow its impacts.

But four of the conference panelists have been criticized for rejecting that science. Their writings question widely-accepted findings on the human causes and potential impacts of climate change.

Keynote speaker Bjorn Lomborg and panelist Mikko Paunio believe climate change will be too expensive and not severe enough to combat with renewable energy investment and other policies.

They dismiss the goals of the Paris Climate Accords, saying world leaders should focus on solving more immediate problems, such as poverty, disease and infrastructure.

Paunio also writes for a British think tank focused on challenging policies that combat climate change. Founded by Benny Peiser – who will also speak at the conference – the Global Warming Policy Foundation has been criticized for promoting climate change denial.

Another panelist, Fritz Vahrenholt, is the author of a book that claims cycles in the Sun’s energy have caused more global warming than any human activity. He’s a former executive in the German renewable energy and nuclear industries.

Weiss, the organizer, says they tried to achieve balance in the conference's roster of speakers. It also includes members of the fossil fuel, renewable energy and chemical industries.

The roster also includes Joyashree Roy, a co-author of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Nobel Prize-winning 2007 report on climate change and its recent, headline-making follow-up.

At least one other mainstream academic and a New England-based sustainable farming advocate are also set to speak. And climate science advocates from UNH hope to participate in the panels as audience members.

Weiss says the conference aims to raise the profile of the group Citizens Count, formerly known as the Live Free or Die Alliance, which describes itself as a non-partisan political education nonprofit.

It was founded by New Hampshire businessman Paul Montrone, a former executive for the company now known as Honeywell.

Honeywell is part of a fluorinated gas industry coalition called the Alliance for Responsible Atmospheric Policy, which favors stricter emissions regulations as a way to spur next-generation chemical development.

Alliance lobbyist and executive director Kevin Fay will moderate the Portsmouth Conference.

Montrone was also an executive at Fisher Scientific and later at Wheelabrator Technologies, which owns municipal trash incinerators, including in Penacook. At least one speaker at the conference, Mikko Paunio, has advocated for more municipal trash incineration in place of plastic recycling.

Portsmouth and surrounding coastal communities will likely see major impacts from sea level rise as the climate warms. But Weiss says they mainly chose to host their conference there because of the city's accessibility to New England airports.

He says Citizens Count hopes to hold similar, biennial conferences on other policy issues in future.