Former New Hampshire governor John H. Sununu defended the views of climate skeptic Bjorn Lomborg last week during the Portsmouth Conference, a controversial event held in a coastal region of the state that faces risks from climate change impacts like sea level rise.

Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, is an outspoken skeptic of the International Panel on Climate Change and an opponent of the Paris Agreement. Citizens Count, which organized the Portsmouth Conference, hyped Lomborg’s appearance in a press release before the event.

“According to conference panelist Dr. Bjorn Lomborg, President of Copenhagen Consensus Center and visiting professor at Copenhagen Business School, current policies that address climate change cost more than the actual problem,” the press release said.

Lomborg headlined the opening evening of the conference, where he deployed this same misleading line of attack against the Paris Agreement, carbon pricing, and renewable energy sources like solar and wind power that are increasingly cost competitive with fossil fuels.

During the Q&A session that followed his opening presentation, Lomborg faced tough questions from an audience that paid $250 to attend a “civil and open dialogue” on climate change solutions.

Photo of Bjorn Lomborg and moderator Kevin Fay at the Portsmouth Conference by the Energy & Policy Institute.

One member of the audience pointed to a recent report by the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate that found, “Low-carbon growth could deliver economic benefits of US$26 trillion to 2030 – and this is a conservative estimate.”

Moderator Kevin Fay, who was involved in negotiating the successful Montreal Protocol that phased out the use of ozone-depleting substances, also cautioned against ignoring the benefits of climate action.

Fay said that “the statistics can be very misleading” and pointed to people like “the Bangladesh residents who are about to get wiped out by storms” who would benefit from efforts to address climate change.

“I think we’ve got to be careful in terms of letting the data lose the effort to build momentum,” Fay said.

Sununu rose in defense of Lomborg.

“I think what Bjorn has offered here is a pathway to try to get a consensus,” Sununu said.

The former governor went on to say:

I think what we need to do is to take the kind of recommendations that Bjorn has put on the table, and understand it may not deal with the calamity perspective that everybody that is so eager to see a solution to climate change, whatever it be, and recognize that there are rational approaches to do this that don’t require you to accept the end of the world scenario that people have put forward.

Photo of John H. Sununu  at the Portsmouth Conference by EPI

In reality, opposing the Paris Agreement imperils decades of work to build an international consensus on how to address climate change. The U.S. is now the only nation in the world that does not support the agreement.

The Portsmouth Conference itself sparked considerable controversy when it became clear its lineup would be dominated by skeptics of climate change and renewable energy like Lomborg, leading the City of Portsmouth and researchers at the University of New Hampshire to withdraw their support for the event.

Sununu also joined Lomborg in attacking the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate report:

And I think this as an opening comment, an opening presentation on the kind of sessions we’re supposed to have here, is right on target, and frankly I think the points he made right at the very end here, relative to the game people like to play like throwing 26 trillion dollars on the table and getting a headline at an appropriate time is exactly the kind of stuff that is going to prevent good to come, and somebody ought to be telling those folks that if they think they are helping their cause they’re out of their mind.

Sununu’s remarks at the event add another page to his long legacy of climate denial, which dates at least as far back as his time serving in the administration of George H.W. Bush, a history recently revisited by the New York Times.

Among the sponsors of the Portsmouth Conference was Optima Bank, which received a start-up investment from Sununu in 2007. Sununu’s sons James and Michael, who is also a climate skeptic, currently serve on Optima Bank’s board of directors. Daniel Morrison, the bank’s CEO, has contributed money to the campaigns of Chris Sununu, the current Republican governor of New Hampshire and son of the former governor.

Claude Roessiger was one of the organizers of the Portsmouth Conference. Roessiger is a maker of high-end packaging products who has done battle with environmentalists. He has also written a book and a number of opinion pieces skeptical of climate change and renewable energy.

Another chief organizer of the event was Renee Plummer, a local Republican activist who has contributed money to Chris Sununu’s campaigns.

Climate change and the race for governor in New Hampshire

Last year, after President Trump announced his plan to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the White House published an excerpt from a New York Post editorial supporting Trump’s decision that cited Bjorn Lomborg’s work.

The Republican governors of Massachusetts and Vermont were among the leaders who had called on Trump to maintain the nation’s commitment to the Paris Agreement. But Governor Chris Sununu refused to join with other states that pledged to do their part to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement after Trump’s announcement. 

“I don’t know for sure,” Governor Sununu said last summer when asked by NHPR if he believed that carbon dioxide emissions are the leading cause of climate change.

Since then, Governor Sununu has released an energy plan that made little mention of climate change and was applauded by the Koch-backed group Americans for Prosperity for its opposition to “subsidies” for renewable energy. He also vetoed a pro-renewable energy bill to expand net metering that was opposed by the utility Eversource, another contributor to his campaigns.

“We can’t ignore the threat of climate change,” Molly Kelly, the Democratic candidate for governor, Tweeted earlier this month in response to a new report from the IPCC that underscored the need for urgent action to meet the Paris Agreement’s target of limiting global warming to under 2℃.  

“As #nhgov, I will move away from fossil fuels and promote clean, renewable energy that creates jobs, lowers rates and protects our environment,” Kelly’s Tweet continued. “Following Eversource’s agenda will not get us where we need to go.”

Kelly, who has refused to accept campaign contributions from corporations, has also made her support for the net metering bill vetoed by Governor Sununu a centerpiece of her campaign.

While energy issues have been the subject of some debate in the campaign, climate change has received relatively little attention heading into Wednesday’s live NHPR forum with Sununu and Kelly

A report released earlier this year by the Union of Concerned Scientists warned that by 2045, rising seas could put $645 million worth of residential property in the seacoast region of New Hampshire at risk of chronic flooding.

Top: Photo of John H. Sununu speaking at the Portsmouth Conference by EPI.

Posted by Dave Anderson

Dave Anderson is the policy and communications manager for the Energy and Policy Institute. Dave has been working at the nexus of clean energy and public policy since 2008. Prior to joining the Energy and Policy Institute, he was an outreach coordinator for the climate and energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. He is also an alumnus of the Sierra Club and the Alliance for Climate Protection (now the Climate Reality Project). Dave’s research has helped to spur public scrutiny of political attacks on clean energy and climate science by powerful special interests, such as ExxonMobil and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). His work has been cited by major media outlets, such as CBS News and the Wall Street Journal, and he has served as a speaker on panels at national solar industry conferences. Dave holds a MA in Political Science from the University of New Hampshire, where he also received a BA in Humanities.