NOV 12, 2016 2:21 PM PST

Climate Change Cynics and the Fossil Fuel Industry


We all know that the fossil fuel industry is one of the biggest culprits in the perpetuation of human-driven climate change. The carbon emissions from oil, coal, and gas emitted into the atmosphere create a blanket-like layer on our planet and trap excess heat, causing glaciers to melt, droughts and floods to worsen, and oceans to absorb even more carbon dioxide. These are undeniable facts, undisputed by 97% of scientists. Why, then, does climate change still seem to be negotiable in the political realm?
Photo: Enviro Dad
The simple answer is that not only does the fossil fuel industry drive climate change physically, it also has a strong grip on the legislature behind climate policies (or those people making the policies) and on the mindset of the American public. According to Global Warming Is Real, as of 2013 (three years ago, so bear in mind the current number is a lot higher) oil and gas companies had donated $238.7 million to candidates and parties since the 1990 election cycle, 75% of which has gone to Republicans.

One of the biggest political spenders is the American Petroleum Institute (API) which is the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry (including hydraulic fracturing), claiming to represent around 400 corporations. API has created numerous front groups to advance its political agenda including Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). In 2012 alone the oil and gas lobby spent $139,7 million to advance their interests in the U.S.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, AFP frequently provides a platform for climate contrarian statements. While claiming to be a grassroots organization, AFP has strong ties to oil interests, namely Koch Industries. AFP has its origins in a group founded in 1984 by fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch, and David Koch still serves on AFP Foundation’s board of directors. Richard Fink, executive vice president of Koch Industries, also serves as a director for both AFP and AFP Foundation. Koch foundations donated $3,609,281 to AFP Foundation from 2007-2011.

Meanwhile, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) maintains that “global climate change is inevitable” and since the 1990s has pushed various forms of model legislation aimed at obstructing policies intended to reduce global warming emissions. ALEC purports to “support the use of sound science to guide policy,” but routinely provides a one-sided platform for climate contrarians. State legislators attending one ALEC meeting were offered a workshop touting a report by a fossil fuel-funded group that declared “like love, carbon dioxide's many splendors are seemingly endless." Another ALEC meeting featured a Fox News contributor who has claimed on the air that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” ALEC received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil from 1998-2012, and more than $850,000 from Koch foundations from 1997-2011. AFP and ALEC are just two of many climate change sceptic organizations. To find out about others visit the Union of Concerned Scientists.

But speaking of Koch Industries, what’s the deal with them anyway?
Photo: masked CANARY

Following Polluter Watch, Koch Industries is the second largest privately-held company in the United States with $115 billion in annual revenue. The Koch conglomerate owns a wide variety of industrial subsidiaries, including Flint Hills Resources, Georgia-Pacific, INVISTA, and Molex. Koch Industries has a presence in nearly 60 countries, conducting business operations in the fields of petroleum refining, fuel pipelines, coal supply and trading, oil and gas exploration, chemicals and polymers, fertilizer production, ranching and forestry products. The Political Economy Research Institute ranks Koch Industries as the fourteenth worst air polluter in the U.S. in their Toxic Release Inventory, above oil companies like BP, Shell and Chevron and large coal utilities like American Electric Power and Duke Energy.  CARMA reports that Koch releases about 200,000 tons of atmospheric carbon dioxide annually. To read about the specific environment crimes that Koch Industries has committed, visit Greenpeace and Polluter Watch.

Eighty four percent of Koch Industries’ assets are controlled by Charles G. and David H. Koch, two of four sons of the company’s founder.  According to 2014 Forbes rankings, the Koch brothers combined wealth puts them behind only Bill Gates and Warren Buffett in U.S. richness. Bloomberg estimates each brothers wealth exceed that of Forbes, at over $52 billion each. And it’s certain that they’re doing everything they can to maintain that wealth via the funding of public figures (read: climate scientists, politicians, etc.) who disseminate climate change misinformation.

But misinformation is hardly the only issue. Subsidies for the fossil fuel industry make it seemingly impossible for renewable energies to take their proper place in our government. According to a facts sheet from 350.org, fossil fuels are subsidized at almost six times the rate of renewable energy. From 2002 to 2008, the federal government gave the fossil fuel industry over $72 billion in subsidies while the renewable industry received $12.2 billion. Is it possible that big money controls so much of government spending through lobby groups that our collective public voice is drowned out?
When Big Oil has spent $1.1 billion rigging Congress, $960 million on lobbying, and $150 million rigging our elections, it certainly looks like that is the case. As Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program for the consumer watchdog group Public Citizen,  said, “The obstacle [to eliminate fossil fuel subsidies] has been the petroleum industry. The American Petroleum Institute has dug in their heels and is fighting tooth and nail to retain these subsidies.”
 

It seems even our executive chief of command has too little power to fight the fossil fuel industry. President Obama has repeatedly called for an end to oil and gas subsidies. Given that The Yale Project on Climate Change’s November 2011 survey found that 70% of Americans opposed federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, including 67% of registered Republicans, these fossil fuel subsidies seem absurd.Yet the oil and gas industry’s control of Washington legislators shelters fossil fuel subsidies from the will of the voting public.

So realistically, what can we do? Surely it it not such an impending doomsday that it’s time to curl up in a ball and admit defeat. As complicated and unfair as it is, and as small as your individual voice may whisper, perhaps one of the most important motivators to remember is that there are many who feel the same helpless injustice you do. When your one million whispers come together, the battle call is unignorable. An example like what is happening right now (and has been happening for months) at Standing Rock Sioux should be enough to push you into action to take a stand on your own turf, be it a protest on a polluting coal power plant like the one in my hometown or the tar sand mines in yours or the fracking campaign halfway across the country. Make your whisper be heard.

Sources: The Guardian, Greenpeace, Global Warming Is Real, 350.org, Union of Concerned Scientists, Polluter Watch, Open Secrets, Wikipedia
About the Author
  • Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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