Denier Cash Machine Swells: Pollutocrat Koch Brothers Now Worth $50 Billion, Poised to Become Richest Men in America

The two brothers who bankroll climate denial and the Tea Party extremists keep getting richer.  Forbes estimates that pollutocrats Charles and David Koch have a fortune of $25 billion each, making them the fourth (and fifth) richest Americans.

As TP Green notes:

Buoyed by aggressive speculative trading on volatile energy markets, the Koch brothers accumulated $15 billion in wealth since March 2010, a 43 percent increase.

Like many folks who run oil companies, the Kochs love high oil prices.  And the Kochs essentially invented oil derivatives — and led the way to deregulate the market — so they could profit even more.

The only three richer Americans are:

3. Larry Ellison (Oracle) – $33 billion

2. Warren Buffett – $39 billion

1. Bill Gates – $59 billion

Gates and Buffett are an interesting contrast to the Kochs.  Gates and Buffett devote more and more of their money to helping the developing world deal with ever-worsening impacts of climate change (though Buffett profits from pollution, too).  The Kochs work tirelessly to enrich themselves while destroying the climate.  Guess which pair is going to win?

Let’s look closer at why the Kochs are poised to become the richest Americans.

Koch fundingSure, the Kochs spend a lot of their money to ensure the destruction of a livable climate (see “Report: Koch Industries outspends Exxon Mobil on climate and clean energy disinformation“).  But those tens of millions are  only a small fraction of their wealth.  Also, it really is a form of insurance.  Keeping America addicted to oil is good for business.  Similarly, the millions they spend on the Tea Party keep duping that movement into maintaining low taxes for the rich and ensuring that clean air and other regulations will be kept to a minimum if not gutted entirely.

The bottom line for the Kochs is that one would have to believe that their wealth will continue to rise since oil prices are headed up, and they’ve created a powerful political weapon in the form of the Tea Party to ensure their  civilization-threatening avarice continues unabated.

Gates and Buffett, on the other hand, keep donating their money to the Gates Foundation, which aims to help billions of people in developing countries.  The goal of its Global Development Program is “increase opportunities for people in developing countries to overcome hunger and poverty.”  Their Global Health Program “harnesses advances in science and technology to save lives in poor countries.” I have been critical of their strategy (see “Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?“).  And the Foundation just seems content to let the deniers destroy the climate (see Annual Letter from Bill Gates silent on climate change).  But at least their billions will help alleviate the suffering of many millions.

And Gates is pushing for more clean energy R&D (see Pro-geoengineering Bill Gates disses efficiency, “cute” solar, deployment).  But while an R&D-centric strategy might’ve made sense in the 1990s, it’s too little, too late now.  If your goal is to prevent massive suffering in the developing world, you need to stop the Kochs and start deploying clean energy as rapidly as possible with the help of a high and rising carbon price.

Warren Buffett continues to profit off of pollution, and some of his companies are  very pro-pollution (see Warren Buffet’s Utility, MidAmerican, Wants to Keep Polluting).  He  himself is been quite confusing on the subject (see AP: Warren Buffett “says he doesn’t believe greenhouse gases represent a material risk for Berkshire’s insurance operations”).  Rolling Stone actual labels him a climate-killing “Profiteer.”

But either way, Buffett is giving away his fortune and encouraging others to do so also.  Forbes reports “Ellison joined the Giving Pledge at Buffett’s behest in 2010” and “He intends to give 95% of wealth to charity.”

So we have the two pollutocrats in fourth place on the Forbes list of richest Americans continuing to acquire wealth, pursue climaticide, and twist the political system to keep that wealth.  And we have the three richest men planning to give most of their money away.

So it would seem to be only a matter of time that the Kochs the richest men in America.  In the land of the blind, the one-eyed reign.

16 Responses to Denier Cash Machine Swells: Pollutocrat Koch Brothers Now Worth $50 Billion, Poised to Become Richest Men in America

  1. Joan Savage says:

    A layer or two back,

    also included: “Excessive energy speculation today is at its highest levels ever, and even Goldman Sachs now admits that at least $27 of the price of crude oil is a result from reckless speculation rather than market fundamentals of supply and demand.”

    I don’t want to call behavior reckless when it was more likely very calculated.

  2. Mark Shapiro says:

    When the wealthiest buy huge political power, unabashed, unashamed, and unnoticed by most in the media . . .


  3. Lollipop says:

    I went to the wake for dead child today.

    A child whose father had long ago abandoned the family, whose mother had been unable to work because the child and one of the child’s siblings were chronically ill.

    I, and I suspect most of the people here, spent a fair bit of time thinking and reading about tragic events. But to be there, to see the child in the coffin, to see the mother weeping, to know that the child’s grave will go unmarked, that the loss of her SSI will grind the family deeper into poverty is a whole different thing. I hope I never have to see a dead child again. And I hope someday the Koch brother’s dreams are haunted by them.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    They truly deserve a modern day version of a Citizen Cain type movie made of them.

    They also truly deserve to watch President Obama get re-elected because they hate him (specifically) so much.

  5. Rob Honeycutt says:

    With all due respect, Joe, I don’t think you’re right on this one. I would suggest that the Koch’s are betting the farm on an old technology (FF based energy) and ultimately they are going to lose their asset base. The money being spent by Buffet and Gates is not draining their coffers. What they invest is less than what they earn on those investments and assets (but still very large amounts of money).

    I have full confidence that this decade the tide is going to turn. Clean energy is going to get to a point where it is more economical than FF sources. After that there is no looking back. It’s bye-bye Koch boys. They are going to be like the guys with the typewriter store trying to peddle IBM Selectrics when the rest of the world is buying PC’s and Macs.

  6. Todd says:

    I agree with Rob. The Kochtapus can cling to its legacy assets and ancient technology as long as they want. They will get outcompeted by the Googles, the Apples, the Samsungs, the Electrified Transport Industry, the LED lightbulb, the built-in PV industry, the wind industry, the advanced battery industry, the ultra-high-MPG transport industry, the solar thermal industry, and it will happen in less than 10 years.

  7. Justin says:

    Knowing Americans…. they will follow where the money is at and these up-and-coming people who have the money at the moment is setting a bad example and years from now they’ll probably be kings of a trash dump.

  8. Joan Savage says:

    The Kochtopus’s arms are not just made of pipelines; although their oil market manipulation is the biggest source of their income growth, they have diversified. They acquired Dupont’s familiar Lycra, Spandex and Teflon brands. They bought Georgia Pacific, a familiar source of building supplies and maker of paper products under several brands.
    Like other corporations and individual investors, the Kochs have figured out how to take big profits out of what in the long run will be depreciated assets, and roll themselves over to the next profitable market niche.
    The robber barons of the 19th century had children who learned how to invest, and the Kochs have taken the same lesson.
    For example, with their Georgia Pacific holdings, they are in a position to profit off the retrofit of housing for energy efficiency. Don’t expect the Kochs and their associates to dwindle away quietly.

  9. Rob Honeycutt says:

    I expect to see a long list of book titles the likes of… “The Rise and Fall of the Koch Empire” and “From Oil to Sun: How the Koch’s Failed to See the Light.”

    These guys are obviously powerful today but you can clearly see the mortar in their foundation beginning to crumble.

  10. Ken says:

    Todd and Rob, I wish I shared your “full confidence” – I do not. Carbon Free energy, even if it were cheaper than fossil fuels now, would take many decades to deploy. Will this Herculean task be achieved before we surpass Hansen’s Target of 450 ppm CO2 beyond which climate catastrophe lies?? In the meantime, the facade behind which the Fossil Fuel Plutocrats hide must be ripped away for all to see so that their obstructionism will not slow the process. Thank you Joe Romm and many others for unmasking the Koch Brothers.

  11. Wyoming says:

    Rob and Todd,

    With all due respect I highly doubt that you are correct.

    Given the twin catastrophes of AGW and Peak Energy that are bearing down upon us I cannot see any logical way to reach your scenarios.

    Our civilization is extraordinarily complex and large (speaking of population here). This complexity is primarily dependent on a continuing flood of cheap fossil based energy supplies. The density (EROEI) of these supplies is critical to maintaining that complexity and the population. We have already passed the point where we should not be burning ANY more coal (at the least), in terms of its effect on AGW. We are plateaued on production of C&C and are depending on increasing supplies of extremely dirty tar sands, and such, to provide overall liquid supplies.

    We are struggling to maintain BAU already due to the effects of AGW and Peak Oil and it is certain that the situation will deteriorate with increasing rapidity. Thus the stress to maintain BAU will increasingly take a larger share of any slack or perceived low priority resources in the system to maintain that BAU (see current decision making in the House in that regard). Resources for the technologies you list are going to be harder to come by in the next 10-20 years than they are now as everything including the kitchen sink will be tossed into the fire of BAU to keep it burning.

    Your scenarios depend upon rational thought being the guide forward. I suspect our rather primitive human tendency to discount the future for the present will over ride rational thought. It would be necessary to implement a massive conversion of resources away from BAU to even have a chance of getting to what you listed in even 30 years. It would take a huge amount of fossil fuels to make it happen and they would have to be diverted from BAU. All this while the climate destabilizes cheap energy supplies dwindle, mass starvation is seen on the horizon, and various demagogues are preaching.

    How are you going to divert that fuel when you are trying to feed 7 going on 8 billion people in another 15 years. At some point we will realize (at the civilizational level) that we really should have turned off the coal plants a long time ago and will be forced into it. At that point there is a very large step down in complexity and population. A very ugly situation will play out. High tech solutions to maintain BAU in another form will be left behind as we revert to lower complexity technologies that requires less global support.

    As we phase out coal use those that own the liquid energy resources are going to get richer (barring the pitchfork and torches solution) and they will also be the prime owners and investors in the alternate technologies as they experience significant growth.

    Volumes can and will be written on these issues. I apologize for rambling (ranting?), but I am in a hurry and need to get back to work. I look forward to your response.


  12. Todd says:

    Ken, the laws of carrying capacity and non-linear behavior of population dynamics will apply to humans as well. We will not be able to avert overshoot any more than lemmings, especially when catastrophic AGW is fully realized. This I have come to accept. But will it impact all societies equally? Likely not. Those that are least impacted will likely achieve much of the renewable energy transition discussed, and the Kochtapus will likely be an historical footnote by then.

  13. CW says:

    Interesting Joan. This is a good linkage to my question to Joe on this article. Joe, you haven’t addressed one issue: I might be wrong, but $27 per barrel more due to speculation seems to be WAY more than what a carbon tax or cap and trade would introduce in most proposed formulations. So did the Kochs do better at increasing the price of a commodity we want out of the economic system through a private mechanism than the government could likely ever do through a public mechanism?

    If so, speculation isn’t ENTIRELY bad, right? It puts all the money from the price hike in private hands and thus doesn’t redistribute and/or invest in getting off oil. Indeed, the money goes to folks who are actively and effectively trying to keep us dependent. But speculation does raise the price which at least helps motivate getting off oil.

  14. kermit says:

    Alas, when the Koch brothers are clearly out of the energy loop in ten years, they will perhaps retire quietly with their pathetic dozen or so billions of dollars, and whine about their impoverishment. I fear they will still have the capacity to do great damage. I also am not optimistic about the results when we wait ten years or more to get serious.

    On the bright side, if humans do survive in the simplified environment of the future, they will have to rebuild civilization without easy access to coal and oil. By the time they can reach it, they will have other means of producing energy, and may also have learned the lessons of the past (us).

  15. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    Our utter failure to prepare, in any meaningful way, for what is coming means that civilizations fall is going to be spectacular.

    We face a perfect storm of climate, other environment,energy, political and economic factors where any one alone is going to be catastrophic. Collectively we are showing the intelligence of pond scum, wilfully ignorant of what is inevitable.

    Endless growth will end within the next few decades. We have already waited far too long too avoid great suffering and now will push the bounds of survival.

    The Koch’s great wealth will be meaningless by century’s end. Even within their lifetime that inevitability will be recognized.

    In biology they talk of overshoot and we have massively overshot.

  16. seakat says:

    All that money wasted on lobbying, or better named bribery. How much more advanced would the clean energy field be if that bribery had been invested in it instead?

    I don’t share the optimism that we will be rid of the Koch Bros. or their likes anytime soon. Someone equally as capable of evil will step in to take their place.