The multi-billionaire Koch brothers are planning to spend a staggering $889 million in the 2016 election cycle, more than double what they spent in 2012. Politico called it “a historic sum that in many ways would mark Charles and David Koch and their fellow conservative megadonors as more powerful than the official Republican Party.”
Remember, the Koch family put together the Tea Party movement and much of the modern right-wing infrastructure. Koch Industries surpassed Exxon Mobil in funding climate science disinformation and clean energy opposition years ago. They have already become the biggest force for anti-science politicians at every level of government.
This $889 million announcement is a declaration of dependence on fossil fuels, a figurative declaration of war on a livable climate and the health and well-being of countless future generations. As Mayor Michael McGinn put it in 2013, “We’re the first generation to see the effects of climate change, and the last generation who can do anything about it. To refuse to use every tool at our disposal in this fight — to embrace inaction — is to endorse a trajectory that will lead to suffering, privation, and calamity.”
A quarter century of ignoring the warnings from the world’s top scientists has brought us to the point where we are already seeing dangerous climate impacts on every continent — and brought us perilously close to the first of many serious tipping points (see “New Studies Suggest Many Coastal Cities Eventually To Be Abandoned With Antarctic Ice Collapse”). Another decade of inaction would be fatal to a livable climate. It would essentially rule out stabilizing near 2°C (3.6°F), a temperature target we should beat to have the greatest chance of avoiding multiple catastrophes. Climate action delayed is climate action denied.
The Koch brothers clearly intend to use every tool at their disposal to pursue the trajectory of inaction, which will indeed lead to suffering, privation, and calamity — or “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts” for billions of people, as the world leading scientists and governments put it last year.
Worse, the Kochs want much more than mere climate inaction — their goal is to roll back every major climate and clean energy action we’ve already started. The New York Times explains that the goal of the $889 million 2016 Koch machine is “leveraging Republican control of Congress and the party’s dominance of state capitols to push for deregulation, tax cuts and smaller government.”
The Kochs are leading backers of a “coordinated nationwide attack on renewable energy policies” — an effort to roll back the modest clean energy standards most states have adopted. And yet these job-creating, pollution-reducing standards remain very popular with the public, who strongly support incentives for solar and wind and other forms of renewable energy.
For the Kochs to succeed as much as they have with their blatantly anti-populist, pro-pollution, “1% of the 1%” vision, they have had to simultaneously dupe, empower, and leverage the most extreme part of the electorate — the Tea Party — the only part that is mired in denial. More and more public opinion analysis makes clear that climate change is a wedge issue splitting the anti-science Tea Party extremists from the rest of the Republican party (and independent/moderate voters).
For instance, a Pew poll out in late 2013 found that while 67 percent of all Americans say “there is solid evidence that the earth has been getting warmer over the last few decades” — and 61 percent of non-Tea Party Republicans say that — only 25 percent of Tea Party Republicans agree with that basic statement of fact.
Of course David Koch said back in 2011 that the Tea Party “rank and file are just normal people like us.” Even in 2010 it was clear to many that “Tea party extremists backed by Big Oil and corporate polluters want to stop and then reverse all efforts to advance clean energy or avoid catastrophic global warming,” as I wrote at the time.
The main difference between the Tea Party candidates then and now is that the current ones are better at sounding less extreme than they are — and the media has been willing to go along with that frame, possibly because so many national Republicans have been pulled toward those same extreme positions by fear of getting a Tea Party primary challenger.
From a climate perspective, the other key difference between fall 2010 and now is that finally, years after the failure of the climate bill, team Obama is putting forward a climate agenda strong enough to enable a major global climate deal in December, one which would dramatically change the trajectory of greenhouse gas emissions and fossil fuel consumption (though we would still be headed for warming well past 2°). We have both the fairly strong carbon pollution standards the White House is advancing for existing power plants plus a game-changing climate deal with China that requires faster carbon pollution cuts by the U.S. along with a peak in CO2 emissions by China by 2030 (which in turn drives China to a peak in coal consumption by 2020).
That means the 2016 election at the national level — and at the state level — will determine whether the U.S. keeps its CO2 commitment and remains a positive force for international negotiations. And that may well determine whether any global climate deal negotiated in Paris in 2015 succeeds.
Humanity really has only two paths forward at this point. Either we voluntarily and aggressively switch to a low-carbon economy over the next two decades or the post-Ponzi-scheme-collapse forces us to do so circa 2030. The only difference between the two paths is that the first one spares our children and grandchildren and countless future generations misery that is irreversible over a time scale of centuries.
The “Après nous le déluge” Koch brothers are placing an $889 million bet they can stop the rational, moral path of climate action in its tracks in 2016 — so they can extract a few more tens of billions of dollars while dooming billions of people to unnecessary suffering. What are you going to do?