Rolling Stone has two pieces on climate politics in its latest issue, by Jeff Goodell and Tim Dickinson. “Planet Earth 911” is on “Big Oil and Big Coal’s lobbying campaign to block progress on global warming,” and “The Climate Killers” is on Warren Buffett, Rupert Murdoch, Jack Gerard, Rex Tillerson, Sen. Mary Landrieu, The Swift Boat smearer, Inhofe, David Ratcliffe, Dick Gephardt (!), George Will, Tom Donohue, Don Blankenship, Fred Singer, Sen. John McCain (!), Rep. Joe Barton, Charles and David Koch.
I don’t agree with either piece 100% but they are well worth reading, and not just because the latter piece quotes me a couple of times. Rolling Stone deserves a huge amount of credit for continuing to put out first-rate work on the story of the century.
Let’s look a little closer at three of RS’s “climate killers,” starting with Buffett:
The ProfiteerWarren BuffettCEO, Berkshire Hathaway
Despite being a key adviser to Obama during the financial crisis, America’s best-known investor has been blasting the president’s push to curb global warming “” using the same lying points promoted by far-right Republicans. The climate bill passed by the House, Buffett insists, is a “huge tax “” and there’s no sense calling it anything else.” What’s more, he says, the measure would mean “very poor people are going to pay a lot more money for their electricity.” Never mind that the climate bill, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would actually save Americans with the lowest incomes about $40 a year.
But Buffett, whose investments have the power to move entire markets, is doing far more than bad-mouthing climate legislation “” he’s literally banking on its failure. In recent months, the Oracle of Omaha has invested billions in carbon-polluting industries, seeking to cash in as the world burns. His conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, has added 1.28 million shares of America’s biggest climate polluter, ExxonMobil, to its balance sheet. And in November, Berkshire placed a huge wager on the future of coal pollution, purchasing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion “” the largest acquisition of Buffett’s storied career. BNSF is the nation’s top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That’s enough to light up 10 percent of the nation’s homes “” many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy. Although Berkshire is the largest U.S. firm not to disclose its carbon pollution “” and second globally only to the Bank of China “” its utilities have the worst emissions intensity in America, belching more than 65 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2008 alone.
As a savvy investor, Buffett would only buy a coal-shipping railroad if he felt certain that Congress will fail to crack down on climate pollution. “Whatever hurts coal also hurts the railroad business,” observes Peter Gray, a corporate climate attorney at the international law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge. “Mr. Buffett must believe that efforts to adopt cap-and-trade legislation will fail.”
That’s a strange position for the billionaire to take, given that he’s promised to donate more than 80 percent of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “As someone who is giving so much money to international development, Buffett ought to know better,” says Joe Romm, who served as an assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. “He ought to have spent a great deal of time considering the greatest threats to developing countries “” which would have quickly educated him about climate change.”
Buffett has been a great disappointment:
- Why Warren Buffett Is Wrong About Cap and Trade
- Gates and Buffett to invest in tar sands and spawn more two-headed fish?
- Gates Foundation strategy raises key question: Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?
But at least CP readers found out a key reason why last year: He hangs around with the wrong crowd — see Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2: Who else have Nathan Myhrvold and the Groupthinkers at Intellectual Ventures duped and confused? Would you believe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?
Still I wouldn’t have put him on the list. He’s not in the same league as most of the other folks. He’s kind of the Tiger Woods of investors — a superstar at what he does (making money), but there’s no particular reason to believe his skill in that arena should carry over into other arenas are cause us to admire him as some sort of infallible a human being. And it’s possible he’s placing a bet on peak oil with his investments in ExxonMobil and BNSF.
The DisinformerRupert MurdochCEO, News Corporation
In 2007, when the world’s most powerful media baron announced his newfound conviction that global warming “poses clear, catastrophic threats,” it seemed as though the truth about climate change might finally get the attention it deserves. Murdoch promised that not only would News Corp. itself become carbon-neutral by 2010, but that his media outlets would explain the urgent need for a cap on carbon emissions. Climate change, he pledged, would be addressed as a sober reality across the News Corp. empire, whether as a plot element on 24 or in a story on Fox News. “I don’t think there’s any question of my conviction on this issue,” Murdoch declared. “I’ve come to feel it very strongly.”
Since then, however, Murdoch and his media operations have become the nation’s leading source of disinformation about climate change. In October, Fox Business ran an extended segment on “The Carbon Myth,” inviting a hack scientist to “make the case” that more carbon pollution is actually “good for the environment.” The Wall Street Journal has continued to lie not only about the reality of global warming but about Obama’s efforts to prevent it, denouncing climate legislation as “likely to be the biggest tax in American history.” The New York Post insisted that the Copenhagen climate negotiations were little more than a meet-up for “shamsters, scam artists and assorted ‘global warming’ opportunists” who planned to “transfer a trillion bucks from the economies of the world’s developed nations to Third World kleptocrats “” with God-only-knows how much cash sticking to the fingers of well-connected U.N. bureaucrats.” And on Fox News, right-wing attack dog Sean Hannity misinformed his viewers that 2009 “” the fifth-hottest year in the past 130 “” was “one of the coldest years on record.” Hannity then summed up the deranged denial that permeates Murdoch’s media empire: “I don’t believe climate change is real,” he said. “I think this is global-warming hysteria and alarmism.”
Yes, Murdoch has enabled more anti-science disinformation than just about any other media mogul, in spite of his claims of some sort of conversion on the issue (see Jack Bauer becomes first-ever carbon-neutral torturer as Rupert Murdoch says “Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats”). You might call him “The Hypocrite,” but that title may belong to this man:
The Flip FlopperSen. John McCainRepublican, Arizona
McCain has been one of the Senate’s biggest climate champions since 2003, when he introduced a bill with Joe Lieberman to create a “cap and trade” system similar to the one currently being debated. But since losing the presidency to Barack Obama, McCain is taking his pique out on the planet. He’s now threatening to roadblock the very measure he once introduced, lying about its cost and distorting its goals. “What the Obama administration has proposed is not cap-and-trade,” McCain says. “It’s cap-and-tax.” He’s even trash-talking a bipartisan alternative by GOP colleague Lindsey Graham, calling it “horrendous.”
Although McCain frames his newfound stance as opposition to what he portrays as a $630 billion tax on corporate America, the measure as revised by the House actually provides the energy industry with more than $690 billion in pollution subsidies. McCain’s about-face may have more to do with his precarious electoral future: The senator is currently locked in a dead heat with likely primary challenger J.D. Hayworth, a knuckle-dragging former congressman. The one-time “maverick” now earns high praise from the far right: “He’s been a fabulous team player,” says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. “On message and effective.”
It appears that McCain has just become a sore loser. If you want to actually pass a climate bill — rather than simply offer one that fails, as he did twice — you have to make compromises. If McCain succeeds in obstructing the bipartisan climate and clean energy bill that his two friends — Graham and Lieberman — are working to develop, then he will certainly be remembered by history as the greatest hypocrite in the history of the U.S. Senate, which is saying something, considering the competition. And, of course, he will be remembered in his state as The Dust Bowler (see “Absolute must read: Australia today offers horrific glimpse of U.S. Southwest, much of planet, post-2040, if we don’t slash emissions soon”).
Again, kudos to Rolling Stone for continuing its outstanding coverage of the climate issue. I’ll end with the quote of mine they used about George Will:
“He positions himself as a conservative intellectual,” says Joe Romm, a physicist who serves as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. “But you can’t be an intellectual and be anti-science. He’s really just an ideologue masquerading as an intellectual.”