Oil Devotion Could Mean Climate No Motion

The one-foot waves today in the Gulf of Mexico were described as “tranquil” as BP started to lower a 70-ton case through 5,000 feet of water to contain the source of an oil leak that threatens the shorelines of four states. Guiding the steel cover over the well shaft in pitch-black waters at crushing depths, said engineers, is like floating a toy parachute off the Empire State Building and landing on a paperclip in the street.oil-booms

The political equivalent, of course, is what’s happening in the Senate with the climate and energy bill, which also is navigating in murky political waters and under enormous partisan pressure.

Senators John Kerry and Joe Lieberman, in a joint statement today, said they would introduce a comprehensive climate and energy bill next Wednesday. They said they would do so without the participation of Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who has been working for months on climate and energy policy with his two Senate colleagues. Sen. Graham abandoned the effort last week over differences with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over timing of the floor debate on the Senate energy bill, and immigration.

Kerry and Lieberman Promote Climate Bill
Senators Kerry and Lieberman said they were enthusiastic about the bill’s chances. “The last weeks have given everyone with a stake in this issue a heightened understanding that as a nation, we can no longer wait to solve this problem which threatens our economy, our security and our environment,” said the statement. “Our optimism is bolstered because there is a growing and unprecedented bi-partisan coalition from the business, national security, faith and environmental communities that supports our legislation and is energized to work hard and get it passed.”

Carol Browner, the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, told Bloomberg Television, that the Gulf spill could help spur public support for the bill. “This accident, this tragedy, is actually heightening people’s interest in energy in this country and in wanting a different energy plan,” Browner said.

The Gulf spill did indeed provide fresh evidence of the dramatic consequences of the nation’s devotion to oil, and prompted grassroots demonstrations to encourage clean energy investment and to reduce oil demand in several Gulf coast communities and around the country. In addition climate science, which forms the research foundation for new policy that encourages the clean energy transition to curb emissions of greenhouse gases, also generated fresh attention this week.

Science Supported
On Friday, Science Magazine published a letter from 255 members of the National Academy of Sciences that stated “there is compelling, comprehensive, and consistent objective evidence that humans are changing the climate in ways that threaten our societies and the ecosystems on which we depend.” The letter, written in response to the December hacking of email messages from East Anglia University and other attacks on climate science, also called to an end to the “McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them.”

Politics and Oil
The letter also came as Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli targets Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist and former faculty member of University of Virginia. The attorney general is demanding that the university turn over e-mails and other documents that involve Mann’s research and contacts under a statute that is designed to detect fraud in government contracts, an action the Washington Post called “chilling.”

The targeting of climate scientists by political opponents is hampering action on the climate and energy bill. So is the Gulf spill and its long streams of oil the color of dried blood. Early in the week Democratic Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, and Bill Nelson of Florida held a news conference to alert their colleagues that any provisions that expand offshore oil exploration have no place in a comprehensive climate and energy bill. By the way, those one-foot waves? Winds and waves are expected to pick up considerably over the weekend.

— Keith Schneider

Koch Industries Finances Climate Denier Factions

koch-report-cover-250pxThe work to achieve a climate and energy bill in the United States is moving with considerably slower momentum this spring than it did at the same time last year. A number of factors contribute, not the least of which is the time and focus that the White House and Democrats in Congress devoted to enacting a national health care bill, which passed earlier this month.  Another factor is the flagging U.S. economy and the meager appetite that many voters and lawmakers have for big new domestic initiatives, like the proposed climate and clean energy bill.

Still, the wearying health debate and the Great Recession do not fully explain the uphill struggle of climate activism. Another factor is at work. After years of swinging away at the climate action community’s formidable message of urgency and useful solutions, the fossil fuel industry’s rhetorical axes nearly four months ago found a soft spot in the scientific details of climate change.

The climate action community’s response has been double-barrelled. In December when the email conversations of climate scientists were stolen from East Anglia University, climate activists made a good case that nothing said between researchers damaged the foundations of the global consensus on the causes of climate change, its urgent consequences, and the opportunity for solutions that generated new industries and new jobs.

The second response has been to penetrate and uncover the full range, influence, structure, and interlocking relationships of the fossil fuel political infrastructure, which is actively involved in fostering the campaign of scientific deceit. The results of that work have emerged in the last couple of weeks.

Last week Greenpeace International published “Dealing in Doubt: The Climate Denial Industry and Climate Science,” which documented the 20-year campaign led by ExxonMobil to exploit the space the mainstream media opened with its “let’s hear from the other side” principle of reporting.  Meanwhile in Europe, Danish newspapers picked up the story initially flagged by Pete Altman, a climate specialist and blogger at NRDC, who reported that  a Danish study critical of Danish wind energy was financed by an American activist think tank with financial ties to oil-rich Koch Industries.

This week Greenpeace advanced the story enormously with its new report, “Koch Industries: Secretly Funding The Climate Denial Machine.” The report makes clear that Koch Industries is, and has been for over a decade, a stalwart institution, financier, and strategic adviser for the fossil fuel industry’s political infrastructure aimed at one outcome: Blocking the advent of the low-carbon 21st century economy and wrapping its arms as snugly as it can around the 20th century drive-through, energy wasting, coal-gas-oil-fueled American way of life.

The Greenpeace report also describes how Koch Industries, with revenues of $100 billion annually, 70,000 employees, and operations in 60 countries can execute this goal with a shockingly low investment. The report identifies over 40 climate denial organizations that Koch funded from 1997 to 2008 for $50 million, roughly half of that from 2005 to 2008.

In addition, Koch Industries spent less than $6 million since 2004 on the campaigns of federal lawmakers, almost all Republicans, and $37.9 million from 2006 to 2009 for direct lobbying.

In other words for an investment of less than $10 million annually in the lawmakers, lobbyists, activist think tanks, communications shops, and other facets of the political infrastructure, Koch Industries has assured the rising revenues and profitability of its core climate changing businesses.

Koch and its sister companies in the fossil fuel industry are so wealthy they can devote a tiny portion of their total revenue – a fraction of a fraction of 1 percent – to finance an influential inter-connected political infrastructure at the state level and in Washington.

The extent and expanse of that investment reveals the tight coordination that the fossil fuel industry deploys in executing its progress-denying work. Along with some of the usual suspects expected to receive Koch money — American Enterprise Institute, Cato, Heritage, Reason — the company also finances some of the active and influential state-based groups committed to “sound” science that is anything but.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy in Michigan, for instance, whose staff includes a former libertarian anti-science state director of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality now dedicated to clouding the science of climate in Lansing, the state capital. And the Heartland Institute in Chicago, a free market “think” tank that isn’t doing much thinking about climate action that right thinking people would generally consider valuable.

More on this and other investigations as we move forward.
– Keith Schneider