How secretive libertarian ideologues are financing the war on climate science and jeopardizing our collective future
Sitcking with the subject of right wing war on science, we now take a look at the actions in this area by the Koch brothers. The Koch brothers, Charles and Richard Koch, are not “simply” billionaires. They are among the richest men in the entire world. The are also followers of ideologies which, rather conveniently, happen to fit their financial interests neatly.
Even by the standards of the super-rich, Charles and David Koch are extraordinarily wealthy. Together they own most of Koch Industries, one of the largest private conglomerates in America with annual revenues of around $100bn (£62.5bn), and interests as diverse as energy, petrochemicals, pulp and paper.
The two brothers share a similar political outlook. They are right-wing libertarians who believe in minimal regulation of industry, smaller government, lower corporate taxes and less generous social services.
(Of course if you are that wealthy you don’t need social services, but that is a different story.)
And certainly have been putting their money where their mouth is:
Each of the Koch brothers has his own charitable foundation and they have given generously to organisations that share their free-market outlook. They have both funded opposition campaigns to many of the policies of the Obama administration – so many, in fact, that their opponents have dubbed their ideological network “The Kochtopus”.
Together, the two brothers have given millions of dollars to non-profit organisations that criticise environmental legislation and support lower taxes for industry.
The Kochs have also contributed vast sums to promote scepticism towards climate change, more even than the oil industry according to some estimates. Greenpeace, for instance, has calculated that ExxonMobil spent $8.9m on climate-sceptic groups between 2005 and 2008; over the same period the Koch brothers backed such groups to the tune of nearly $25m.
It is nice to know that they are so true to their ideology. But there is a twist to the story-when they spend their money to peddle scientific illiteracy, they don’t want you to know about it.
“The Kochs decided it was better to go underground… Charles Koch has often said publicly that anyone should be able to give money to anyone without having to make it public…The point of all this is that Koch wants to anonymise his giving as much as possible.”
It is interesting to see who they have been paying, and what the money has been used for.
The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry…
Millions of dollars has been paid to Donors through a third-party organisation, called the Knowledge and Progress Fund, with is operated by the Koch family but does not advertise its Koch connections.
The trust has given money to the Competitive Enterprise Institute which is currently being sued for defamation by Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania University, an eminent climatologist, whose affidavit claims that he was accused of scientific fraud and compared to a convicted child molester.
It is nice to know this is what you can expect, if you are a scientists and your discoveries inconveniece certain rich people.
But how do we know about the link to the Koch brothers?
The link between the Koch family and Donors was discovered by Professor Brulle and John Mashey, a retired software engineer living in California, who has trawled through hundreds of official tax records, including the US Inland Revenue Service’s “990″ forms of the Knowledge and Progress Fund, which mention that it had given Donors millions of dollars for “general support”.
Kudos to them for their detective work.
But guess what? The Kochs are not the only ones funding ignorance and calumny. As it turns out, all US tax payers are indirectly contributing to that, whether they like it or not.
The Donors Trust is a “donor advised fund”, meaning that it has special status under the US tax system. People who give money receive generous tax relief and can retain greater anonymity than if they had used their own charitable foundations because, technically, they do not control how Donors spends the cash.
Nice double-dipping our tax system offers people like the Kochs. You give money to promote viewpoints in line with your own financial interests, and the tax payers reward you for that!
According to Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Donors Trust and its sister organisation Donors Capital Fund have become key players in the climate “countermovement”, which he says is dedicated to maintaining the status quo on energy policy.
For instance, in 2003 Donors received just 3 per cent of the funding that eventually went to climate sceptic groups such as the ultra-conservative Heartland Foundation, which has led the attack on climate scientists. Professor Brulle said this had risen by 2009 to about a quarter of the total funding of the climate countermovement dedicated to denying the link between greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and global warming.
The only silver lining here is that it doesn’t work out for them 100% of the time. Sometimes those getting funds from the Kochs end up saying things they don’t want to hear. For example, when they funded physicist Richard Muller, a climate skeptic (at the time), to do his own analysis of the data, he ended up concluding that “humans are almost entirely the cause” of climate change. Maybe funding actual scientists rather than rhetoricians was a mistake they won’t make again.