Some of the most determined opponents of action on climate change in the U.S. are so-called libertarians, motivated by an ideological commitment to minimal government and “free market” laissez-faire capitalism. Their efforts on behalf of unregulated corporate wealth and power have been funded heavily by patrons in the fossil fuel industry. While ExxonMobil has drawn much attention for its patronage of global warming denialist activity by such groups, much less public attention has been paid to the activities of the multibillionaire brothers, Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries. Koch Industries is the second largest private company in the U.S., with estimated 2008 revenues of $100 billion. Started as a petroleum business by their father Fred Koch, who was also a founder of the right-wing extremist John Birch Society, Koch Industries has become a diversified enterprise that funds large-scale lobbying and a range of libertarian policy and activist groups that play a significant role in the global warming denial machine.
Post by the Climate Science Watch research team. See related post Americans for Prosperity: Distorting climate change science and economics in well-funded campaign. Also, see the Greenpeace report, Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine, published on 30 March 2010, and additional material on the Koch brothers and climate change denialism at that link.
To the libertarians, the widely-shared scientific assessment that human-caused climate change will likely produce major harmful consequences — and the communication of this evidence to the public by the leading climate scientists — poses a particularly serious threat. An informed public concerned about the likelihood of harmful impacts of unchecked global climatic disruption is more likely to call for significant government action to curb greenhouse gas emissions. In order to block proactive government policymaking and keep corporate interests unregulated, libertarian groups have focused a significant part of their efforts on climate change on distorting the science to confuse public opinion, denying the seriousness of the problem, and, most recently, impugning the integrity of the climate science community. The Koch brothers have stepped forward with deep pockets to bankroll such efforts.
Charles and David Koch (pronounced “coke”) own Koch Industries, which according to Forbes, is the second largest private company in the United States with estimated 2008 revenues of $100 billion and with 80,000 employees. Its CEO is Charles G. Koch (age 74, residence Wichita, Kansas) (see company biography). David Koch (age 70, residence New York City) is the executive vice-president and a board member (see company biography). According to Forbes (The 400 Richest Americans 2009), the brothers are tied as the 9th richest Americans, with a net worth of $16 billion each.
The company, based in Wichita, Kansas, was founded by their father, Fred C. Koch, who started in the petroleum business in the 1920s and who by 1945 had established the Koch Engineering Company. Since that time the company has grown and diversified to include, among other things, the forest-products giant, Georgia Pacific Corporation.
On its Web site, Koch Industries summarizes its views on “Climate Controversies and Energy Needs.” In addition to raising doubts about climate science and about the need to slow climate change by reducing emissions, the company site omits any discussion of the costly consequences of climate change, choosing instead to focus exclusively on high-end estimates of the costs of reducing emissions. If there are any doubts about the position of Koch Industries on the issue, these are dispelled by the resources it suggests for those wishing to learn more — such as this book by denial machine lawyer Chris Horner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute: Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed.
To kick off the New Year, Koch Industries published on January 1, 2010, a piece titled “Blowing Smoke” in its Discovery Newsletter. “We are often told our planet will be devastated unless we immediately make drastic reductions in man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” the piece contends. Then it levels the bogus charge: “ Rather than encouraging open and honest scientific enquiry and debate about the issue, climate extremists are trying to shout down any and all dissenters.”
Koch Industries goes well beyond its Web site to advance the views and interests of its owners. According to OpenSecrets.org, Koch Industries dramatically increased its lobbying in the decade leading to the 2008 election, from $200,000 in 1998 to over $20 million in 2008, making it the 8th largest spender on lobbying in the country. In 2009, it contributed another $12.5 million, with major legislative targets including the energy and climate change legislation before the Congress — and legislators who support the Koch brothers’ views on the legislation. To see how the Koch brothers are supporting specific members of Congress, see Follow the Oil Money‘s page on Koch Industries’ campaign contributions.
At the same time, the Koch brothers have undermined climate science and policy through their foundations, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation and the Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation. According to the report Axis of Ideology: Conservative Foundations and Public Policy, from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (Executive Summary here [PDF] ), “most of their contributions go to support organizations and groups advancing libertarian theory, privatization, entrepreneurship and free enterprise.” As the Center for Public Integrity said in its 2004 brief, Koch’s Low Profile Belies Political Power: Private Oil Company Does Both Business and Politics With the Shades Drawn: “Although it is both a top campaign contributor and spends millions on direct lobbying, Koch’s chief political influence tool is a web of interconnected, right-wing think tanks and advocacy groups funded by foundations controlled and supported by the two Koch brothers.”
In addition to funding groups directly, the Koch brothers have developed other ways to assist like-minded organizations. For example, the Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow Program (funding approximately 80 fellows each summer) and the year-long Koch Associate Program, fund the training and placement of individuals in organizations including groups that are leading the attacks on climate change science and scientists: Americans for Prosperity Foundation, Cato Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, National Center for Policy Analysis and the Heartland Institute .
Among the groups currently active in the climate debate and with strongest support from the Koch brothers are:
- The Cato Institute (SourceWatch profile). “The mission of the Cato Institute is to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace.” The Cato Institute was established in 1977, with Charles Koch being one of the co-founders. David Koch is on the Board of Directors. From 2001 through 2008, the Koch family foundations contributed $2.3 million to the Cato Institute, with funding in 2008 at $270,000. In addition, the Koch brothers fund the placement of summer fellows and associates at the Cato Institute.
- Americans for Prosperity and (tax-exempt, nonprofit ) Americans for Prosperity Foundation. “AFP is an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels.” It was established in 2004 by David Koch, who is Chairman of the Board of Directors of the AFP Foundation. For each of the three years, from 2005 through 2007, the Koch family foundations contributed more than $1 million to AFP. In 2008, the funding level doubled to $2 million (27% of AFP’s budget), bringing the total 2005-2008 contribution to $5.2 million. Information on Koch family contributions to the AFP 2009 budget is not yet available. In addition, several top level AFP staff are former Koch Industries or Koch Foundation employees; and the Koch brothers fund the placement of summer fellows and associates at AFP. See the Climate Science Watch posting, Americans for Prosperity: Distorting climate change science and economics in well-funded campaign, for details on the climate change activities of Americans for Prosperity.
Just as the organizations share a common “free-market” and “limited government” philosophy, they share similar views toward climate change. It is a threat to be denied, discounted or minimized, while the costs of slowing climate change are exaggerated; climate change impacts and the need for climate change preparedness are largely ignored. In “Climate Killers,” Rolling Stone magazine recently counted the Koch brothers as being among the “17 polluters and deniers who are derailing efforts to curb global warming.” Referring to Charles and David Koch as “The Tea Partiers,” Rolling Stone says:
“The multibillionaire brothers not only run the nation’s largest private energy company, they rival Exxon in funding the front groups that spread disinformation about the dangers of climate change… As author Thomas Frank observes in What’s the Matter With Kansas?, `Koch money subsidizes the mass production of bad ideas…'”
Kevin Grandia of DeSmogBlog noted in June 2007 that “[w]hile Exxon is continuously vilified as the leader of the attack on climate change science, the Koch Foundation is heavily involved in the same type of activity, but receives very little of the bad press.”
Climate Science Watch coverage of the Global Warming Denial Machine is listed here and routinely reports on the activities of some of the organizations funded by the Koch brothers, ExxonMobil and other patrons of denial. See also:
- Climate Crime Scene declared as true Koch family legacy is brought to light. Press release, 17 March 2010.
- Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine. Includes report, Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine, published on 30 March 2010.
- Factsheet: Koch Industries: Secretly Funding the Climate Denial Machine [PDF].
- Koch Industries:
- Right Wing Billionaire David Koch Funding SwiftBoat Campaign Against Global Warming Science . Think Progress, 7 December 2009.
- The Climate Killers. Rolling Stone, 6 January 2010.
- Fact Sheet: David H. Koch. ExxonSecrets.com, undated.
- Brother Versus Brother; Koch Family’s Long Legal Feud Is Headed for a Jury. NY Times, 28 April 1998.
- Tea Party Patrons Point New Recruits Toward 2010. The Washington Independent, October 5 2009.
- Fred C. Koch. Wikipedia.
- Center for Media and Democracy, PR Watch.org
- The Cashroots Conspiracy Behind Freedomworks and Americans for Prosperity. 18 September 2009.
- Oil and Gas Billionaire David Koch Funding Fight Against Health Care Reform. 6 December 2009.
- Another Day, Another Coal Industry Front Group. 25 August 2009.
- Climate Science Watch: Americans for Prosperity: Distorting climate change science and economics in well-funded campaign.
- Disinformation? You want it, IREA’s got it. RealClimate, 28 July 2010.
- Front Group For Polluter Billionaires Wastes $140K On Goofy Global Warming Denial Ads. The Wonk Room, 11 Feb 2009.
- Media Matters Action Network
- Charles G. Koch
- David H. Koch Charitable Foundation
- Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation
- Claude R. Lambe Charitable Foundation
The powerful Koch boys from Kansas. By Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange , February 9 2006, National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.
- Scrutinizing the Koch Deal to Buy Georgia-Pacific. Institute for Policy Accuracy, 15 November 2005.
- Rethinking the Think Tanks: How Industry Funded “Experts” Twist the Environmental Debate. Sierra Magazine, July/August 2002.
- The Copenhagen Tea Party. James Hoggan, The Huffington Post, 16 December 2009.