David Koch Was the Ultimate Climate Change Denier

How a playboy billionaire built a political army to defend his fossil fuel empire.

A few years ago, I was sitting in the book-lined study of an elegant condo with a view of downtown Washington, interviewing a former senior Koch Industries lobbyist about his job. I asked him what got him up in the morning when he worked for Koch. He gave me a one-word answer: “Carbon.”

At the time, I had been reporting for years on Koch Industries, one of the largest and most confusingly complex private companies in the world. Its annual revenue is larger than that of Facebook, Goldman Sachs and U.S. Steel combined, and it makes everything from gasoline to nitrogen fertilizer to nylon, paper towels and windows. For all this complexity, one business inside Koch Industries remains more important than the rest — processing and selling fossil fuels.

David Koch, who died Friday at the age of 79, is best known as a major funder of right-wing political causes, from tax cuts to deregulation, an enthusiastic patron of the arts and a man-about-town. But to his critics, his most lasting political legacy might very well be the rapidly warming world that he has left behind.

Koch Industries realized early on that it would be a financial disaster for the firm if the American government regulated carbon emissions or made companies pay a price for releasing carbon into the atmosphere. The effects of such a policy would be measured over decades for Koch. The company has billions of dollars sunk into the complex and expensive infrastructure of crude-oil processing. If a limit on greenhouse gas emissions were imposed, it could dampen demand for oil and diminish the value of those assets and their future sales. The total dollar losses would likely be measured in trillions over a period of 30 years or more.

Construction on the Koch political machine began in the 1970s, after Charles Koch took over the family company. He and David began funding and orchestrating a political project to restrain government power in the United States through lobbying, think tanks and political donations. The effort accelerated in the 1990s after a Senate committee, following a long investigation, accused Koch Industries of stealing oil from Native American reservations where the company was operating. That experience convinced David and Charles Koch that they needed to have a stronger presence in Washington to fend off their critics.

The machine reached full fruition in 2008, when Barack Obama was elected president. The machine is so effective because it is multifaceted. In addition to one of the largest registered corporate lobbying offices in the country, located about two blocks from the White House, there is a constellation of Koch-funded think tanks and university centers. They all convey a consistent message: that government programs can only cause more harm than good and that market forces alone must shape human society. And their work is bolstered by a private network of donors that David and Charles Koch assembled over the years, a network that gives donations at levels rivaling a political party.

Finally, Koch controls a “boots on the ground” army in the form of Americans for Prosperity, a network of employees and volunteers who knock on doors, attend rallies to protest climate change legislation, and visit the offices of any lawmakers who seem likely to cross Koch Industries on the issue.

This machine has been employed to great effect to ensure that no government action is taken to control greenhouse gas emissions. In the early 1990s, President George H.W. Bush made it clear that he would support a treaty to limit carbon emissions. The Republicans even had a market-based solution to tackle the problem, a system called “cap and trade” that put a price on pollution and allowed companies to buy and sell the right to pollute. Cap and trade had been used to great effect to reduce power plant pollution and acid rain. But in 1991, the Cato Institute, a Koch-funded think tank, held a seminar in Washington called “Global Environmental Crises: Science or Politics?” This was part of a decades-long effort to cast doubt about the reality of climate change.

David Koch worked tirelessly, over decades, to jettison from office any moderate Republicans who proposed to regulate greenhouse gases. In 2009, for example, a South Carolina Republican, Representative Bob Inglis, proposed a carbon tax bill. KochIndustries stopped funding his campaign, donated heavily to a primary opponent named Trey Gowdy and helped organize teams of Tea Party activists who traveled to town hall meetings to protest against Mr. Inglis. Some of the town hall meetings devolved into angry affairs, where Mr. Inglis couldn’t make himself heard above the shouting. Mr. Inglis lost re-election, and his defeat sent a message to other Republicans: Koch’s orthodoxy on climate rules could not be violated.

Mike Pence, who was then a congressman in Indiana, and others soon signed a “carbon pledge” circulated by Americans for Prosperity, which effectively prohibited the government from putting a price on carbon emissions. Those efforts and others effectively derailed the effort to pass a cap and trade plan for greenhouse gas emissions in 2009 and 2010. In 2009, the level of atmospheric carbon concentration hovered around 370 parts per million. In the decade since, levels have surpassed 400 parts per million, the highest level recorded in human existence.

Since the 2016 election, and in the face of more urgent scientific warnings about climate change and a growing popular movement for action, the Koch network has tried to build a Republican Party in its image: one that not only refuses to consider action on climate change but continues to deny that the problem is real. Just this week, Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, dismissed data about climate change by pointing out on Twitter: “It’s summer.” In doing so, he reflected the politics of a party — and a world — that has been profoundly shaped by David Koch.

Global Warming: Natural, not Man-Made

This website describes evidence from my group’s government-funded research that suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.

Believe it or not, very little research has ever been funded to search for natural mechanisms of warming…it has simply been assumed that global warming is manmade. This assumption is rather easy for scientists since we do not have enough accurate global data for a long enough period of time to see whether there are natural warming mechanisms at work.

.. As of 2008, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 40% to 45% higher than it was before the start of the industrial revolution in the 1800’s.

.. The ‘consensus’ of opinion is that the Earth’s climate sensitivity is quite high, and so warming of about 0.25 deg. C to 0.5 deg. C (about 0.5 deg. F to 0.9 deg. F) every 10 years can be expected for as long as mankind continues to use fossil fuels as our primary source of energy. NASA’s James Hansen claims that climate sensitivity is very high, and that we have already put too much extra CO2 in the atmosphere. Presumably this is why he and Al Gore are campaigning for a moratorium on the construction of any more coal-fired power plants in the U.S.

.. This website currently concentrates on the response of clouds to warming, an issue which I am now convinced the scientific community has totally misinterpreted when they have measured natural, year-to-year fluctuations in the climate system. As a result of that confusion, they have the mistaken belief that climate sensitivity is high, when in fact the satellite evidence suggests climate sensitivity is low.

.. Because small, chaotic fluctuations in atmospheric and oceanic circulation systems can cause small changes in global average cloudiness, this is all that is necessary to cause climate change. You don’t need the sun, or any other ‘external’ influence (although these are also possible…but for now I’ll let others work on that). It is simply what the climate system does.

Trump Gratuitously Rejects the Paris Climate Accord

This has nothing to do with serving America’s national interest. The U.S. economy, in particular, would do just fine under the Paris accord. This isn’t about nationalism; mainly, it’s about sheer spite.

.. it’s quite possible that lower health care costs would all by themselves make up for the costs of energy transition, even ignoring the whole saving-civilization-from-catastrophic-climate-change thing.

.. while tackling climate change in the way envisaged by the Paris accord used to look like a hard engineering and economic problem, these days it looks fairly easy. We have almost all the technology we need, and can be quite confident of developing the rest

.. pretending that environmental irresponsibility will somehow bring back jobs lost to strip mining and mountaintop removal.

.. you find deep hostility to any notion that some problems require collective action beyond shooting people and blowing things up.

.. driven above all by animus toward liberals rather than specific issues. If liberals are for it, they’re against it. If liberals hate it, it’s good. Add to this the anti-intellectualism of the G.O.P. base

Trump Has No Idea What He Just Did or the Backlash That Awaits

If he’s capable of regret, he’ll regret leaving the Paris deal.

Trump doesn’t appear to have any more detailed knowledge of climate change or the 2015 deal now than when he first pledged to cancel it on the campaign trail.

.. They have argued that the Paris deal is important to the US, not just for its environmental merits, but also not to be excluded from the rest of the world, both economically and politically.

.. His months of hints and delays on a decision have drawn more than one comparison to The Bachelor reality show

.. Trump’s nationalist case to exit Paris “does not allow space for recognition of what the Paris deal really is, which is constructive global engagement that serves America’s long term interests, as part of a system of mutually advantageous compromises.”

.. Trump doesn’t have any sense of the backlash that’s coming for him and the US now that he’s kickstarted the process of pulling out

.. Two factors will especially hurt the US:

  1. First, the world has been dealing with the US as an unreliable partner on climate change for more than two decades, and leaders still well remember the other times the US reversed course on its promises;
  2. second, the world has never been more aligned in favor of action, making climate change a much bigger factor in the US relationship with its allies in non-climate related issues—from trade to defense to immigration—than it once was.

.. In her 2011 memoir, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice detailed the reaction Bush faced in meetings with European leaders. Because of the way the administration handled the abrupt withdrawal, “we suffered through this issue over the years: drawing that early line in the sand helped to establish our reputation for ‘unilateralism.’ We handled it badly.” Rice called it a “self-inflicted wound that could have been avoided.”

.. US withdrawal also shifted the power dynamics across the world and gave Russia, which signed the agreement, greater leverage in international affairs. Russia‘s ratification became pivotal to the treaty entering into force, and in turn, it used its ratification to gain Europe’s backing to enter the World Trade Organization, even while the US still had outstanding concerns.

.. many experts expect a US exit from Paris not to weaken the world’s resolve in addressing climate change as much as it will create a power vacuum other countries might be eager to fill

.. it is “definitely going to hurt the US with respect to other countries sitting down and negotiating on anything the US is interested in.” Light, who was a State Department climate official in the Obama administration, argued, “We’re creating a vacuum in parts of the world where we have very clear security interests, not just climate, but security in North Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. It creates an opening that China, the EU, and even India can step in and fill.”

.. If America fails to honor a global agreement that it helped forge, the repercussions will undercut our diplomatic priorities across the globe, not to mention the country’s global standing and the market access of our firms.”

.. While the US retreats, other nations are going to be building bridges with China as it curbs its sizeable greenhouse gas footprint.

.. This will also not help the US president in his much-vaunted fight against terrorism. He’s losing goodwill not just with Europe, but partners in developing nations that stood to benefit from the $3 billion commitment the US had made to climate finance—another commitment which Trump won’t deliver on. That means losing one of the main ways the US has built friendly relationships with countries that can otherwise be fraught with tension.

.. Alden Meyer, a longtime expert on the UN climate process, compared the US to the cartoon character Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, always taking away the football from Charlie Brown at the very last moment. The rest of the world is likely to weary of the US constantly taking away the ball when it comes time to negotiate tough issues like trade and terror, which Trump has sought to champion.

End of Global Warming Debate: By the most qualified real climatologists

1. Scientific consensus is not proof of global warming, just publication and funding bias.

2. It is fundamentally mathematically impossible for climate models to predict climate.

Chaos Theory’s Butterfly Effect is usually described as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Japan resulting in a hurricane in the Atlantic. This is not artistic hyperbole, this is mathematical reality.

Climate is a quintessential example of this phenomenon.

Unless climate models do the absolutely impossible and account for even a butterfly’s wings flapping, particularly when they are initialized, and then calculate with infinite precision, they can not predict climate.

.. 3. Climate proxies are far too inaccurate, unreliable, and sparse to prove anything about past global climate, e.g. that it was colder.