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Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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Horsemen of the Apocalypse

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With their industry bereft of its economic rationale, the only way the carbon incumbents can maintain their economic dominance is by deploying their wealth and political power to subdue the market forces, to delay and derail cheap efficient renewables and to impose a continued dependence on expensive and inefficient oil and coal, through massive economic interventions managed by their political toadies. The Koch brothers have become the masterminds of this strategy. They sit at the apex of the richest industry in the history of the planet, and control the largest privately owned oil company on Earth. Their strategic advantage in the battle over the future of our energy system includes their enormous personal wealth and the wealth and power of the companies they control. Their carefully cultivated political connections and, above all, societal inertia, fortified by $23 trillion of carbon infrastructure, that impedes America's transition to a new energy economy. While owned by the industry, that infrastructure, ironically, was primarily paid for by taxpayers. These form the carbon cartel's principal arsenals in the great civil war.

As economic forecasts for the industry have grown increasingly dire over the past decade, the carbon cartel has moved frantically to build more infrastructure including LNG facilities, refineries, coal and oil export terminals and rail terminals, in order to bind up America in 16,000 miles of new pipeline that will further shackle our country, ironbound, to an archaic and destructive fossil fuel economy long after any economic rationale for coal, oil or gas have expired. The infrastructure strategy effectively recruits bankers, pension funds and Wall Street financial houses to the side of antiquated carbon, in this civil war. The only hope for those investors to recoup their investments is if oil flows continuously through those pipelines for the next 30 years.

Dick Russell largely completed this book a month before the 2016 presidential election. Four weeks later, to his great surprise, the Horsemen described in these pages assumed the pinnacle of power. With the central goal of preserving their fossil fuel profits, they guided an inexperienced president on a course that rapidly collapsed the foundations of America's moral authority and idealism, and fundamentally altered the relationship between America and the world—including our reputation as a global force for good. Their reigning foreign policy posture was an indifference to America's traditional concerns with justice, democracy and climate; to our historic skepticism toward tyrants; and to those traditional alliances that have promoted global stability since World War II. Domestically, Trump's advisors turned their attention to dismantling the science safety net and commoditizing and monetizing every aspect of human discourse—adopting policies that will amplify the wealth of billionaires, even as they sicken our citizens and destroy our planet. The Book of Revelation described the Four Horsemen as war, conquest, pestilence and death. Donald Trump's choice, to invite a group of conscienceless oil men to govern the country, has brought such chilling metaphors to the foreground, as more than an obscure biblical reference.

In the summer of 2016, it seemed that a convoy of clown cars was transporting Donald Trump, in what would become his unlikely blitzkrieg toward the GOP nomination. I was oddly relieved. Like other Americans, I believed that Donald Trump would be an easy candidate to stop in the November General Election. More importantly, Trump didn't seem as purposefully malicious toward the future of the planet as were his principal rivals, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker and Rick Perry. I had known Donald Trump for many years. I had successfully sued to block him from building two golf courses in the New York upstate reservoir watershed. I knew he was no friend of the environment, but neither did he appear to be ideologically hidebound to a pro-pollution world view. Indeed, he seemed less shackled to dogma, or obligated by encumbrances than any other Republican presidential candidate. He had no obvious fealty to the oil industry. Alone among the 17 rivals for the Republican nomination, Trump had never taken money from the oil and gas tycoons. Most comforting, there seemed to be a deep gulf of enmity between Trump and the billionaire Koch brothers, the undisputed leaders of Russell's Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Taken together, Charles and David Koch, with $48 billion apiece, are the richest men on Earth, according to Forbes' latest list. (Bill Gates has $86 billion). The siblings' father, Fred Koch, had made a fortune building refineries for Hitler and Stalin and used his money to co-found the racist John Birch Society. The boys, Charles and David, have deployed their oil-and-gas fortune to bankroll an array of think-tanks and politicians opposing clean energy and remedial action on climate change.

Teddy Roosevelt observed that American democracy could never be destroyed by a foreign foe. But he warned that our defining democratic institutions would be subverted from within by "malefactors of great wealth."

Because of their singular focus and limitless wealth, I considered David and Charles Koch, rather than this orange haired GOP candidate, the greatest threat to American democracy. Politics is driven by both money and political intensity. While they have plenty of money, the Koch brothers' policy agenda—tax breaks for the rich, unregulated pollution and permanent national reliance on dirty fuels—does not make an attractive vessel for populism. In order to recruit ground troops, the Koch brothers have made themselves wizards in the alchemy of demagoguery, wielding evangelical religion, dog-whistle race baiting, and patriotism as flypaper to their cause. They have built extensive organizations to engineer a hostile takeover of our democracy by polluting corporations.

In her book Dark Money, Jayne Mayer shows how the two oil men conceived and funded the Tea Party movement, which hijacked the Republican party and drove it to the far right. In order to consolidate power over the past two decades, they worked out and financed a methodical project to take over state legislatures. Their lucre and organizing machine have helped to give right wing Republicans control of 67 of 98 legislatures—the bodies that draw up election districts. With those levers in hand, their lackeys in the various state capitals use gerrymandering, voter fraud, voter ID laws and mass voter purges, to engineer permanent Republican majorities on the state and federal level. Their Tea Party movement took over the U.S. Congress—and blocked Obama's environmental agenda with the resilience fortified by their control of the statehouses. But the biggest electoral prize the Koch brothers had yet to achieve was to have their candidate take the White House, with the power to populate and dismantle the agencies, primarily Energy, Interior and EPA, that regulate—and bedevil—the Kochs' industries. They had many willing errand boys among the Republican presidential field, and, with one notable orange-topped exception, just about all of the GOP candidates had made the pilgrimage to Wichita to genuflect and kiss the rings at Koch headquarters.

The Koch brothers claim, in their rhetoric, to embrace a theology of free market capitalism. But if you look at their feet instead of listening to the seductive noises that issue from their mouths, or the glossy pronouncements of their phony think tanks, the truth is clear; these men despise free markets. Instead, they advocate for a system of cushy socialism for the rich, and a savage, merciless, dystopian capitalism for the poor. The real purpose of the 'think tanks' they created and fund—such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute—is not to promote free market capitalism, but to gin up the philosophical underpinnings for a scheme of unrestrained corporate profit taking, and a destructive national addiction to carbon based fuels upon which their fortunes rely.

As discussed earlier, new renewable technologies are now so efficient that wind and solar generation and electric cars are beating their carbon-based competitors, even in the rigged markets and on slanted playing fields. Carbon's economic model is looking at the same bleak future the horse and buggy industry faced in 1903. So what do you do when your profits rely on a fading economic model? If you are the unscrupulous Koch brothers, you deploy your money as campaign contributions – a legalized form of bribery—to get your hooks into a public official who will allow you to privatize the commons, dismantle the market-place and rig the rules to give you monopoly control. Renewable energy sources and free markets pose an existential threat to the Koch's business model. So the Kochs have deployed their front group, ALEC—the American Legislative Exchange Council—in every state, working with local legislators to create public subsidies for oil infrastructure, and to weaken support for wind and solar. The Koch brothers' purpose in purchasing our political system is to engineer monumental subsidies and market failure, which are their formulae for profit.

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