Koch Brothers Continue to Fund Climate Change Denial Machine, Spend $21M to Defend Exxon
The Kochs have spent more than $88 million in traceable funding to groups attacking climate change science, policy and regulation. Of that total, $21 million went to groups that recently bought a full page New York Times advertisement defending ExxonMobil from government investigations into its systematic misrepresentation of climate science.
If you're an executive at a big oil company watching as ExxonMobil is finally exposed for studying climate change, covering up the science and spreading misinformation, you're probably worried now that state attorneys general are knocking on Exxon's door.
Charles and David Koch must be worried, anyway. Their foundations gave more than $21 million to the people and groups that signed a recent, full page New York Times advertisement that defends ExxonMobil's longstanding efforts to ruin the public's understanding of climate change science.
Here Are the Numbers:
For comparison, Exxon itself spent half as much on the same people and groups, $10.1 million; money that the front groups spent on tactics like … a $100,000-or-so full page ad buy in the New York Times. (More info at Climate Investigations Center from my former colleague, Kert Davies).
The ringleader group behind the letter, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), is of particular interest. Exxon dumped CEI for its unsupportable climate stance back in 2006, a crushing blow for the aggressive beltway front group that continued to humiliate CEI staff for years.
But it appears that CEI is loyal to the cause of climate denial, despite being abandoned by Exxon a decade ago. Other financiers, like the Koch family and several coal and oil companies may explain why the denial campaign was sustained.
Traceable funds only represent a portion of the Koch family's contributions to CEI. At CEI's annual fundraising events, Koch Industries' lobbying subsidiary has been listed as a sponsor. Full-disclosure tax filings published by PR Watch revealed that Koch Industries directly paid Americans for Prosperity, the Texas Public Policy Foundation and other organizations.
PR Watch discovered another revelation in the full-disclosure tax documents that were leaked. Apparently, David Koch likes to cut CEI $100,000 checks straight from his own coffers. David Koch's money was not sent through his nonprofit foundation, which would have had to report the grants to CEI.
This incomplete patchwork of previously-undisclosed funds from Koch Industries and David Koch adds $3,124,834 to the accounting on groups that co-signed the CEI ad. This raises the question: who else is just cutting a direct check to the climate deniers?
And then there's the “Dark Money ATM" sister groups, DonorsTrust and Donors Capital Fund. The DonorsTrust franchise is run by CEI's former president, Lawson Bader, who helps donors—including Koch—anonymize tens of millions of dollars that go to dozens of front groups each year. DonorsTrust & Capital Fund have funneled millions of dark money dollars to CEI.
But that's still not the end of the financial trail. Other mechanisms used by Charles Koch and his army of donor friends include Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, a dark money umbrella group that has hidden hundreds of millions of dollars in politically-charged cash, shuffled between various trusts, nonprofits and limited liability corporations.
For the deep history, check out Kert Davies' post for the Climate Investigations Center, which spurred my own interest in the sponsors of the recent New York Times ad. Kert details the crucial history of some of the letter's signatories, the role they have served in the climate denial machine over the years and the exact documents that inform his understanding.
I have reproduced Kert's ExxonSecrets map (below) of the players involved, as it helps show how a small group of people funded by a few oil and coal companies can cast a shadow that is deceptively deep. The tobacco industry crafted this deceptive model and fossil fuel companies have innovated it since. It helps that the same people doing tobacco science denial moved on to climate science denial.
One of those tobacco denial alumni, lawyer Steve Milloy, himself an aggressive defender of ExxonMobil, knows that a small group of people can have an outsized impact with enough funding—even in the face of 97-99 percent of the world's climate scientists. Milloy once said, “There's really only about 25 of us doing this. A core group of skeptics. It's a ragtag bunch, very Continental Army."
This indicates that folks like Milloy aren't just deceiving the public, but themselves. If I was taking Charles Koch's money to attack science, I too would probably have to constantly remind myself of my American heroics.
Mr. Koch is as awkward as ever in his half-hearted attempts to understand climate change science (you'd think a MIT alumnus would get it), he has been wary of climate laws and regulations for a long time.
That's probably why he has rained cash on the organizations that stage the fight, groups that have given room for a top U.S. CEO, with a background in chemical engineering, to demonstrate such scientific ignorance. Since 1997, the Kochs have spent more than $88 million in traceable dollars into the network of groups that attack climate science, the scientists doing the research, the potential policy solutions and the champions of those policies.
ExxonSecrets Map of the Players:
Connor Gibson does research for Greenpeace's Investigations team. He focuses on polluting industries, their front groups and PR operatives, particularly focusing on the Koch Brothers.
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As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
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