Students across the country have launched a new effort to protest the influence of the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers on their campuses. As part of their effort to influence the American political system, Charles and David Koch have flooded hundreds of universities with contributions intended to promote their economic agenda. Although the contributions go back for decades, the spigot has been opened wide in recent years; from only seven universities recorded to have Koch contributions in 2005 to over 250 by 2012. According to UnKochMyCampus, the new grassroots effort to oppose Koch influence on higher education, 390 different colleges and universities have received Koch money.
The UnKochMyCampus effort was launched by three young activists: Kalin Jordan, a graduate of Suffolk University, where the Koch-funded Beacon Hill Institute is housed; Lindsey Berger, a Missouri State University graduate and campus organizer, and Connor Gibson, a University of Vermont graduate and Greenpeace researcher. Jordan founded the Koch Free Zone campaign at Suffolk in 2013 to end the Koch influence over the Beacon Hill Institute, one of a nationwide network of right-wing think tanks. The UnKochMyCampus site has a organizer’s guide to help students launch campaigns on their own campuses, including background research on the Koch brothers.
There are now at least four campuses that have active student efforts opposing Koch influence:
- Suffolk University in Boston, Mass.: KochFreeZone.org
- Florida State University, Tallahassee, Fla.: Progress Coalition
- University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kans.: Students for a Sustainable Future
- George Mason Unversity, Fairfax, Va.: Transparent GMU
All four universities have clear evidence of Koch influence over the educational system; George Mason houses the Mercatus Center, the Koch-powered deregulatory think tank. Florida State is the center of a scandal over a $1.5 million pledge from the Kochs that gave them control over hiring and curricula at the school. In 2001, the Kochs founded the University of Kansas Center for Applied Economics, modeled after the Mercatus Center, with a Koch lobbyist as its head.
In September 2014, Gibson and Berger published an extended Greenpeace report entitled “Koch on Campus: Polluting Higher Education,” that detailed the $49.5 million known to have flown from Koch foundations to over 250 campuses, based on IRS filings.
This money is in addition to the $185 million David Koch has given directly to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and $20 million to Johns Hopkins University, primarily for cancer research. Although those seem like substantial sums, those amounts are dwarfed by the billions of dollars in cuts in public funding for cancer research that have come as a result of Koch political advocacy.
In addition to the website, UnKoch My Campus has a Twitter account.
The U.S. Senate race in Kentucky, between Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Kentucky’s Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, has been marked by competing acts of fealty to the coal industry.
“Mr. President, Kentucky has lost one-third of our coal jobs in just the last three years,” one Grimes radio spot runs. “Now, your EPA is targeting Kentucky coal with pie in the sky regulations that are impossible to achieve.”
“We know what Obama needs to wage his war on coal,” McConnell retorted. “Obama needs Grimes.”
However, there is now a point of contention between the two candidates: Grimes, unlike McConnell, recognizes, at least in rhetoric, the reality of climate change.
In an interview on September 25 with Matt Jones on Louisville talk radio station WKJK, Grimes said she believes in the science of climate change.
JONES: “Do you believe in climate change?”
GRIMES: “I do. You know, Mitch McConnell and I differ on this. He still wants to argue with the scientists. I do believe that it exists, but I think that we have to address, especially leaving this world in a better place, in a balanced manner. We’ve got to keep the jobs that we have here in the state, especially our good coal jobs.”
This question came in the context of a longer discussion about Grimes’ disagreement with President Barack Obama on the coal industry. “I think we have to rein in the EPA,” Grimes said. “I think the regulations as they exist now are overburdensome.”
The McConnell campaign extracted a clip of the conversation, ending Grimes’ remarks at “it exists.”
According to the New York Post, the Public Broadcasting Service has suspended advertising in Harper’s Magazine after the journal published a story critical of David Koch’s relationship to public television. The billionaire carbon financier and Tea Party funder is on the board of Boston’s PBS flagship station WGBH, and until a recent New Yorker exposé served on the board of New York City’s WNET. Koch is also on the board overseeing WGBH’s science program Nova.
The Harper’s story, by journalist Eugenia Williamson, detailed the campaign by climate advocacy group Forecast the Facts to get WGBH to drop Koch (including a profile of the protest and petition delivery I led at WGBH’s board meeting last November). Williamson was critical of Koch’s potential influence over the public television station.The Post reports:
In the past, Harper’s teamed up with PBS to sponsor a kickoff event timed to Ken Burns award-winning World War II documentary.
While there was an ad for the latest Burns saga “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History,” PBS has pulled ads from the November and December issues. The ads were supposed to hype the box set CD editions of the documentary.
“I have to say I am shocked,” John “Rick” MacArthur, the president and publisher of Harper’s, told Post media reporter Keith J. Kelly. “You’d think PBS would be above that kind of tit-for-tat mentality.”
“PBS has lost its moral compass,” wrote Forecast the Facts campaign manager Emily Southard in a press release. “Instead of punishing its critics, PBS should pull itself away from the influence of David Koch and others who work to misinform Americans about climate change.”
The political organizations founded and run by the Koch brothers — particularly the Cato Institute and Americans for Prosperity — are committed against public funding for the arts, including public television. Their advocacy over the past thirty years has successfully decimated federal and local support for public television. Through these organizations, Koch supports the miseducation of the public, including children, on the existential threat of climate change. Koch Industries is one of the nation’s largest and most toxic polluters, and Koch works to prevent government efforts to protect the public from that pollution.
WGBH is providing David Koch not only a tax write-off but also social legitimacy, despite his being one of their greatest enemies.
Activists with Forecast the Facts and the Better Future Project will be protesting again in Boston and delivering a 400,000-signature petition at WGBH’s upcoming board meeting on Wednesday, October 1.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) at the People's Climate March: "We Have to Stop CO2 From Hurtling Into the Atmosphere"
Taking part in the largest climate march in history, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that Wall Street bankers will only act on climate change if people organize to make them do so. He also expressed succinctly the climate-policy challenge: “We have to stop CO2 from hurtling into the atmosphere.”
During the PeoplesClimate.tv livestream of the People’s Climate March, Hill Heat’s Brad Johnson caught up with Schumer as he chatted with billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer. The senator said that action from pension funds is needed to get Wall Street to stop financing fossil fuels, because the bankers will not lead.
“The leadership has to come from the people,” Schumer told me. “Pension funds could do a lot.”
Wall Street plays a tremendous role making New York one of the richest cities in the world. It drives the global economy, which is powered on fossil fuels. Even as Mayor DeBlasio is working to decarbonize the city’s energy supply, carbon financier David Koch is the richest man in the city. Meaningful global action on climate change, the type Schumer called for, will require Wall Street to fully divest from financing the fossil-fuel industry. Although pension-fund and other private action is helpful, what is truly needed is legislative action from Congress.
PeoplesClimate.tv is a project of Act.tv, the web video activism site.
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) stumblingly rejected the science of climate change in a debate for his re-election to Colorado’s sixth district on Tuesday. His challenger, Democrat Andrew Romanoff, expressed his confidence that climate change is caused by humans and can be reversed. Visibly uncomfortable, Coffman paused and mumbled his answers to the two questions from the moderators, Denver Post reporters Jon Murray and Chuck Plunkett. Watch the video, courtesy of ColoradoPols.com:
Rep. Coffman does not believe that humans are contributing significantly to climate change, which is already damaging Colorado with increased drought, wildfire, and floods.
In reality, the carbon-dioxide greenhouse effect is a physical fact known since the 1800s. The only scientifically plausible systematic explanation for the rapid and continuing warming of the planetary climate since 1950 is industrial greenhouse pollution. The world’s national scientific societies and the world’s practicing climate scientists are in overwhelming agreement about this fact.
“I think the First Amendment is a little more important than traffic.”
With those words, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio vigorously defended #FloodWallStreet, the Occupy-style climate civil disobedience action that took place Monday on Wall Street.
De Blasio’s remarks came in a press conference after he addressed the United Nations climate summit on Tuesday.
Asked if he thought “the protests are at all going too far,” de Blasio expressed his disagreement.
No, I can’t say they’re going too far. I think, first of all, the issue is one of tremendous urgency and whenever you have an urgent issue, people utilize civil disobedience. It’s not a new phenomenon. I thought, clearly, we had a situation where it was civil disobedience as it’s supposed to be, meaning it was peaceful, the police handled it beautifully, and those who really wanted to get arrested got arrested. That was their choice. They were given every opportunity to not get arrested, but they chose to. But I think these are the kind of issues that bring out incredibly strong passions and they should – this is about the survival of the earth.
“The right of people to make their voices heard, regardless of their views, is a fundamental American value,” de Blasio continued. “And we’ll protect that value. I think there’s going to be times, in this city – because we’re an international capital – where we’ll see protests that create inconvenience, but again, it’s part of our responsibility as the hosts of the United Nations to handle that appropriately.”
De Blasio was similarly forceful in his support for the People’s Climate March, in which he participated. “This is not the first time you’ve seen a scenario where the people are leading and the leaders have to get out of the way and follow the will of the people,” he said. “I think there’s been a bad stereotype in public debate that the policy-makers have to somehow pull the people along and the people were unwilling to make change. I actually think the people – years ago – recognized what a profound threat the earth faces and are very comfortable that we have to make change and are ready to do what it takes.”
Facebook green czar Bill Weihl discusses his company at a Greenpeace event
We re-evaluate our memberships on an annual basis and are in that process now. While we have tried to work within ALEC to bring that organization closer to our view on some key issues, it seems unlikely that we will make sufficient progress so we are not likely to renew our membership in 2015.
The representative seems to have been referring a key incident at ALEC’s annual meeting in Dallas this July. Michael Terrell, Google’s senior policy counsel for energy and sustainability, made a presentation on behalf of then-members Google, Yahoo, Facebook, and eBay promoting clean energy development. The tech companies are major electricity consumers, because of their need for massive data farms, and have worked to power their installations with renewable energy. Chris Taylor, a state lawmaker attending the presentation, wrote that the lobbyists for Peabody Energy, Edison Electric, and the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity in attendance were unswayed.
Google and Facebook are both participants in Greenpeace’s Cool IT effort to decarbonize the data farms. When I pressed the companies’ green energy executives at a Greenpeace event in November of last year as the manager of the #DontFundEvil campaign why they had ALEC membership, they were unable to provide an answer.
The experience of the tech giants is a replay of what happened when renewable trade associations were part of the fossil-driven lobby group in 2012. The American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association were outvoted in a series of decisions that led to ALEC pushing anti-renewable legislation. Chastened by the result, AWEA and SEIA left ALEC when their one-year membership came up for renewal.
It seems that none of these companies bothered to look who is on ALEC’s corporate board — lobbyists for fossil-fuel companies Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, Peabody Energy, and Future Energy Holdings. One would think they could have Googled it.
Kochs Respond: President Obama's 'Radical International Energy Agenda' Is 'Harmful,' 'Destructive', 'Needless'
David Koch at the Met’s Koch Plaza
The worst part is, President Obama knows that his energy agenda is harmful and will not help our country get back on the path to prosperity. In fact the President’s proposal is so unpopular and destructive, even Harry Reid’s Senate wouldn’t dream of passing it, which is why he has bypassed Congress and taken his short-sighted, destructive energy policies to an international body.
In an accompanying video entitled “Obama’s UN Speech Promises to Kill Jobs and Raise Energy Prices,” Phillips rejects the science of man-made climate change, and falsely claims that reductions in carbon pollution would be economically harmful and environmentally meaningless.
“If all the numbers, facts, and figures that the left claims are true, their own numbers say this will make really no difference in saving the planet. We think they’re wrong on the merits, but even if you accept their numbers, this will be nothing but a lose-lose situation for the American public.”
The email links to a letter campaign in opposition to “the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed regulations calling for a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030,” calling on U.S. Senators to “stop the EPA from forcing more burdensome regulations on our families.”
Text of supporter email:
Addressing the United Nations climate summit in New York City, President Barack Obama called climate change a ‘global threat’ that has ‘moved firmly into the present.’ Hobbled by a deadlocked Congress, the president offered no new major policy initiatives.
“Our citizens keep marching,” Obama said in reference to Sunday’s historic People’s Climate March. “We cannot pretend we do not hear them. We have to answer the call.”
He also commented on the rise of extreme weather disasters around the globe, including flooding in Miami, drought and floods in the heartland, the West’s year-long wildfire season, and the catastrophic damage of Superstorm Sandy. “No nation is immune,” he said, recognizing that “some nations already live with far worse.”
Obama did not directly mention fossil fuel production or his “all-of-the-above” approach to energy policy, unlike recent speeches on climate change to domestic audiences, in which he has celebrated the rise in domestic production of oil and natural gas. In fact, the speech did not include the words “coal,” “oil,” “fossil fuels,” or “natural gas.”
Hobbled by a legislative branch stymied by Republican opposition to climate action or international climate funding, Obama made no new grand pledges on behalf of the United States, instead highlighting the coming EPA regulation of carbon pollution from power plants, voluntary actions by corporate America, and a reduction in HFCs under the Montreal Protocol.
“I believe, in the words of Dr. King, that there is such a thing as being too late,” Obama said near the end of his speech. As the United States is not currently leading the way in rapidly decarbonizing the global economy, that statement may serve to summarize his presidential legacy.
On Monday, Google chairman Eric Schmidt announced that his company has ended its support for the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) because of its persistent climate-change denial. The decision came after a Schmidt made the announcement in response to a listener question on the Diane Rehm radio show.
“I think the consensus within the company was that that was some sort of mistake,” Schmidt said of Google’s support for ALEC, “and so we’re trying to not do that in the future.”
Pressed to explain further, Schmidt harshly described the conservative lobbying organization’s opposition to climate action as “really hurting our children” and “making the world a much worse place” by “literally lying.”
Well, the company has a very strong view that we should make decisions in politics based on facts — what a shock. And the facts of climate change are not in question anymore. Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place. And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.Listen here:
ALEC president Lisa B. Nelson issued an angry press release following Schmidt’s announcement, blaming the decision on “public pressure from left-leaning individuals and organizations who intentionally confuse free market policy perspectives for climate change denial.”
Disclosure: As the campaign manager for Forecast the Facts, I founded the “Don’t Fund Evil” campaign in June 2013 challenging Google to stop funding climate-denial groups such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and ALEC, and climate-denial politicians such as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
For over a year, Google representatives stonewalled over the company’s conflicting stand on climate change and its political support for climate deniers. Google’s clean-energy lead Gray Demasi had no answer for why his company supported ALEC, when I asked him at a November 2013 Greenpeace green tech event.Now, Schmidt’s words echo an opinion piece I wrote in December 2013 on the eve of ALEC’s annual DC conference, which featured a keynote by Cruz:
Unlike ALEC and Cruz, Google employees support scientific facts. Unlike ALEC and Cruz, Google employees are investing in a future powered by 100 percent renewable energy.
The “Don’t Fund Evil” call to drop ALEC was joined in December 2013 by the Sierra Club, SumOfUs, RootsAction and the Center for Media and Democracy. The coalition of climate, corporate, and good-government organizations mobilized over 230,000 citizens to petition the search giant. In addition, Google was the target of a shareholder resolution brought by Walden Asset Management challenging Google’s support for the anti-climate group.
Added pressure came in August when Google competitor Microsoft left ALEC. At the beginning of September, over 50 organizations, including several labor unions, environmental organizations, racial justice groups, and other progressive organizations signed on to a public letter asking Google to follow suit.
Google’s decision to drop ALEC is an important first step in restoring the integrity of its ‘don’t be evil’ motto. Unfortunately, the company is still financing extremist groups like the ‘CO2 Is Life’ Competitive Enterprise Institute and dozens of denier politicians. If Eric Schmidt wants to be taken seriously, he has to do a lot more cleaning up. It’s time for Susan Molinari, who pushed Google into this situation, to go.
Forecast the Facts and SumOfUs have since expanded the Don’t Fund Evil campaign into the Disrupt Denial campaign, which calls on all corporations to stop financing climate-denial politicians.
Transcript of the Diane Rehm Show: