BBC Dialogues: Koch Brothers vs Tom Steyer on Climate Change

BBC Dialogues: Koch Brothers vs Tom Steyer on Climate Change

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

News that the Koch Brothers are planning to raise almost a billion dollars in the run up to the 2016 Presidential election is sending shock waves through U.S. politics. The Kochs are closely linked to the Heartland Institute, an organization described by the BBC’s former environment correspondent, Richard Black as follows:

To itself, it’s a think-tank; to critics, it’s a lobby group, paid to oppose regulation on a number of fronts – including climate change. It’s probably most notable (or notorious) for holding an annual “climate-sceptic” conference in Washington DC.

On the other side of the climate arena is Tom Steyer, a self-made billionaire who launched Next Gen Climate, a Super PAC with the following mission:

“Working at every level, we are committed to supporting candidates, elected officials and policymakers across the country that will take bold action on climate change—and to exposing those who deny reality and cater to special interests.”

Steyer put $74 Million into the 2014 elections,  targeting Republican candidates who reject climate science.

 

BBC Business Matters features Alison van Diggelen, Feb 2014Last week, I joined Roger Hearing, host of BBC’s Business Matters to discuss the influence of big money in US politics and the Koch brothers in particular. Hearing talked to Andy Kroll a senior writer at Mother Jones about his insightful article, “The Koch Brothers Raised $249 Million at Their Latest Donor Summit” (@26:30 on the BBC podcast).

Here is a transcript of our conversation. It has been edited for clarity (starts @35:00 above, 32:00 on the BBC podcast)

Roger Hearing: What do you think is the effect of money in this scale – we’re talking a pretty massive scale – on US politics?

Alison van Diggelen: It is massive and it seems to be growing. It’s a little bit scary. I can assure you, because I cover climate change, I’m very aware of the Koch brothers. They’re secretly funding climate denial, basically a climate denial machine

Hearing: Can you explain that?

van Diggelen: They have been funding various foundations with wonderful names that you’d think you would get behind, like the Heartland Institute. But what the Heartland Institute spends most of its time doing is pulling apart real scientists’ studies and reports; and trying to undermine them….scientist by scientist, report by report, trying to undermine the credibility of the scientist or the report.

Hearing: I guess they say they’re putting their money behind different views, airing views that are perhaps not mainstream?

van Diggelen: That’s the interesting thing. There’s a huge difference between what people think about climate change in America versus in Europe and the rest of the world. I think, for the rest of the world, it’s a done deal, it’s an accepted truth. But here an America, and I think a lot of people would agree with me on this, the Koch brothers’ machine of climate denial has helped muddy the waters so a lot of people aren’t quite sure, especially if you look at Republican candidates, a lot of them talk about “the science isn’t a hard fact.” They’re wary of actually admitting that there is such a thing as global warming going on.

Hearing: Alison, are there any moves to…we heard that  there was a case some time back going to the Supreme Court…where there was an attempt to try to clear the position as far as money and politics were concerned. Is there any renewed attempt, ahead of the 2016 election to try to restrict in any way how much money can be put into the campaign?

van Diggelen: Not that I’m aware of. There seems to be the dominance of the 1% here in the US. They’re influencing what is happening in the US in four ways: through policy, courtroom decisions, TV ads, and the education system. They seem to be unfettered in their ability. Perhaps the court case you were referring to is Citizens United? But that effectively gave more power to these political action committees and allowed them to create dark money groups where they’re not actually declaring where the money is coming from. It’s all rather doom and gloom.

Hearing: We talked there about the Koch brothers, and they tend to be backing Republican candidates…but where you are, around Silicon Valley there are a large number of very wealthy individuals who have quite a liberal outlook and could deploy their money there. Similarly people in Hollywood. Does that happen too?

van Diggelen: It is happening. The person of note is Tom Steyer. He’s a San Francisco, former money man, who’s now putting a lot of his millions into an organization called NextGen Climate. They are getting involved in politics and they are targeting mostly Republican candidates, those that are rejecting climate science. I’m all in favor of that: exposing these people with their crazy science ideas

Hearing: But that’s big money too…

van Diggelen: I agree. That is big money but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to what the Koch brothers are able to leverage from the other side. Tom Steyer has the science behind him and to be honest, it’s shameful that big money from the Koch brothers is being used to fund this anti-science and impact not just America, but the rest of the planet

Hearing: Although the people you’re talking about are trying to put big money in the other side.

van Diggelen: Yes, but I think they’re just trying to make things clear. Science is science. They’re trying to expose the truth of the science and the lies of the anti-science.

Hearing: We’ll leave the argument there. It’s an interesting one…

More from the BBC’s Richard Black story:

“The Heartland Institute is largely behind the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC), a project that purports to mirror the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) by producing reports downplaying the extent of global warming as well as the involvement of greenhouse gas emissions in producing it.”

Read more from Coral Davenport in the New York Times re a January 2015 US Poll on Climate Change

“Although the poll found that climate change was not a top issue in determining a person’s vote, a candidate’s position on climate change influences how a person will vote. For example, 67 percent of respondents, including 48 percent of Republicans and 72 percent of independents, said they were less likely to vote for a candidate who said that human-caused climate change is a hoax.”

Correction: I mistakenly called the Heartland Institute, the Heritage Foundation during the interview. The transcript has been adjusted to correct this error. The Koch brothers are known to be contributors to the Heartland Institute, via their family foundations, as verified by the Center for Media and Democracy.

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

Lesley Stahl: Climate Change Needs Alarm Bell

One day after the sweeping new rules to limit power plant emissions were announced by the EPA’s Gina McCarthy, China just announced a major carbon emissions cap. Yet the climate change deniers and the the coal lobby are campaigning to preserve carbon polluting energy. It’s valuable to reflect on why these new rules are critical to the future of mankind.

As McCarthy described it, “We have a moral obligation to the next generation to ensure the world we leave is healthy & vibrant.”

Others might be more direct: It’s climate change, stupid.

I recently interviewed CBS 60 Minutes Correspondent Lesley Stahl and she shared her emotional reaction to climate change. She witnessed the rapid ice melt in Greenland and reported about it for Years of Living Dangerously, the documentary series on climate change.

“I thought global warming needed an alarm bell rung before I went, but it was extremely emotional for me to see first hand the ice melt,” says Stahl. “…knowing what it’s going to do for the rest of the planet.”

She’s talking primarily about global sea level rises, but there’s also the devastation that will occur due to rising temperatures, widespread drought and the increasing frequency of deadly storms like Hurricane Sandy.

Find out more about Stahl’s report for the Years of Living Dangerously series here. It’s produced by David Cameron and features reports from Tom Friedman, Matt Damon, Jessica Alba and Don Cheadle.

The interview was recorded at the Foothill College Celebrity Forum Series in Silicon Valley on May 15, 2014.

Check out my interview with Lesley Stahl on Barbara Walters’ legacy.

Gavin Newsom Argues for National Carbon Tax

Gavin Newsom Argues for National Carbon Tax

Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California and new father, explains why the U.S. requires a national carbon tax. Newsom was attending the NY Times Global Forum in San Francisco, June 20, and shared his views on climate change, oil companies and his dream of being Governor of California one day.

Newsom, whose wife Jennifer Siebel, just gave birth to their third child on July 3rd, frames the argument in a way that even a five-year old can understand.
“You wanna move the mouse, you gotta move the cheese,” says Newsom, who describes other measures to combat climate change, such as composting, green building, plastic bag bans etc., as “playing a bit in the margins.”
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Newsom argues that putting a price on carbon is the real macro solution to climate change.  Nevertheless, he praises the entrepreneurial spirit of many city mayors who have proved that you can grow your economy and reduce your Green House Gas emissions. Local case in point: San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed’s Green Vision

Here are some highlights of our conversation

On Oil Companies and Interesting Bed Fellows

Newsom: “Some of the big oil companies are talking about a carbon tax as they’re more and more concerned about cap and trade…especially in California with AB 32. Now they’re saying, ‘now wait…a carbon tax may make sense.’ Interesting bedfellows now. I think there’s a different dialogue that could potentially be held. I’m not suggesting for a moment that Chevron is saying ‘time for a carbon tax’ but in the private conversations that I’ve had with a lot of these big energy producers, you don’t have that negative reaction that we had four or five years ago…”

Fresh Dialogues: What’s in it for the oil companies?

Newsom: “I don’t want to put words in their mouth. The bottom line is: what most of these big producers want is consistency across jurisdictions.”

On Leaning In to Green Growth

“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning into a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world as a pace setter in terms of efforts to reduce Green House Gas emissions and radically reorient our economy in a 21st Century manner that could produce jobs and address stresses on the economy: inequality, lack of middle income…and create sustainable opportunities.”

On Being Governor of California

“No one knows what the future holds politically speaking. I have got an entrepreneurial energy. I like doing, not just being. I’ve long talked about the position as governor, as a platform to really engage in bottom up thinking and go local in terms of economic development strategies, workforce development strategies and find substantive solutions to deal with the issue of climate change. So inverting the pyramid, but being there in Sacramento to begin to scale those best practices is something I’ve long wanted to do.”
See more videos and stories on energy policy  and join the conversation at our Fresh Dialogues Facebook Page

This exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview was recorded at the New York Times Global Forum in San Francisco, June 20, 2013. The forum organizers provided the painful background music, which sadly couldn’t be removed from the audio track.

Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

Steven Chu: On Obama, Carbon Tax and Cooking Tips

In this exclusive Fresh Dialogues interview, former Energy Secretary Steven Chu shares his reaction to Obama’s major speech on climate change; explains how a carbon tax will drive U.S. competitiveness; has a message for climate deniers; and even shares tips for being more energy efficient in the kitchen. When did you last get cooking tips from a Nobel Prize winning physicist who’s been described as the One Hundred Billion Dollar Man? It’s time to listen up folks! It’s time to listen up folks!

Here are some highlights of our conversation:

On Obama’s Climate Speech (which focused more on climate change, and less on green jobs)

“This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!”

When asked if he wrote or was involved in writing the speech, Chu joked that he has ‘been involved’ for 4 1/4 years and recently regaled several heads of state (including President Obama) with his powerpoint pitch for raising appliance efficiency standards, reminding them that “there’s money to be made…and saved.”

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On Carbon Tax

“A carbon tax must be non-regressive and revenue neutral. It will drive efficiency…competitiveness. Educating the public (on climate change, energy policy) is very important, but it’s about economic opportunities and (creating) a growth market. Change will be partly market driven.”

On Climate Change Deniers

“I’d put them in the same category as people who said, in the 60’s and 70’s, that you haven’t proved to me that smoking causes cancer.”

On Chu’s vision for distributed energy

“Distribution companies partnering with the private sector have the opportunity to access fairly inexpensive capital and be part owners in distributed power and energy storage in benign environments, like inside a home or building. When you do that, the price of electricity will go down (3 to 4 times). All of a sudden utility companies will be in a growth business…Utilities should wake up and see there’s money to be made!”

Chu cited the advantages of black-out reduction thanks to demand control; and underlined the multitude of opportunities that  low-priced software and sensing equipment offer.

Steven Chu shares cooking tips with Alison van Diggelen of Fresh DialoguesOn Cooking with Chu

Tip #1: “If you’re boiling a pot of water: if you put a lid on it, it comes to boil much more quickly.”

Tip #2: “Pick the right sized pot, don’t pick a pot five times bigger, twice as big.”

– Steven Chu, Nobel Prize winner in physics 1997, Former Energy Secretary, 2009-13.

No word yet on whether Steven Chu is planning to give up his new job at Stanford University for a prime time cooking show…Though we hear there is an opening.

 

 

The interview was recorded at the Silicon Valley Energy Summit, presented by the Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University on June 28, 2013. Photos by Lina Broydo.

See Keynotes by Steven Chu and Jeff Bingaman at Vimeo and more interviews about energy policy at Fresh Dialogues YouTube Channel.

Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

Women Power: Sandberg Inspires Four Thousand

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

A frisson of excitement swept through the crowd as ABC’s Cheryl Jennings introduced Silicon Valley’s most famous woman. It was definitely a “rock star” moment for many of the four thousand women attending San Francisco’s Moscone Center May 23.
Jaws dropped, eyes shone, and the applause was deafening. Cheers and whoops rang out as Sheryl Sandberg strolled across the stage and did her thing. With a remarkable nonchalance, she managed to engage every person in the room by asking them to do something for her. “Put your hands up if you’ve ever said, I’m going to be CEO of this company.”
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Her experiment was powerful. I think I saw about five hands go up in the packed hall of the Professional Business Women in California Conference.
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“We’re here to change that today,” she said.
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In her best selling book “Lean In” and in dozens of interviews, Sandberg has been coy about using certain terms. She calls her book “a sort of feminist manifesto” and in her interview with Google’s Eric Schmidt, she talked about “unleashing a movement,” but on Thursday, she was feeling the women power. Referring to the handful of men present, she said, “You’ll get a pass when the inevitable revolution happens.”
Here are highlights of her speech. Check back soon for video highlights with Sheryl Sandberg and Congresswoman Jackie Speier.
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The Problem
“The rate of change for women in getting top jobs in corporate America has stalled out in the last 10 years. It’s been flat at 14%. Women are held back by sexism, discrimination, bad corporate policy, bad public policy and a leadership ambition gap.” Sheryl Sandberg
Sheryl Sandberg in San Francisco, Photo by Fresh Dialogues
The Vision
“I believe that a world where more women were running organizations, where women ran half of companies and countries and men ran half of our homes, would be a better world.” Sheryl Sandberg
On Warren Buffett
“Warren Buffett said he was successful because he was only competing with half the population.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Economic Argument
“The laws of economics tell us that if more people compete, if you are sourcing talent from the full population you will get better outcomes.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Growth Opportunity
“In every industry, sector, government, we’re picking from roughly half the pople. If we source from the whole population our performance as companies, as countries will improve. This is not just about equality…this is about creating growth and opportunity.” Sheryl Sandberg
The Solution
“In order to change…it’s going to change person by person, woman by woman.”
Find out more about the Lean In movement and Lean In circles for inspiring women.
Jennifer Granholm: Amazing Race for Clean Energy

Jennifer Granholm: Amazing Race for Clean Energy

By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues

Let’s face it, President Obama is struggling to get anything through Congress right now, never mind a national energy policy, but here’s a big idea from Berkeley’s Jennifer Granholm to create more clean energy and clean jobs… from the bottom up.

You may remember Jennifer Granholm as the Governor of Michigan (2003-2011), the TV host of “The War Room” or the passionate speechmaker at the DNC 2012; but perhaps her most lasting contribution to the world will be this big idea: a Clean Energy Race to the Top.

Leveraging her experience in Michigan, where she attempted to transform the state’s “rustbelt” image to “greenbelt” by investing heavily in clean energy and green jobs, she’s seen the strategy’s economic impact and is eager to keep the momentum going. This time, on a national basis.
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Modeled after the Education Race to the Top (RTT), her clean energy idea is to offer a pot of money to incentivize all 50 states to compete and raise their clean energy standards to 80% by 2030. Just think: The Amazing Race for Clean Energy.

Her budget? A cool $4.5 Billion. By her calculations, that’s less than one tenth of 1% of Federal funding (and close to the RTT budget for education), nevertheless in today’s economy, funding prospects look grim.

Granholm’s Clean Energy Race to the Top sounds like a smart idea, but in these times of brutal belt tightening and sequestration, securing that funding looks like mission impossible.  It will be fascinating to watch the debate unfold here and at her TED talk; and see if she gets any traction for it during this congress.

It might not be perfect time for a Clean Energy Race to the Top, but don’t expect the idea to wither and die. Granholm may be keeping a relatively low profile as a law professor at UC Berkeley these days, but if there’s another Clinton (or Obama) in the White House in 2016 or beyond (I’m talking Hillary or Michelle), we may see Granholm taking a cabinet role. She’s earning her stripes for a position as Energy Secretary, and that could one day make her big idea a reality.

This Fresh Dialogues interview took place at the Claremont Hotel, Berkeley on February 21, 2013

See more on Clean Energy policy here