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.
Last 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.
By Alison van Diggelen, host of Fresh Dialogues
In announcing a massive, unprecedented investment in solar power by a private company, Apple’s Tim Cook said yesterday in San Francisco,
“We know in Apple that climate change is real. The time for talk is passed…The time for action is now.”
Here are three reasons the $850 M solar deal with First Solar makes sense:
1. Money saving: Apple signed a 25 year purchase power agreement which will guarantee the tech company a fixed price for solar power, under the market price for energy in California. Solar prices have declined dramatically in the last 40 years (today’s panels are 100 times cheaper than in 1977) and Apple has timed its agreement to profit from this trend.
“We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed price for the renewable energy, and there’s quite a difference between that price and the price of brown energy,” Cook said.
2. Green Halo Effect: Not only will Apple benefit from a “greener than thou” reputation from their existing fans, but will inevitably attract more environmentally conscious consumers, especially Millennials who care deeply how their tech gadgets and the cloud’s data centers are powered. This will help in its battle with arch rival Samsung which it ridiculed last year in a hard hitting ad campaign.
In addition, in the race to attract and retain the top tech talent in Silicon Valley, Apple’s “green reputation” will be powerful.
The stock market liked this green halo effect and sent shares up almost 2% to history making market cap of over $720B.
“Other Fortune 500 CEOs would be well served to make a study of Tim Cook,” Greenpeace said in a statement.
3. Pioneer for Climate Change: Last year, Tim Cook famously told climate skeptics at an Apple shareholder meeting to “get out of Apple stock” if they don’t like his clean energy strategy. His visible passion on the issue revealed how strongly he feels about climate change and his commitment to reduce Apple’s carbon footprint.
“I want leave the world better than we found it,” said Tim Cook.
Under Cook’s leadership, Apple has forged ahead strongly with plans to get 100% of its energy from renewable sources. A massive data center in North Carolina is powered by huge solar farms and Bloom Energy’s fuel cells. I anticipate that Silicon Valley’s Bloom Energy will also be part of Apple’s new clean power strategy in California (check back soon for updates).
Apple’s trend-setting, clean energy market making reputation is already impacting other tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and Amazon, although Google gets the greenest star for its early action and massive investment in clean energy of over $1.5B.
Read more about Apple’s Green Halo and its battle with Samsung (BBC conversation)
How a clever Greenpeace campaign helped green Apple’s iCloud (KQED report)
More clean energy and cleantech stories
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.
It’s been a stellar year at Fresh Dialogues. Here are our top ten green interviews: from Tesla’s Elon Musk to Google’s Rick Needham. Most are exclusive Fresh Dialogues interviews, but some were special assignments for NPR’s KQED, The Computer History Museum, The Commonwealth Club and The Churchill Club (2013).
1. Elon Musk on burning oil, climate change and electric vehicles
“It’s the world’s dumbest experiment. We’re playing Russian roulette and as each year goes by we’re loading more rounds in the chamber. It’s not wise… We know we have to get to a sustainable means of transportation, no matter what.” Tesla CEO, Elon Musk. Read more/ see video
2. Mayor Chuck Reed on leveraging private funding for San Jose’s Green Agenda
“I said from the beginning that the key to being able to succeed with our green vision was to work with other people’s money.” San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. Read more/ listen.
3. Carly Fiorina on fighting climate change
“The most effective thing the US should do is start substantive discussions with China on what they can do.” Carly Fiorina. Read more or listen here.
4. Jennifer Granholm on Obama and energy policy
“He should create a clean energy jobs race to the top.” Former Michigan Gov., Jennifer Granholm. Read more/ see video
5. Peter Rumsey on Net Zero Buildings and kids
“They’re going to say, ‘Wow, that’s one of the things we can do to solve this whole big climate change problem.” San Francisco Exploratorium Green Designer, Peter Rumsey. Read more/ see video
6. Gavin Newsom on why a carbon tax makes sense
“I want to see a standard that could bring this country back to international prominence in terms of leaning in to a low carbon green growth strategy, so that we can dramatically change the way we produce and consume energy and lead the world.” Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor of California. Read more/ see video
7. Steven Chu 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. This is a real issue. We have to do something about it!” Former Energy Secretary, Steven Chu. Read more/see video
8. GM’s Pam Fletcher on electric vehicle adoption
“We need a lot of customers excited about great products. I want to keep people focused on all the good things that moving to electrified transportation can do for customers and for the country.” GM’s Chief of Electrified Vehicles, Pam Fletcher. Read more/ see video
9. Laurie Yoler on why Tesla is succeeding, despite the odds
“You know you’re on to something good when everyone you talk to is a naysayer. It takes a huge amount of courage and tenacity to continue going forth.” Qualcomm executive and founding board member of Tesla Motors, Laurie Yoler. Read more/see video at 11:20
10. Rick Needham on self driving cars, car sharing and Google’s electric car fleet
“It’s not just the car that’s underutilized; it’s the infrastructure, the roads…There’s an enormous opportunity…on the environmental side, on the human safety side, on utilization of infrastructure side.” Google’s Rick Needham. Read more/see video
Senator Dianne Feinstein shared her plans to introduce a new “carbon fee” bill, during a press conference Wednesday in downtown San Francisco.
“I think a carbon fee is growing in popularity,” said Feinstein, after an appearance at the Commonwealth Club. Her plans follow President Obama’s SOTU call for “market based solutions to climate change,” and a growing consensus among experts in favor of using the taxation system to control carbon dioxide emissions.
She referred to her colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer’s recent bill (co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders), which proposed a “carbon fee and dividend scheme” that would tax carbon emitters, such as coalmines, at the source. Here’s the rationale:
- By increasing the price of fossil fuel in the market…
- It levels the playing field between carbon-based fuels and renewable fuels, such as wind and solar, making renewables more competitive and attractive to consumers and investors.
- A portion of the “dividend” (the carbon “fee” proceeds) would be refunded to US residents.
Similar schemes have been implemented in British Columbia, Sweden and Ireland with some success. The aim is to encourage consumers to see the true cost of their energy choices. The fee represents some of the externalities of choosing fossil fuel, such as particulate pollution and greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change.
Feinstein’s proposal was short on details, but she confirmed, “It’s my intention to introduce a fee of $10 a ton and we’ll see what happens to it.”
The Boxer-Sanders proposal is for a tax (or “fee”) of $20 per ton of carbon. Presumably Feinstein feels it’ll be more palatable to start at a lower level and gradually phase in a higher tax over several years.
Feinstein acknowledged that with other issues stealing center stage (notably saber-rattling in North Korea and the ongoing domestic gun control debate), climate change is not currently on the government’s “high priority list,” so it’s hard to predict what progress the government will achieve.
Nevertheless, Feinstein was vocal on the topic of climate change and bullish about renewable energy during an earlier interview with the Commonwealth Club’s Greg Dalton:
On the threat of Climate Change
“People don’t really understand. They think the earth is immutable. They think we can’t destroy it, that it’s here to stay. It’s not so… As we fill the atmosphere with pollutants: methane, carbon dioxide, other things…it warms the earth. And it begins with animal habitat disappearing, the ocean beginning to rise, more violent hurricanes, tornadoes…drought is more prevalent.”
“What’s going to be the ultimate change is weather. People see weather, they see the devastation and so eventually people are going to come around to support restrictions on carbon dioxide, maybe a fee on the use of carbon to replace our deficit, our debt. A $20 fee (per ton of carbon or methane equivalent) is like $1.2 Trillion in revenue over 10 years. If you just take half that: $600 Billion.”
“I wouldn’t say there’s much (support in the Senate) but I would say this: people are coming to realize now… climate change is getting worse. Actually since 2008, ‘good energy’ has doubled. Electric cars are being more prevalent, hybrids are being more prevalent. People are saving money. Good things are happening. The question is: can we really bite the bullet and make the decision that we’re going to save the planet?”
On the Keystone Pipeline
“I’m told the area in Alberta (Canada) is bigger than the state of Florida, I’m told it’s a forested area which they mow down and begin to dig the huge giant lakes which they pour chemicals in to produce this form of tar sands oil. The earth is defaced forever.”
“Now we have to make up our minds: do we want to deface large portions of our earth forever? I don’t think so because we’re making progress on clean energy and that ought to really be where we go.”
“Some people say if the pipeline isn’t built north-south through the center of our country, they’re only going to do it east to west and send it to China. That’s not a good argument.”
Feinstein urged the audience to read the latest article on tar sands from National Geographic.
On California’s Monterey Shale Reserves
“I don’t think candidly that it’s all that necessary. There will be no oil drilling off the coast of California, if Senator Boxer and I prevail, and we have so far. My emphasis would be on clean energy: the wind farms, the solar facilities and there’s so much research going on on different forms of fuel. Leave those fossil fuels alone because they pollute the atmosphere.” Read more on the country’s largest shale oil resource from KQED.
Photo by Alison van Diggelen
On Tesla’s Model S
“I sat on one (a Tesla Model S) out at the Tesla Fremont plant. I kind of dented the fender. But anyway…” (laughter)
Feinstein drives a Lexus hybrid
On California’s water shortages
“We’re on our way to a much drier climate…the Sierra Nevada snowpack’s drying up and it’s very serious…The key is: we need to store more water from the wet years and hold it for the dry years and this environmentalists don’t like. It may mean raising a couple of dams (eg Shasta)…I do believe that the time is now to have a storage water bond. The most important thing we can do for our state is to hold water from the wet years for the dry years and we should get that done (or) we’re going to lose our agriculture… I live in Washington now for a lot of the time and I can tell you the crops grown in California taste much better than most places in the world.”
On subsidies to oil and gas
“I think the day has come for subsidies to go for industries other than startups like some of the clean energy…solar. As you know, everything is “cut cut cut” back there (DC) right now. With sequestration cutting another $85 Billion before the beginning of the fiscal year and the amount goes up. So there’s going to be cut after cut after cut. And they’re big cuts. So I think we need to look at tax reform and we need to look at all those deductions and remove a lot of them and we also need to look at our entitlements programs.”