This week, ThinkProgress conducted an impromptu interview with David Koch — one of the richest men in America, co-owner of the conglomerate Koch Industries, and a top financier of right-wing front groups — after we found him leaving the swearing-in ceremony for Speaker John Boehner (R-OH). In the first part of the interview, Koch said that he “admire[s]” the Tea Party movement, and that “the rank and file are just normal people like us.” As ThinkProgress has detailed, Koch operatives orchestrated the first anti-Obama Tea Party protests, channeled Tea Party groups into increasing the Koch’s personal wealth, and organized Tea Parties for Republican campaigns and lobbying drives.
When we tried to speak to Koch — who never said he did not want to talk to us — his employee Tim Phillips, president of Koch’s Americans for Prosperity, tried to push ThinkProgress’ Scott Keyes away and yelled into the camera Keyes was holding. Phillips is a prolific “astroturf” lobbyist who has worked for Jack Abramoff’s forced-abortion sweatshop clients, Enron, and had a hand in an anti-Semitic campaign against Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) first bid for Congress. Despite Phillips’ distractions, Koch answered several of our questions about climate science and global warming.
Asked why Koch’s Americans for Prosperity focuses so much on denying climate change, Koch said it was because “regulating CO2 excessively … really damage[s] the economy.” Koch however was hesitant to answer if he himself believes in climate change. He eventually denied anthropogenic global warming by giving a standard climate denier response: “Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.” However, he simply shrugged when asked if carbon pollution — like the carbon pollution Koch Industries heavily contributes to — affects climate change:
FANG: Why does Americans for Prosperity focus so much on the science of climate change? I’m just curious why they spread so much information that denies the existence of climate, of global warming?
KOCH: Well… I think it’s uh, regulating CO2 excessively is going to put — uh really damage the economy.
FANG: Do you believe in climate change yourself? […] Do you believe in climate change yourself, Mr. Koch?
KOCH: Climate does fluctuate. It goes from hot to cold. We have ice ages.
FANG: But do you believe carbon pollution affects climate change? [Koch shrugs]
It is doubtful that Koch, who was educated at MIT, seriously believes that climate simply “fluctuate[s]” from “hot to cold” (although the exhibit Koch funded at the Smithsonian perpetuates this lie). Rather, Koch understands that his entire business model depends on denying the greatest threat facing the planet.
Koch Industries — the largest private corporation in America — thrives on emitting carbon pollution and other forms of pollution for free. Much of Koch Industries’ $120 billion-a-year revenues are derived from burning fossil fuels: oil refineries and pipelines, chemical plants, fertilizer plants, manufacturing factories, and the shipping of coal. Moreover, Koch Industries owns Georgia Pacific, one of the largest timber companies, so Koch also contributes to global warming by decreasing the world’s carbon sink capacity. The National Academy of Sciences, the US Global Change Research Program, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have all come to the same conclusion: “that carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use and the loss of carbon-sink capacity in heavily timbered forests are increasing temperatures and making oceans more acidic.” Corporate documents revealed by ThinkProgress show that Koch Industries explicitly targeted laws to reduce carbon emissions as a threat to Koch’s bottom line.
To boost their profits, Koch is the largest funder of climate change denying organizations and media outlets in the world. For example, Koch bankrolls denier groups like the CATO Institute, Fraser Institute, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, the Manhattan Institute, the Marshall Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the State Policy Network, and dozens of others. Not only have Koch fronts instructed Tea Party groups to kill national legislation to address climate change, but Koch groups have been instrumental in pushing climate change-believers out of the Republican Party. As the Wonk Room’s Brad Johnson has detailed, the vast majority of new Republicans in Congress are “climate zombies.” Koch Industries is so fervently anti-climate science that it recently filed a lawsuit claiming that a belief in global warming damages its reputation.
Koch’s active role in Republican politics and multifaceted propaganda campaigns are almost always tied to Koch Industries’ business interests. Koch’s assistance to then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-KS) resulted in special legislation to exempt Koch from prosecution regarding an oil spill, and Koch’s efforts to elect President Bush were rewarded with a virtual pardon of charges related to Koch’s release of carcinogenic chemicals in Texas. Koch groups also worked to derail international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, and Koch-funded groups helped spread the myth that hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit somehow disputed the scientific consensus on climate change.
Of course, Koch’s current war on climate science is not new. As we first reported, Koch’s current campaign to distort the public’s understanding of global warming is a continuation of its campaign in 1990 to spread skepticism about acid rain. However, Koch’s hidden role in the climate denying machine is beginning to unravel.
This is Part 2 of a three-part installment of ThinkProgress’ interview with David Koch. Watch Part 1 here.