by Tom Maertens
In March, scientists found that the average global concentration of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, had reached 400 parts per million (ppm). Some scientists are calling this a tipping point, from which there is no return. Indeed, 2015 was the warmest year on record, and 2016 is starting out much warmer.
Scientists are warning (in the journal Nature) that rising temperatures could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet much sooner than earlier predicted. The ice sheet, which is larger than Mexico, could raise sea levels as much as 12 feet if it collapsed completely; that would inundate places like Florida, which has an average elevation of six feet.
The U.S. National Security Strategy says that “The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters; and the degradation of the land across the globe.”
The Bank of England and World Bank have warned of the risks to the global economy of climate change and a study by the London School of Economics judges that climate change could cut the value of the world’s financial assets by as much as $24 trillion, which would wreck the global economy.
Meanwhile, on the dark side, Sarah Palin testified before Congress last month that global warming is a hoax, a government conspiracy to control us.
Polls show that most GOP voters agree. She said she did not believe scientists about anything anymore and warned parents to be vigilant against attempts at mind control.
The fossil fuel industry actively promotes such global warming denial; it recently stepped up the campaign it began around 2003 to “mislead and manipulate the public about the threat posed by climate change,” according to Robert Brulle of Drexel University.
Brulle found that some 140 conservative foundations and non-profits, all repeating virtually the same talking points, spent over half a billion dollars in a corporate lobbying campaign using “social welfare” (so-called 501c) organizations, such as Americans for Prosperity (AFP), to conceal the donors while collecting tax deductions for what is supposed to be philanthropic activity.
The Koch brothers network of wealthy donors, mostly from Wall Street and the carbon industry, spent at least $407 million on the 2012 election — more than John McCain spent on his entire 2008 campaign — and have vowed to spend $890 million to influence the 2016 elections, enough to buy a lot of legislators.
The 2010 Supreme Court decision, Citizens United, decided that corporations have the right to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence elections. It derives from an 1886 case, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, where Supreme Court Justice Morrison Remick Waite announced at the start of the trial that the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause applied to corporations. Thus one justice’s pronouncement conferred personhood on corporations.
As Bill Moyers explained, quoting a friend, “I’ll believe that corporations are people when Texas executes one.”
Another tactic of the Kochs and other plutocrats is to create “think tanks,” like the Cato Institute, that put out a steady stream of “studies” denying global warming. The Kochs also fund pro-corporate programs at 283 four-year colleges and universities – with strings attached: they mandate textbooks that assert for example that safety programs hurt miners, climate change isn’t caused by humans, minimum wage laws and public assistance hurt poor people, and claims that the government rather than the financial industry caused the 2008 recession (Dark Money, Jane Mayer)
In their effort to discredit government’s environmental regulations, the fossil fuel industry attempts to discredit government itself. They were among the strongest proponents of shutting down government and defaulting on the debt during Obama’s time.
Their principal target is the EPA, which has labeled Koch Industries the largest producer of toxic waste in the country, and fined them repeatedly for violating the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts. The company has a long string of civil and criminal convictions for its outlaw activities and paid hundreds of millions in fines, judgments and penalties.
Richard Fink, head of Koch Company’s Public Sector, confessed to The Wichita Eagle in 1994 that Koch could not compete if it actually had to pay for the damage it did to the environment.
Thomas Jefferson warned of such unconstrained corporate behavior: “I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”
Tom Maertens served as National Security Council director for nonproliferation and homeland defense under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and as deputy coordinator for counter-terrorism in the State Department during and after 9/11. He lives in Mankato.
This article was also published in the Mankato Free Press.