URL: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/story/31633524/the_climate_killers

The Climate Killers

Meet the 17 polluters and deniers who are derailing efforts to curb global warming


Posted Jan 06, 2010 8:00 AM


The Profiteer
Warren Buffett
CEO, Berkshire Hathaway

Despite being a key adviser to Obama during the financial crisis, America's best-known investor has been blasting the president's push to curb global warming — using the same lying points promoted by far-right Republicans. The climate bill passed by the House, Buffett insists, is a "huge tax — and there's no sense calling it anything else." What's more, he says, the measure would mean "very poor people are going to pay a lot more money for their electricity." Never mind that the climate bill, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, would actually save Americans with the lowest incomes about $40 a year.

But Buffett, whose investments have the power to move entire markets, is doing far more than bad-mouthing climate legislation — he's literally banking on its failure. In recent months, the Oracle of Omaha has invested billions in carbon-polluting industries, seeking to cash in as the world burns. His conglomerate, Berkshire Hathaway, has added 1.28 million shares of America's biggest climate polluter, ExxonMobil, to its balance sheet. And in November, Berkshire placed a huge wager on the future of coal pollution, purchasing the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad for $26 billion — the largest acquisition of Buffett's storied career. BNSF is the nation's top hauler of coal, shipping some 300 million tons a year. That's enough to light up 10 percent of the nation's homes — many of which are powered by another Berkshire subsidiary, MidAmerican Energy. Although Berkshire is the largest U.S. firm not to disclose its carbon pollution — and second globally only to the Bank of China — its utilities have the worst emissions intensity in America, belching more than 65 million tons of CO2 into the atmosphere in 2008 alone.

As a savvy investor, Buffett would only buy a coal-shipping railroad if he felt certain that Congress will fail to crack down on climate pollution. "Whatever hurts coal also hurts the railroad business," observes Peter Gray, a corporate climate attorney at the international law firm of McKenna Long & Aldridge. "Mr. Buffett must believe that efforts to adopt cap-and-trade legislation will fail."

That's a strange position for the billionaire to take, given that he's promised to donate more than 80 percent of his fortune to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "As someone who is giving so much money to international development, Buffett ought to know better," says Joe Romm, who served as an assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. "He ought to have spent a great deal of time considering the greatest threats to developing countries — which would have quickly educated him about climate change."

The Disinformer
Rupert Murdoch
CEO, News Corporation

In 2007, when the world's most powerful media baron announced his newfound conviction that global warming "poses clear, catastrophic threats," it seemed as though the truth about climate change might finally get the attention it deserves. Murdoch promised that not only would News Corp. itself become carbon-neutral by 2010, but that his media outlets would explain the urgent need for a cap on carbon emissions. Climate change, he pledged, would be addressed as a sober reality across the News Corp. empire, whether as a plot element on 24 or in a story on Fox News. "I don't think there's any question of my conviction on this issue," Murdoch declared. "I've come to feel it very strongly."

Since then, however, Murdoch and his media operations have become the nation's leading source of disinformation about climate change. In October, Fox Business ran an extended segment on "The Carbon Myth," inviting a hack scientist to "make the case" that more carbon pollution is actually "good for the environment." The Wall Street Journal has continued to lie not only about the reality of global warming but about Obama's efforts to prevent it, denouncing climate legislation as "likely to be the biggest tax in American history." The New York Post insisted that the Copenhagen climate negotiations were little more than a meet-up for "shamsters, scam artists and assorted 'global warming' opportunists" who planned to "transfer a trillion bucks from the economies of the world's developed nations to Third World kleptocrats — with God-only-knows how much cash sticking to the fingers of well-connected U.N. bureaucrats." And on Fox News, right-wing attack dog Sean Hannity misinformed his viewers that 2009 — the fifth-hottest year in the past 130 — was "one of the coldest years on record." Hannity then summed up the deranged denial that permeates Murdoch's media empire: "I don't believe climate change is real," he said. "I think this is global-warming hysteria and alarmism."

The Fake Protestor
Jack Gerard
President, American Petroleum

As head of the American Petroleum Institute, Gerard serves as the frontman for the nation's oil and gas industry, including energy giants like Exxon, Shell, BP and Halliburton. Although API now claims to back the move to a "carbon-constrained economy," Gerard has been working behind the scenes to scuttle climate legislation. According to an internal memo leaked in August, Gerard directed API's nearly 400 member companies to mobilize their employees to attend "Energy Citizen" rallies in 20 states to protest a cap on carbon pollution. To ensure the success of the fake grass-roots protests, Gerard bragged that he had also enlisted a bevy of polluting allies — including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. "Please treat this information as sensitive," Gerard cautioned in the memo. "We don't want critics to know our game plan."

This is not the first time that API has been at the center of a secretive campaign to derail carbon controls. In the late 1990s, the institute conspired with Exxon and a cadre of right-wing think tanks to create the "Global Climate Science Communications Action Plan" — an $8 million effort to fund climate research that hypes the "weaknesses in scientific understanding" of global warming. "Victory will be achieved," the plan explained, when "those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality."

Burning Man
Rex Tillerson
CEO, ExxonMobil

Tillerson, who oversees the world's biggest oil company, concedes that "greenhouse-gas emissions are one of the factors affecting climate change." But that doesn't mean that America's largest carbon polluter plans to stop killing the climate. Exxon is responsible for 397 million tons of CO2 emissions annually — more than twice those of the nation's dirtiest electric utility — accounting for 6.5 percent of America's climate-warming pollution. As part of its campaign to defeat climate legislation, which Tillerson claims will "cap economic growth," Exxon spent $29 million on lobbying in 2008 — second only to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And despite vowing to stop its funding of climate denial, it continues to foot the bill for bogus research by right-wing outfits like the Heritage Foundation, which asserts that "growing scientific evidence casts doubt on whether global warming constitutes such a threat."

In a disingenuous attempt to appear serious about the threat of climate change, Tillerson has recently begun to advocate a tax on carbon pollution — a measure he knows has absolutely no chance of passing. "It's strategic," says Emilie Mazzacurati, North American research chief for the energy analyst Point Carbon. "You're never going to pass a tax on carbon in this country; politically, it's completely impossible." Such duplicity is par for the course: In 2007, spending $100 million on ads, Exxon boasted about its investments in renewable energy — even though such deals totaled only $10 million that year.

The Dirty Democrat
Sen. Mary Landrieu
Democrat, Louisiana

Landrieu — who boasts of being "the most fervent pro-drilling Democrat in the Senate" — has assured oil interests that she'll be "putting the brakes" on current efforts to cap carbon pollution. Even though her home state will be savaged by climate change, Katrina-style, Landrieu routinely sides with her energy funders. In 2008, after providing the pivotal vote to preserve $12 billion in tax breaks for Big Oil, she received $272,000 from oil and gas interests — third among Democrats. Joined by other Democrats from key energy states — including Jim Webb of Virginia, Max Baucus of Montana, Evan Bayh of Indiana and Robert Byrd of West Virginia — Landrieu tried to kill climate legislation in the Senate by requiring that it be passed by a 60-vote supermajority. "Landrieu acts more to protect Big Oil than the future for the people of Louisiana," says Tony Massaro of the League of Conservation Voters, which added Landrieu to its "Dirty Dozen" roster of pro-pollution politicians.

The Drudge of Denial
Marc Morano
Founder, Climate Depot

Morano, who worked for Sen. James "Global Warming is a Hoax" Inhofe, left Congress last year to set up shop as the Matt Drudge of climate denial. Today he runs Climate Depot, a website whose sponsor is funded by oil heir Richard Mellon Scaife. A private version of a congressional blog that Morano ran for Inhofe, the site serves as a clearinghouse for climate kooks. "He's a central cell of the climate-denial machine," says Kert Davies, research director for Greenpeace. "He's been very effective in delaying action on this crisis."

Morano says climate scientists are in the "fear-promoting business" and accuses them of waging a "war on modern civilization." But it's Morano who trafficks in wild claims, routinely distorting the work of climate scholars and charging that "proponents of man-made global warming have been funded to the tune of $50 billion." A former producer for Rush Limbaugh, Morano gained fame as one of the first to trumpet Swift-boat lies about John Kerry's military record. Andrew Watson, a British climate professor who recently debated Morano on the BBC, said it best in a whispered aside at the end of the show: "What an asshole."

God's Denier
Sen. James Inhofe
Republican, Oklahoma

As the former chairman and ranking Republican of the Senate environment committee, Inhofe is one of the GOP's loudest and most influential voices on climate change. The senator from Oklahoma calls global warming "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," insists that carbon dioxide is not "a real pollutant," and doesn't worry about rising sea levels, because, if all else fails, "God's still up there."

Far from being marginalized, Inhofe continues to hold remarkable sway: In November, he organized fellow GOP members to boycott the environment committee's debate on climate legislation. He also marshaled the ranking GOP members of all six committees with jurisdiction over climate change to write Sen. Barbara Boxer, warning her that proceeding without Republicans would "severely damage" prospects for the bill's passage. The move helped cloud the bill's future, diminishing America's bargaining position at the Copenhagen climate negotiations. "We won, you lost," Inhofe gloated to Boxer during a committee hearing. "Get a life."

In December, the senator also vowed that a resurgent GOP would block the EPA from curbing carbon pollution: "After the 2010 election," he said, "I guarantee we'll have the votes to do it."

The Power Player
David Ratcliffe
CEO, Southern Company

Ratcliffe, the head of America's second-dirtiest electric utility, has assembled an army of 63 lobbyists — almost twice as many as any other company — to defeat climate legislation. It's a pro-carbon dream team, anchored by Jeffrey Holmstead of Rudy Giuliani's law firm, who worked on behalf of utilities like Southern as a top clean-air official under George W. Bush. The reason for the lobbying blitz: Southern burns a lot of coal — its largest plant produces more carbon pollution than all of Brazil's power plants combined — and new limits on emissions being considered by the Senate could cost the utility some $400 million a year. That's why Ratcliffe continues to deny the reality of global warming: "I don't believe there's an impending catastrophe," he says, insisting that the environment will simply "adapt to changing realities."

"The value of his stock trumps everything," says Carl Pope, head of the Sierra Club. "It's hard to imagine a more cynical attitude. But no doubt he genuinely sees it that way — his bottom line is the measure of the world."

The Arm Twister
Dick Gephardt
CEO, Gephardt Group

The former House majority leader now uses his considerable political clout as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy, the world's largest private-sector coal company. Working behind the scenes on Capitol Hill, Gephardt has emerged as the most credible proponent of "clean coal" — an imaginary technology being touted by the industry as an alternative to limits on carbon pollution. ("Clean coal is like healthy cigarettes," says Al Gore. "It does not exist.") In July, Gephardt was the keynote speaker at the Clean Coal Technology Conference, an honor bestowed after he helped win $1 billion in stimulus funding for FutureGen, a "clean coal" boondoggle promoted by Peabody. That's a significant return on the $1.7 million that Peabody and the FutureGen Industrial Alliance have invested in Gephardt Group's services since 2007. His firm also lobbies for Ameren, the nation's fourth-dirtiest utility, as well as for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The head of Peabody's Washington office, Fred Palmer, marvels at the access the ex-congressman still enjoys on Capitol Hill: "I can meet with a lot of people, but I'm Fred Palmer. He's Dick Gephardt."

The Pundit
George Will
Commentator, ABC

Leveraging his status as the nation's most recognizable pundit, Will has become a one-man front for corporate-funded "science" that denies the existence of global warming. From his institutional perches at the Washington Post, Newsweek and ABC's This Week, Will preaches about the "indoctrination" of Americans by "environmental Cassandras" in the "media-entertainment-environmental complex" over a climate threat that is "hypothetical" and only "allegedly occurring." To buttress such wild-eyed denial, Will cherry-picks data points — or simply makes them up, as when he claimed in a recent column that "there has been no recorded global warming for more than a decade" and that "global sea-ice levels now equal those of 1979." Both assertions are flat-out wrong: Eleven of the warmest years on record have occurred in the past 13 years, and researchers have recorded a decrease in global sea ice bigger than Texas and California combined.

Despite a rebuke from the Post's ombudsman, the paper has refused to run any correction for Will's disinformation campaign. The pundit, meanwhile, continues to belch climate nonsense from behind his tortoise-shell spectacles, claiming that limiting carbon pollution would force developing nations to "sacrifice their modernization on the altar of climate change." He also accuses climate scientists — rather than big polluters — of perpetuating lies out of financial self-interest, citing what he calls the "enormous incentive to get on the bandwagon on global warming." "He positions himself as a conservative intellectual," says Joe Romm, a physicist who serves as a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. "But you can't be an intellectual and be anti-science. He's really just an ideologue masquerading as an intellectual."

The Know Nothing
Tom Donohue
President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce

As the de facto chief of American business and industry, Donohue has turned the biggest lobbying presence on Capitol Hill into the biggest friend of climate polluters. In the first nine months of last year, the Chamber spent $65 million — three times more than ExxonMobil — mounting a campaign to block Congress from placing limits on carbon pollution. "Not only has the Chamber spent decades denying the existence of the climate crisis," Al Gore observed, "now it is dedicating a significant quantity of resources and money attempting to prevent Congress from taking action."

The extreme anti-climate position staked out by Donohue runs counter to the position of his own members. Of the 23 companies on the Chamber's board that made their position on climate legislation public, only four are against it — and three of those are coal companies. Yet the Chamber claims, in scaremongering language, that climate legislation threatens to "completely shut the country down" and "virtually destroy the United States." For his part, Donohue is proudly ignorant of the risks that a changing climate poses to the business community: "Is the science right? Is science not right? I don't know."

The know-nothing approach has proved too much for many leading companies to bear. Last summer, when the Chamber's senior vice president declared that "there is no evidence that CO2 has an impact on health and welfare" and called for a "Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century" to put the "science of climate change on trial," even the California utility PG&E resigned from the Chamber, blasting Donohue for his group's "disingenuous attempts to distort" the dangers of climate change. Apple and Exelon joined the rush for the exit, and Nike resigned its place on the Chamber's board.

The Coal Baron
Don Blankenship
CEO, Massey Energy

In an age when most CEOs are canny enough to at least pay lip service to the realities of climate change, Blankenship stands apart as corporate America's most unabashed denier. Global warming, he insists, is nothing but "a hoax and a Ponzi scheme." His fortune depends on such lies: Massey Energy, the nation's fourth-largest coal-mining operation, unearths more than 40 million tons of the fossil fuel each year — often by blowing the tops off of Appalachian mountains.

The country's highest-paid coal executive, Blankenship is a villain ripped straight from the comic books: a jowly, mustache-sporting, union-busting coal baron who uses his fortune to bend politics to his will. He recently financed a $3.5 million campaign to oust a state Supreme Court justice who frequently ruled against his company, and he hung out on the French Riviera with another judge who was weighing an appeal by Massey. "Don Blankenship would actually be less powerful if he were in elected office," Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia once observed. "He would be twice as accountable and half as feared."

On the national level, Blankenship enjoys a position of influence on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has led the fight to kill climate legislation. He enjoys inveighing against the "greeniacs" — including Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid and Al Gore — who are "taking over the world." And he has even taken to tweeting about climate change: "We must demand that more coal be burned to save the Earth from global cooling."

In more unguarded moments, however, Blankenship confesses that his over-the-top rhetoric is strategic. "If it weren't for guys like me," he says, "the middle would be further to the left." He also admits that his efforts to block climate legislation are ultimately self-serving: "It would probably cut our business in half."

The Hack Scientist
Fred Singer
Retired physicist, University of Virginia

A former mouthpiece for the tobacco industry, the 85-year-old Singer is the granddaddy of fake "science" designed to debunk global warming. The retired physicist — who also tried to downplay the danger of the hole in the ozone layer — is still wheeled out as an authority by big polluters determined to kill climate legislation. For years, Singer steadfastly denied that the world is heating up: Citing satellite data that has since been discredited, he even made the unhinged claim that "the climate has been cooling just slightly." Last year, Singer served as a lead author of "Climate Change Reconsidered" — an 880-page report by the right-wing Heartland Institute that was laughably presented as a counterweight to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the world's scientific authority on global warming. Singer concludes that the unchecked growth of climate-cooking pollution is "unequivocally good news." Why? Because "rising CO2 levels increase plant growth and make plants more resistant to drought and pests." Small wonder that Heartland's climate work has long been funded by the likes of Exxon and reactionary energy barons like Charles Koch and Richard Mellon Scaife.

The Flip Flopper
Sen. John McCain
Republican, Arizona

McCain has been one of the Senate's biggest climate champions since 2003, when he introduced a bill with Joe Lieberman to create a "cap and trade" system similar to the one currently being debated. But since losing the presidency to Barack Obama, McCain is taking his pique out on the planet. He's now threatening to roadblock the very measure he once introduced, lying about its cost and distorting its goals. "What the Obama administration has proposed is not cap-and-trade," McCain says. "It's cap-and-tax." He's even trash-talking a bipartisan alternative by GOP colleague Lindsey Graham, calling it "horrendous."

Although McCain frames his newfound stance as opposition to what he portrays as a $630 billion tax on corporate America, the measure as revised by the House actually provides the energy industry with more than $690 billion in pollution subsidies. McCain's about-face may have more to do with his precarious electoral future: The senator is currently locked in a dead heat with likely primary challenger J.D. Hayworth, a knuckle-dragging former congressman. The one-time "maverick" now earns high praise from the far right: "He's been a fabulous team player," says Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. "On message and effective."

The Inquisitor
Rep. Joe Barton
Republican, Texas

As ranking Republican on the House energy committee, Barton is a mini version of Sen. James Inhofe. In his view, the climate is changing for "natural variation reasons," and humans should just "get shade" and learn to adapt. "For us to try to step in and say we have got to do all these global things to prevent the Earth from getting any warmer is absolute nonsense," he insists. "You can't regulate God."

During the Bush era, Barton bottled up all climate legislation and pushed to open up public lands for drilling by private interests. He also targeted leading climate scientists, demanding that they provide Congress with detailed documentation of their financial interests. (Barton himself has received $1.4 million from oil and gas donors, plus $1.3 million from electric utilities.) The inquisition drew sharp rebukes, even from Barton's fellow Republicans. Your "purpose seems to be to intimidate scientists rather than to learn from them," then-Rep. Sherwood Boehlert told Barton. The effort "to have Congress put its thumbs on the scales of a scientific debate" is "truly chilling."

The Tea Partiers
Charles and David Koch
CEO and Executive Vice President, Koch Industries

The multibillionaire brothers not only run the nation's largest private energy company, they rival Exxon in funding the front groups that spread disinformation about the dangers of climate change. Over the years, the Kochs and their foundations have lavished millions on climate deniers at the Heritage Foundation, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute, which Charles founded in 1977. Cato, in turn, supports the work of Patrick Michaels, a leading climate denier who attempts to discredit the international scientific consensus on global warming while accepting money from coal companies. As author Thomas Frank observes in What's the Matter With Kansas?, "Koch money subsidizes the mass production of bad ideas."

One major recipient of Koch cash is Americans for Prosperity, where David chairs the foundation's board. In addition to fomenting last summer's town-hall brawls over health care reform, AFP sponsored a "Hot Air Tour" on climate change, deploying a manned balloon at 75 events for the purpose of "Exposing the Ballooning Costs of Global Warming Hysteria." At the events, the group's president, Tim Phillips, grossly exaggerated the costs of climate legislation, calling it a trillion-dollar tax on American families.

Last October, at an AFP summit attended by David Koch, the assembled Tea Partiers screened a climate-denial film that accused advocates like Al Gore of wanting to take civilization "back to the Dark Ages and the Black Plague." Such events, Koch proclaimed, "bring to reality the vision" of "fighting for the economic freedoms that made our nation the most prosperous society in history." Last year, seeking to defend its own prosperity against a carbon-capped future, Koch Industries spent more than $8.5 million on lobbying.

Read how Big Oil and Big Coal mounted aggressive lobbying campaigns to block progress on global warming in Jeff Goodell's "As the World Burns."