Koch money influences climate science

Jaime Chong/Staff

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The threat of corporate funding influencing climate change research and politics has arrived. Oil billionaires Charles and David Koch-co-owners of Koch Industries, which was named the second largest privately held company in the U.S. in 2010 by Forbes-rank amongst the nation's most noticeable funders of efforts to prevent legislation curbing fossil-fuel burning, which produces greenhouse gases. At $150,000, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation has also been the biggest contributor to the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, a project aiming to achieve "new analysis of the surface temperature record in a manner that ... (resolves) current criticism...and to prepare an open record that will allow response to further criticism or suggestions."

As staunch, pro-business conservatives with the welfare of their corporations at heart, the brothers may want data showing that climate change is not significant and environmental regulations unnecessary. However, much more is at stake than their wealth. If the U.S. does not enforce stricter limitations on greenhouse gas emissions, global warming and climate change will continue at the peril of future generations. The best estimate for the increase in global average temperature by 2100 ranges from two to four degrees Celsius with uncertainties factored in. Although this doesn't sound significant on a day-to- day basis, a global average temperature change of five to six degrees Celsius moved Earth from the middle of an ice age to the warm period in between ice ages. In addition, the U.S.'s credibility in international discussions on climate change will evaporate if we continually fail to implement environmental regulations.

The Koch brother's penetration of U.S. politics is visible in the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where 27 out of the 54 of the representatives are funded by the Koch Industries.Along with its employees, Koch Industries has contributed $279,500 to 22 of 31 Republicans in the House Energy and Commerce Committee and $32,000 to five Democrats, outspending even Exxon Mobil. In addition, nine of 12 new Republicans in the committee have signed a pledge by Americans for Prosperity, an advocacy group founded by David Koch that opposes the Obama administration's proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.

Climate denialism is not new. U.S. economist Julian Simon started the movement by promoting human ingenuity as the ultimate resource for growth. This dominant, anthropocentric paradigm saw the potential for great progress and wealth through converting the environment into necessary resources. Also, the fall of Communism left conservatives without an enemy to unite against, a gap which they filled with the environmental movement.

The main strategy used by climate change deniers is manufacturing and disseminating uncertainty. These strategies were first employed by the tobacco industry; lobbyists against tobacco sales regulations wanted proof over precaution, and public relations specialists gave hired contrarian scientists appealing sound bites. Many key actors fighting environmental regulations also fought against tobacco sales regulations, so they know that debating science is more effective than debating policy, hence their primary strategy is to frame mainstream climate science as "junk science," implying that deniers use "sound science" while hiding their conflicting interests.

Climate change denial can only be ended through greater transparency and improved public education. The consensus over anthropogenic greenhouse gases by both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other major scientific bodies must be emphasized. For example, out of 928 papers on climate change published in peer-reviewed journals between 1993 and 2003, 75 percent explicitly or implicitly stated that there is a consensus on the reality of climate change while no papers argued against the consensus.

The public must know about the unreliable quality of the data published by contrarian scientists in non-scientific outlets, along with their often lackluster credentials in environmental science. A study was conducted in which the expertise and credibility of climate scientists endorsing the IPCC was compared to that of contrarian scientists through the number of peer-reviewed publications on climate change and the number of citations their publications received. Results showed a large discrepancy with the contrarian scientists ranking far lower in expertise and experience.

Finally, climate change can be better incorporated into school curriculum. Unlike the controversy over evolution versus creationism, climate change is not an ideological issue.

Concern in the U.S. about global warming and environmental regulations is low compared to other nations. If the U.S. wants to be a role model, the public must be informed and actively pursuing stricter climate change policies. Otherwise, the U.S. will continue to remain a free rider in regards to the climate, the globe's ultimate collective good.

Tiffany Cheng is an undergraduate student at UC Berkeley. Reply to [email protected]

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