Billionaires stopping climate change action have a hold on Trump, GOP
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While we are focused on the devastation of Hurricane Harvey, harsh weather is taking a toll on other parts of the country. In the West Coast, hundreds of fires are burning, some for three or four weeks. Some are zero percent contained with no estimate of a containment date.

During vacation in Oregon last week, my son and I felt pursued by the smoke filling the skies throughout the state. We detoured fire-related road closures and drove through smoke-fog with limited visibility. On eclipse day, we anxiously drove past miles of smoke-filled sky to reach a clear viewing point. 

Climate change has contributed to summer heat waves in Oregon, and the heat has dried out the state’s forests, turning timber to tinder. Some of the fires have caused evacuations and death.

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And the future will bring worse, according to a state report, with erosion and flooding on the coast and reduced snowpack in the east — which will threaten water supplies, warm streams and negatively impact fish like salmon and trout.

 

But these impacts are minor compared to the effects of climate in other areas of the globe. Several years ago, Chuck HagelCharles (Chuck) Timothy HagelOvernight Defense: Latest on historic Korea summit | Trump says 'many people' interested in VA job | Pompeo thinks Trump likely to leave Iran deal Should Mike Pompeo be confirmed? Intel chief: Federal debt poses 'dire threat' to national security MORE, former Defense Secretary and Republican senator from Nebraska stated that climate change “will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict…[and] likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe.”

Experts say we’ve already seen these impacts in Syria and elsewhere.

But I blame Secretary of State Rex TillersonRex Wayne TillersonTrump cannot blame policy of separating children on Obama North Korea looked to set up communications back channel through Kushner: report North America wins 2026 bid to host World Cup after lobbying from Trump MORE.

As Exxon’s CEO for the decade prior to joining President Trump’s cabinet, Tillerson led Exxon’s role in a covert, anti-science propaganda operation. Coordination among fossil fuel companies led to a unified communications strategy concerning climate change. The strategy, according to internal memos, was designed to trigger uncertainty and doubt in the minds of the American public about the science and reality of global warming.

This scheming was kept secret. Tillerson himself used a pseudonymous gmail account. (And some of those emails have gone missing now that Exxon is being sued for misleading its own investors.)

As part of this strategy, Exxon alone spent at least $30 million creating superficially credible platforms — e.g., think tanks — for science-deniers. Some of the climate-deniers used dirty tricks — hacking scientists’ emails, inventing fake ethical scandals — to undermine public trust in scientists.

Ironically, Exxon’s own scientists continued to report findings throughout this period that generally supported the reality of climate change. In fact, Exxon’s scientists had recognized climate change as early as 1977.

It is Tillerson and associates’ very success in opposing moves to limit greenhouse gases that makes them centrally responsible for the impacts of global warming — both current and future. And that is why I thought of Tillerson as we drove around another fire-related detour.

But Exxon and the other fossil fuel industry giants are no longer — as far as we know — supporting the climate deniers. Exxon itself even publicly recognized the reality of climate change some years ago.

And yet, nothing has fundamentally changed. Trump pulled us out of the largely aspirational Paris Agreement, his EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is eliminating his department’s climate-change related regulations, and the Republican-controlled Congress is little interested in addressing climate change.

So, if it’s not Exxon and associates, who is now preventing the Republican party from finally recognizing the science of climate change?

Here’s the quick answer: There are three right-wing groups of billionaires that are lined up against taking action on greenhouse gas emissions — and each has enormous sway with Republican congressional legislators or Trump.

One power center is the oligarchical network of wealthy donors run by the conservative Koch brothers. Koch Industries was founded on petroleum and related activities. Much has been written about the Koch brothers’ right-wing network, it’s political infrastructure rivaling the Republican Party apparatus, and it’s influence with congressional legislators.

Although some Koch companies have substantially cut their carbon pollution in recent years, their powerful political network has continued to oppose policies leading to reduced greenhouse gas pollution.

One wealthy, reclusive hedge-fund billionaire and his daughter grew impatient with the Koch network’s deliberate pace. Robert Mercer had put a $10 million stake into Breitbart, crowned Stephen Bannon as propaganda-ist in chief, and gave him the mandate to reinvigorate and rebrand the far-right.

Mercer hit paydirt when he shifted his support from Cruz to Trump. He became Trump’s kingmaker by donating large amounts to Trump’s campaign when nobody else would, loaning personnel (Bannon and Kellyanne Conway), and facilitating Trump’s voter suppression efforts with unique, high-level digital profiling know-how (which was reportedly also used by the leavers in the Brexit campaign).

As kingmaker, Mercer now has direct access to Trump. So too does another right-wing billionaire, Australian media tycoon Rupert Murdoch. Mercer and Murdoch each talk with Trump every week or two, and dine with him on occasion.

It is ironic that the Republican Party of “America First”, increasingly opposed to “globalists” and foreigners, has allowed the Australian globalist Murdoch incredible power to shape or essentially veto the party’s policy goals.

Murdoch’s empire includes our country’s two major daily conservative media outlets: Fox “News” shapes the opinions of largely lower-educated Republican voters, while the Wall Street Journal shapes the political thinking of the conservative financial and corporate elite. With his control of these two daily outlets, Murdoch can make it difficult for any significant Republican policy he doesn’t like to move forward.

These are the three conservative billionaire-class power centers we must confront: the Koch brothers, the Mercers, and the Murdoch family. How to oppose them, and with what strategy? First, apply pressure where they are vulnerable: their businesses. We should start to use boycott and protest pressure against the billionaires’ companies, such as Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, and on the banks and other business partners of their companies.

Second, we should also play the military card. How can conservative billionaires fight climate change action when our military leaders, including Trump’s Defense Secretary, General James MattisJames Norman MattisOvernight Defense: Trump orders Pentagon to help house immigrant families | Mattis says 'space force' needs legislation | VA pick gets hearing date Mattis 'not aware' of North Korea taking any steps to denuclearize Mattis: Legislation needed to create 'space force' MORE, believe the military must plan for the impacts of climate change on military infrastructure and global political conditions. And Trump’s new chief of staff, General John Kelly played a major role in developing the military’s forward-looking roadmap for adaptation to climate change. National Security Advisor General McMaster also recognizes the reality of climate change.

If we do not find a way to confront these conservative billionaires, they will continue to watch and plot from within protected bubbles of wealth and privilege — while Oregon and much of the globe gradually becomes a living hell for our children and grandchildren.

Mark Feinberg, is a research professor at Pennsylvania State University. Follow him on Twitter @MrkFnbrg.


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