Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.
Koch Industries, the private company of the billionaire Koch brothers, is one of the primary sources of carbon pollution in the United States. However, the actual emissions profile of the diversified giant, with its oil and gas, chemicals, cattle, forestry, and synthetics holdings, is unknown, because of the lack of mandatory carbon reporting in the United States. Furthermore, Koch is exempt from the risk disclosures that are standard for public corporations. The financial status of Koch Industries is similarly clouded in secret, with only vague statements of annual revenue around $100 billion and the Forbes estimates of the principals’ extraordinary wealth. Charles and David Koch have directed many millions of their shared $43 billion net worth into a vast propaganda machine denying the threat of global warming pollution, corrupting American politics to permit their pollution-based enterprise to continue.
Below, the Wonk Room makes some estimates of the Koch Industries carbon footprint, based on the pollution generated by its activities and from the use of the products it sells:
The Koch Industries carbon footprint is about 300 million tons. With the assumption that Koch has a carbon intensity on the order of oil majors such as Chevron and ExxonMobil, each billion dollars of revenue corresponds to 2 to 4 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases. Therefore, each year, Koch Industries is likely responsible for about 300 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution every year. Flint Hills Resources, Koch’s refining subsidiary, processes 300 million barrels of oil a year. This one company — with its refining, pipeline, chemical, fertilizer, cattle, and forestry operations — is involved in up to 5 percent of the entire United States 7-gigaton carbon footprint.
Koch climate denial is dirty self interest. The virulence of the Koch brothers’ opposition to climate policy — to anything that would make polluters instead of society pay for the cost of their pollution — is purely a matter of self-interest. The immense profitability of their carbon holdings depends on their freedom to pollute without consequence — a toxic freedom they have sold to the American public, and particularly the Tea Party faithful organized by the various Koch front groups, as inherent to the American dream. If their pollution was fairly priced in a free-market system such as the cap-and-trade markets the Koch successfully demonized in Washington (but failed in their attempt to do so in California), the Kochs would be facing costs of anywhere from $1 billion to $40 billion a year. Spending well less than $1 billion a year on their political and philanthropic activities, the Kochs have made a brilliant investment to defend their killer business model.
The carbon liability of the Kochs is hundreds of billions of dollars. Over the lifetime of the Koch Industries, as it has grown from a $100 million enterprise built on oil refining in Stalinist Russia to one of the largest private companies in the world, its cumulative carbon footprint rivals that of most nations. Experts estimate that the social cost of carbon — the true cost to society of global warming pollution — is between $30 and $300 per ton of carbon dioxide. The potential liability the Kochs face for having knowingly destabilized the global climate system — and funded a propaganda network to prevent political action to end their pollution — represents practically the whole of their wealth.
Charles and David Koch each have a carbon footprint of 100 million tons. The average American has a carbon footprint of 19 tons of carbon dioxide a year — much greater than the European average of nine tons, the Chinese average of five tons, or India’s annual average of 1.4 tons of carbon dioxide per person. However, the annual carbon footprint of the Charles and David Koch is on the order of 100 million tons of carbon dioxide each. Just as their personal wealth is staggeringly greater than that of the average American, so is their damage to this planet.
Koch’s carbon pollution is inherent to its business model, putting them in direct opposition to people who care about preserving God’s creation and their children’s future.