Climate change is the most pressing challenge of our time, yet meaningful action to address this global threat seems increasingly elusive. What’s standing in the way? There are numerous individuals, organizations, and corporations that actively work to obstruct attempts to cut our carbon emissions, advance clean energy, and prepare communities for the devastating impacts of climate change. Here is a list of just a few of these thwarters who stood out in 2013.
Shortly after being elected Australia’s prime minister in September, Tony Abbott started making good on campaign pledges to dismantle the country’s ambitious climate change framework. This includes abandoning the country’s emissions target, taking steps toward repealing Australia’s hard-won carbon emissions trading scheme, and axing the country’s climate commission, an independent panel of experts that provided information on how climate change is affecting the country.
When a heavy spate of bushfires erupted around Sydney early in the bushfire season, Abbott denied any links to climate change, going as far as to get in a public debate with U.N. Climate Chief Christiana Figueres and Nobel laureate Al Gore. Causing a further international row, he shunned the November U.N. climate talks in Warsaw by opting not to send a senior elected member of his government — a purely political move with little regard for the dire need for international cooperation in confronting climate change.
Canada has a reputation for being an environmentally friendly country, not a petro-state, but Prime Minster Stephen Harper is changing the face of his country. With the Alberta tar-sands project he is literally turning a landscape of boreal forest into oily muck inhospitable for life. But he is also changing Canada’s global reputation for the worse by steering energy and environmental policies in favor of fossil fuel companies. The Harper administration has even gone so far as censoring artists whose work doesn’t align with their pro-fossil fuel agenda.
The rise in emissions that accompanies developing the tar sands means that Canada won’t be able to meet its 2020 targets for overall greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
Murdoch may not be an outright climate denier, but much of his personal media empire is. Murdoch-owned News Corporation, which owns major media shares in the U.S., Australia, and the U.K., are known for perpetuating climate denier views and myths. Fox Business Network, which is owned by Murdoch, has even gone as far as capitalizing on the anniversary of Hurricane Sandy to promote anti-climate change narratives. Murdoch also asked Al Gore, in a tweet, to explain the record Arctic ice this year. Since Arctic sea ice is still well below average, Murdoch must have meant Antarctic sea ice. Antarctic land ice continues to melt but it is true that sea ice has increased, but because of changing wind patterns and ocean circulation, not because the planet is cooling. This question is completely explainable posed to someone who isn’t a climate scientist. But people like Murdoch don’t necessarily value climate scientists’ opinions above others.
This year Rex Tillerson, chair and CEO of ExxonMobil, asked, “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?” to a meeting of shareholders in Dallas regarding the topic of climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, preventing a lot of suffering caused by the climate change-induced heat waves, extreme flooding, sea-level rise, food insecurity, catastrophic storm events and the like, would also be good for humanity. Last year, Tillerson called climate change, “an engineering problem with an engineering solution.” This sounds like the kind of solution ExxonMobil’s climate change denying shareholders and political mouthpieces can support without suffering much for the rest of humanity.
The Koch brothers
Charles G. and David H. Koch are the billionaire inheritors of a coal, oil and chemical conglomerate that is kept lucrative by fossil fuels. The brothers have spent more than $67 million funding groups that deny climate science. Along with funding clean energy attack group the American Legislative Exchange Council (see below), the Koch brothers are putting their fossil-fueled force, and dollars, behind fighting a wind tax credit that helps finance clean energy projects, ignoring of course that the fossil fuel industry has benefited from federal tax breaks for just about the last 100 years.
The Koch brothers have also been pushing a “No Climate Tax Pledge” on politicians since 2008 through their front group, Americans for Prosperity. While unabashedly devised to promote their own self interests over those of the public or the environment, the Koch brothers wield so much money and power that over 400 politicians had signed the pledge as of July.
House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
Seventeen out of 22 Republican members of the committee, or 77 percent, are climate deniers. As a point of comparison, 97 percent of scientists agree global warming is happening and is human-made. This inverse relationship can have unusual outcomes, such as members of the committee preferring to talk about the possibility of life in other planets rather than the imminent danger our own planet is facing. A recent committee hearing ended up covering topics such as “whether the planet has experienced ice ages,” “will the EPA be regulating cow farts” and “whether EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy signed up for Obamacare.” Members of the committee are happy to steer clear of more challenging and serious topics that might upset the fossil fuel industry, which has donated $3,418,079 in career contributions to the Republican members of the committee.
American Legislative Exchange Council
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), is a highly influential right-wing lobbying group composed of Republican politicians and big businesses. Undoing state-level clean energy standards was a major agenda item on ALEC’s 2013 to-do list. Fortunately, ALEC utterly failed at these efforts, losing all 13 of its anti-clean energy legislative fights at the state level this year.
Rather than admit defeat, and give in to common sense, ALEC appears to be doubling down on anti-clean energy efforts in 2014. One way the group plans to do this is target net metering policies, which allow solar owners to get credit for the energy they feed back into the grid (which angers large utility companies and their increasingly antiquated business model). In 2014, ALEC will also be pushing legislation that opposes President Obama’s nationwide Climate Action Plan, especially when it comes to cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
Joseph Bast, president and co-founder of the Heartland Institute
Earlier this fall, after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its major study on climate science, (spoiler: global warming is unequivocal and it’s our fault), Bast said, “The IPCC — and all the mainstream media and environmental extremists who cite it uncritically — really have become a joke in the scientific community.”
Considering 97 percent of scientists believe the planet is warming and humans are causing it, one would think the scientific community would think similarly of Bast.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is the nation’s most powerful business lobbying group. Recently the group has been formally lobbying against the Obama administration’s use of a “social cost of carbon” in legislation. According to the EPA, the social cost of carbon is an estimate of monetary damages from changes in agricultural productivity, human health, rising sea levels and flood risks, and other effects of climate change.
Thomas Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, recently told a meeting of business executives that attempts to put regulations on hydraulic fracturing are “undermining freedom” and hurting the economy.
Bjorn Lomborg is not your typical climate grinch. Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, directs the Copenhagen Consensus Center, which compares global problems in an effort to determine how to best allocate available resources. However, some of Lomberg’s arguments relating to climate change are way off base, like criticizing green energy subsidies or promoting continued reliance on fossil fuels as the best way to lift people out of poverty.
Recently Lomborg wrote an editorial in the U.K. Times that asserts that, “global warming has mostly been a net benefit so far” and will be for decades. So while Lomborg does not deny that climate change is happening, he might be considered a confusionist, as Climate Progress’ Joe Romm recently labeled him. With Lomborg holding such a high perch from which to espouse his confusing — and even confounding — views, the potential negative impact he could have on combating climate change stands to be tall.