Who's to Blame: 12 Politicians and Execs Blocking Progress on Global Warming - Rolling Stone
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Who’s to Blame: 12 Politicians and Execs Blocking Progress on Global Warming

Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin and the other power brokers putting our future at risk

News Corporation Chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch


Rupert Murdoch, Sarah Palin and the other powerful people putting our future at risk.

By Jeff Goodell

This list appears in the February 3, 2011 issue of Rolling Stone. The issue will appear on newsstands and in the online archive January 21.

Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images Photo by Ryan Kelly


Rep. Fred Upton<br><em>Republican, Michigan</em>

When Upton was named chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee in December, climate activists breathed a sigh of relief. At least the two other frontrunners — Joe Barton, a longtime shill for the oil and gas industry, and John Shimkus, who invokes the Bible to justify doing nothing to stop global warming — didn't get the job. But Upton, a moderate who has backed new standards for more efficient light bulbs and admitted that "we need to reduce emissions," won the chairmanship by shamelessly transforming himself into a Tea Party wanna-be. He now claims he is "not convinced" that carbon needs to be regulated and denounces climate legislation as "an unconstitutional power grab that will kill millions of jobs." As chairman, Upton is expected to further boost his credibility with the Tea Party by launching an all-out war on new regulations proposed by the EPA, including stricter air-quality standards and tougher limits on toxic coal ash. In fact, Upton has promised that EPA officials will spend so much time being questioned before his committee that "we will give them their own parking place" on Capitol Hill.



Bjørn Lomborg<br> <em>Author, “Cool It”</em>

The Danish statistician, a self-proclaimed "skeptical environmentalist" who has spent the past decade downplaying the risks of global warming, has long been the darling of do-nothing politicians who cite his bogus numbers to justify their inaction on climate change. The good news is that last year Lomborg finally admitted we have a problem, arguing that world leaders should invest $100 billion annually to develop clean energy. The bad news is that Lomborg still fails to grasp the urgency of the threat, blithely insisting that global warming is "not the end of the world." Instead of pushing to cap carbon pollution immediately, he continues to cite research that is a decade out of date, asserting that "global sea levels are not likely to rise more than about 20 inches by 2100." In fact, the latest research shows that sea levels will likely rise by three to six feet. Lomborg is also wrong when he claims that most polar bears aren't threatened by global warming, that the lives saved by warmer winters will outnumber the deaths caused by heat waves and drought, and that the breakup of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica is unrelated to rising temperatures. "He's a performance artist disguised as an academic," says Howard Friel, an independent researcher who has systematically debunked Lomborg's work.



Rep. Darrell Issa<br><em>Republican, California</em>

The new chairman of the House Oversight Committee has vowed to use his subpoena powers to "investigate" climate scientists, denouncing federal funding of their work as part of a "tsunami of opacity, waste, fraud and abuse." Insisting that the planet is only going through a temporary and natural "warming cycle," Issa points to the bogus "climategate" scandal as evidence that scientists "played fast and loose with both the truth and our money." Money is certainly something Issa knows well: His car-alarm empire has made him one of the richest members of Congress, with an estimated fortune of $160 million. And while he has absolutely no background in science, he has a unique set of credentials for ferreting out wrongdoing: He has been charged twice with auto theft and once with carrying a concealed weapon, and owned a factory destroyed by suspected arson.

The Spill, The Scandal and the President

Bill Clark/Roll Call via Getty


Sen. Jay Rockefeller<br><em>Democrat, West Virginia</em>

The senior senator from the ancestral home of Big Coal talks a good game when it comes to global warming. "I'm concerned that powerful voices continue to argue that climate change is a myth," Rockefeller declared last year. "Greenhouse gas emissions are not healthy for our Earth or for her people, and we must take serious action to reduce them." But Rockefeller's deeds don't match his lofty rhetoric. Last year, he led the charge in the Senate to prevent the EPA from regulating carbon emissions, insisting that Congress should be the one to "determine how best to reduce greenhouse gases in a way that protects West Virginia's economy." Given that there is no chance lawmakers will take action on carbon pollution anytime soon, Rockefeller's move was just another excuse to burn more coal. What's worse, it also provided Republicans with bipartisan cover in their crusade to strip the Obama administration of its last remaining way to cut planet-warming pollution on its own. "Who does Senator Rockefeller think will protect Americans from the dangers of global warming if the government is left with no tools to do so?" asks Peter Lehner, executive director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Mark Wilson/Getty


Ken Cuccinelli<br><em>Attorney general, Virginia</em>

Here's a novel strategy to make sure nobody thinks too hard about the risks of global warming: Criminalize climate science. Cuccinelli, Virginia's ultraright attorney general, is using his prosecutorial power to harass and intimidate those who are raising the alarm about climate change. His first target: Michael Mann, a respected scientist whose research has shown that the Earth is experiencing rapid warming. Mann, whose work surfaced in the "climategate" scandal, was cleared of any wrongdoing by several independent investigations. But that didn't stop Cuccinelli from issuing a subpoena ordering the University of Virginia, Mann's former employer, to turn over the scientist's e-mails in an effort to discredit his research. Taking time away from prosecuting the 18,000 violent crimes committed each year in Virginia, Cuccinelli argued that Mann is guilty of criminal fraud for spending taxpayer money on studies that show the planet is warming. Such grandstanding is "an attack against the important role science plays in society," says Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists. "No matter how many lawsuits Cuccinelli files, it won't stop the seas from rising."

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty


Tim Phillips<br> <em>President, Americans for Prosperity</em>

As leader of AFP, a corporate front group that funnels cash to the Tea Party, Phillips is on a mission to convince Americans that global warming is a plot hatched by Al Gore to take away their freedom and destroy the economy. Backed with $5 million from foundations funded by Koch Industries, Phillips launched a "Hot Air Tour" of America last year, staging faux-populist protests against climate legislation. In California, he organized "No Jobs" fairs to encourage voters to support Proposition 23, the referendum backed by the oil industry that would have scrapped the state's crackdown on global warming. And during the midterm elections, he cooked up a "No Climate Tax" pledge for conservative candidates, making them all but promise never to utter the words "cap and trade" in public, let alone vote for it in Congress. The political pressure worked: More than 600 candidates signed the planetary death warrant.



Rex Tillerson<br> <em>CEO, ExxonMobil</em>

As the world's biggest carbon polluter — its oil spews an estimated 1 trillion pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere each year — ExxonMobil has the most at stake in the battle over climate legislation. In a sharp and cynical ploy, Tillerson rejected the cap-and-trade system being considered by Congress last year and instead backed a direct tax on carbon pollution — perhaps the most effective way to halt global warming, but one he knew had absolutely no chance of passing. To cover his bets, Tillerson also poured $27 million into lobbying, much of it directed toward killing the climate bill. Such tactics may endanger the planet, but they help protect ExxonMobil's bottom line. With the threat of regulation successfully eliminated, the world's richest corporation grew even richer, posting $7 billion in profits in the third quarter alone — roughly $100 million a day. And with ice in the Arctic vanishing at an unprecedented pace — melting that one climate scientist calls a "death spiral" — ExxonMobil could even be drilling for oil and gas beneath the North Pole in the not-so-distant future.



Tom Donahue<br><em>President, U.S. Chamber of Commerce</em>

Donahue likes to call his organization "the voice of business." But under his leadership, the Chamber has become the voice of big polluters like ExxonMobil and the American Petroleum Institute. "The main purpose of the Chamber," says climate expert Joe Romm, "is to launder money from large industries and multinational corporations to affect public policy." Last year, the Chamber spent $81 million on lobbying, far more than any other group. During the midterm election, it also pledged $75 million for ads to help elect Republicans, nearly all of whom are ardent climate deniers. After helping to derail climate legislation and calling for a new "Scopes monkey trial" on the science of global warming, Donahue is now taking aim at the EPA, pushing industry-friendly studies to argue that tougher regulation of climate pollution will destroy millions of jobs and shrink the economy by $1 trillion.

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty


Gregory Boyce CEO, <br><em>Peabody Energy</em>

There's no better example of how capitalism profits from overheating the planet than Boyce. As head of the world's largest publicly held coal company, Boyce is the darling of Wall Street, beloved for his crisp management style, nice suits and political muscle. To keep America addicted to coal, Peabody spent $5 million on lobbying last year, ­arguing that any attempt to limit carbon pollution will jack up energy prices and destroy the U.S. economy. But Boyce's concern for America hasn't stopped him from going global with a vengeance, expanding operations in China and Australia, and planning a huge export terminal to ship coal to the Far East. His most self-serving moment came in September, when he unveiled the "Peabody Plan to Eliminate Energy Poverty and Inequality." The greatest global danger, Boyce declared, is "not a future environmental crisis predicted by computer models" but the "human crisis" of 3.6 billion people who lack easy access to electricity. The solution? More coal, which Boyce laughably referred to as "the only sustainable fuel with the scale to meet the primary energy needs of the world's rising populations." It was the kind of statement that made sense back in 1910. A century later, it's a recipe for climate catastrophe.

The Dark Lord of Coal Country

Allison Shelley/Getty

Sarah Palin <br><em>Retired half-term governor, Alaska</em>

No state suffers more from global warming than Alaska, where glaciers are already melting, methane is bubbling up through the permafrost, and animals are being forced to alter their migration patterns. Yet Palin, the host of Sarah Palin's Alaska, continues to ridicule climate change as a "bunch of snake-oil science." On her reality show, Palin tromps through the wilderness gushing about what she has called "the grandeurs of God's creation." But in the real world, she disses climate scientists, trashes clean-energy jobs and throws her political weight behind candidates who deny the reality and risks of global warming. (More than half of the 64 candidates she endorsed in the midterm elections won.) Her low point came during the BP oil spill in the Gulf, which, with typical bang-your-head-against-the-wall logic, she blamed on "radical environmentalists" who had locked up "safer drilling areas" like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

The Truth About the Tea Party

John Chiasson/Liaison (Charles), FredThompson via Flickr (David)


Charles and David Koch<br><em>CEO and Executive VP, Koch Industries</em>

With a combined worth of $43 billion, these two aging, archconservative brothers are America's leading funders of the climate-disinformation machine. By perpetuating the use of fossil fuels, they in turn fuel their sprawling empire of oil refineries and pipelines — the second-largest private corporation in the country. The Kochs have contributed $5 million to Americans for Prosperity, the driving force behind the Tea Party. They also gave nearly $25 million to conservative think tanks like the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, two of the leading players in the climate-denial racket. And to help kill climate legislation in Congress, Koch spent $38 million on lobbying — more than any energy company except ExxonMobil and Chevron. Last year, besides underwriting a host of conservative candidates in the midterm elections, the Koch brothers backed Proposition 23, the unsuccessful effort to end California's crackdown on climate pollution, and funded attacks against the EPA's right to regulate carbon emissions. In David Koch's twisted view, global warming is actually good for us. "The Earth will be able to support enormously more people," he says, "because a far greater land area will be available to produce food."



Rupert Murdoch<br><em>CEO, News Corporation</em>

No one does more to spread dangerous disinformation about global warming than Murdoch. In a year of rec­ord heat waves in Africa, freak snowstorms in America and epic flooding in Pakistan, the Fox network continued to dismiss climate change as nothing but a conspiracy by liberal scientists and Big Government. Glenn Beck told viewers the Earth experienced no warming in the past decade — the hottest on record. Sean Hannity declared that "global warming doesn't exist" and speculated about "the true agenda of global-warming hysterics." Even Brian Kilmeade, co-host of the chatty Fox & Friends, laughed off the threat of climate change, joking that the real problem was "too many polar bears."

Murdoch's entire media empire, it would seem, is set up to deny, deny, deny. The Wall Street Journal routinely dismisses climate change as "an apocalyptic scare," and Fox News helped gin up a fake controversy by relentlessly hyping the "climategate" scandal — even though independent investigations showed that nothing in the e-mails stolen from British climate researchers undercut scientific conclusions about global warming.

Murdoch knows better. In 2007, he warned that climate change "poses clear, catastrophic threats" and promised to turn News Corp. into a model of carbon neutrality. But at his media outlets, manufacturing doubt about global warming remains official policy. During the 2009 climate summit in Copenhagen, the Washington editor of Fox News ordered the network's journalists to never mention global warming "without immediately pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question." Murdoch may be striving to go green in his ­office buildings, but on air, the only thing he's recycling are the lies of Big Coal and Big Oil.

As the World Burns: How Big Oil and Big Coal mounted one of the most agressive lobbying campaigns in history to block progress on global warming

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