Whenever billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch speak on an issue as pivotal as climate change, news organizations listen up. The brothers run the second-largest private company, by revenue, in the United States and pilot a network that champions libertarian causes across the country. Koch Industries pulls in $115 billion in annual revenues derived from a swath of businesses that include chemicals, energy and consumer products. Positions championed by the pair’s large political network tend, of course, to square with the interests of a massive energy company: smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation.
The Kochs’ pronouncements on climate change have aligned with this worldview. David Koch told New York Magazine in 2010 that climate change is a welcome change: “The Earth will be able to support enormously more people because a far greater land area will be available to produce food.” In an interview last year with the Washington Post, Charles Koch acknowledged that CO2 levels have risen. But: “[T]hey say it’s going to be catastrophic. There is no evidence to that. They have these models that show it, but the models don’t work,” said Charles Koch, who argued against messing with the economy to stave off something that may not happen. And in an interview with the Financial Times just last month, Charles Koch struck the same theme, minimizing the connection between CO2 increases and warming, as well as the consequences: “I don’t see the evidence that there’s an immediate catastrophe or even one in the future.”
Into the picture drops a story by Zachary Mider of Bloomberg Politics pegged to the Koch-run confab of conservative donors in the desert air of Indian Wells, Calif. The Kochs are orchestrating their very own glasnost, granting more frequent media interviews. As famous Koch-following New Yorker journalist Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker, “As the Kochs prepare to launch the most ambitious political effort of their lives, they appear to be undergoing the best image overhaul that their money can buy.”
Lunch is part of the strategy: For the Financial Times interview, Charles Koch sat down for his (very early) midday meal with reporter Stephen Foley, resulting in a write-up about politics, money and pulled pork. For the Indian Wells meeting, the Kochs allowed six news organizations into the tent on the condition that they “not approach donors or report on their presence without permission,” according to the Bloomberg story.
Notes on what Charles Koch said at the event, however, were fine. Sample this excerpt from the Bloomberg story:
After lunch on Jan. 31, Charles Koch spoke at length about his personal philosophy, which he says informs both how he runs the business, Koch Industries, and his political views. He envisions a society that maximizes personal freedom, with the government’s role scaled back to a few areas, such as enforcing property rights and public safety. He says government cronyism creates a “two-tiered” society, dividing those with access to governmental power and those without.
Although historically the Koch network has supported mostly Republican candidates, Koch is sharply critical of both parties for what he views as out-of-control spending and corporate welfare. Sometimes he sounds like a liberal. He warned that climate change’s worst effects would fall on people in poorer parts of the world. And of Bernie Sanders’ crusade against the power of corporations, he said, “a lot of what he says is true. The businesspeople who are successful haven’t become successful because they helped others improve their lives. It’s because they helped rig the system.”
Bolding added to highlight the gulf between no-immediate-or-future catastrophe and climate change victimizing the world’s poor. Did Charles Koch say that? Are his views on climate change now liberal? After all, the liberal position on climate change advocates strong government action to reduce carbon emissions. Very UnKochian.
In deference to Bloomberg, this nugget didn’t come encased in a story about climate change. Rather, it’s a strictly political piece under the headline “Koch Network Frustrated by Trump” and concerns itself with big money, endorsements and the sorts of causes advocated by the Kochs. Even so, the Erik Wemple Blog sought more information about the remark on climate change. What was the quote from Charles Koch regarding climate change’s impact on the poor? Wasn’t this a newsworthy evolution?
A spokesman for Bloomberg declined to comment. Efforts to secure a response from a spokesperson for the Kochs were unsuccessful.
“He went from just a month ago saying there would be no future impact to saying world’s poor are hurt first and worst,” says Greenpeace research associate Connor Gibson. “He sounds like Bill McKibben.” Some clarification on where the Kochs now stand on this issue would be welcome, says Gibson: “I need to know whether I should be calling up Koch Industries to work on a carbon tax or something,” he says.