Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

April 13, 2013

The Koch brothers hedge their bets

Filed under: energy,fracking,Global Warming — louisproyect @ 10:27 pm

Richard and Elizabeth Muller

There must be something wrong with me. Here I am at the age of 68 still getting worked up over some Koch brother’s funded op-ed piece in the NY Times. If I had stopped reading newspapers 33 years ago after dropping out of the SWP, maybe I could have launched a career writing fiction. What is it that they recommend for people like me? A chill pill?

The offending piece is titled “China Must Exploit its Shale Gas”. My first reaction was to wonder if it was some kind of onion.com spoof. Not a day goes by without a disaster in China attributable to some profit-driven shortcut. Some reminders. The 2008 Sichuan earthquake caused 7000 inadequately constructed schoolhouses to collapse, thus costing the lives of 5000 children and another 15000 injured. As predicted, the Three Gorges Dam has had a terrible environmental impact, producing erosion on 80 percent of the adjacent land. One last instance to dramatize how risky it is for China to “dig deep” for any resource, including coal. Although producing just 35% of the world’s coal, China is responsible for 80% of coal miner fatalities. For example, a gas explosion at the Nanshan mine on November 13, 2006 killed 24 people. The mine, like so many, was operating without any safety license.

The op-ed piece written by one Elizabeth Muller encourages Obama’s pro-fracking and pro-nuke (what? You were expecting a Green?) Secretary of Energy Ernest J. Moniz to push China to go full blast in hydrocracking (ie., fracking) since this would alleviate global warming. As China’s chief energy source right now is coal, this would cut down on greenhouse gases. I guess that makes sense given China’s current situation–exchange air pollution and climate change for carcinogenic, flammable water.

At the bottom of the article, Ms. Muller is identified as the co-founder and executive director of Berkeley Earth, a nonprofit research organization focused on climate change. Gosh, as the head of something called Berkeley Earth, you’d expect her least of all to be wearing Birkenstocks and driving a Prius. But more importantly, that branding would ensure her to be Greener than Green, right?

Being an inveterate “cui bono” investigator, I went to the Berkeley Earth website and checked out the donor page, which is divided into three “phases”. Guess what? In phase one, they got $150,000 from the Charles G. Koch Foundation, the largest chunk. Bill Gates’s Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research kicked in another hundred thou. A brief search revealed that Gates’s main interest in all this is to promote geoengineering. An opinion piece by Naomi Klein on October 27, 2012 described Gates’s stake in this jury-rigged technology:

Bill Gates has funneled millions of dollars into geoengineering research. And he has invested in a company, Intellectual Ventures, that is developing at least two geoengineering tools: the “StratoShield,” a 19-mile-long hose suspended by helium balloons that would spew sun-blocking sulfur dioxide particles into the sky and a tool that can supposedly blunt the force of hurricanes.

She adds:

 The geopolitical ramifications are chilling. Climate change is already making it hard to know whether events previously understood as “acts of God” (a freak heat wave in March or a Frankenstorm on Halloween) still belong in that category. But if we start tinkering with the earth’s thermostat — deliberately turning our oceans murky green to soak up carbon and bleaching the skies hazy white to deflect the sun — we take our influence to a new level. A drought in India will come to be seen — accurately or not — as a result of a conscious decision by engineers on the other side of the planet. What was once bad luck could come to be seen as a malevolent plot or an imperialist attack.

 Ms. Muller’s husband Richard founded Berkeley Earth and now is the institute’s Science Director. Doing a bit of research on him, you discover from Wikipedia that he is the director of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project that Koch funds as well. But interestingly enough, that project confirmed that temperatures were rising despite suspicions that it would fall within the skeptic’s camp.

This of course has some bearing on Elizabeth Muller’s op-ed piece that accepts the science but proposes a remedy that will likely kill the patient—mother earth. The only conclusion you can be left with is that the Koch Brothers are hedging their bets. If governments move more and more in the direction of eliminating “dirty” greenhouse emitting energy sources like coal, then why not push natural gas and hydrocracking?

Tina Casey of Triplepundit.com ties everything together and puts a red ribbon around it:

 The green blogs were buzzing last week with news of a new bombshell report that affirms the role of human activity in global warming. Studies affirming climate science are nothing new to say the least, but this one was produced through the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project (BEST), under the auspices of well known climate skeptic Richard A. Muller. The kicker is that BEST is partly funded by the Koch brothers, who have become notorious for their financial support of the “climate change denial machine.”

Hence the bombshell, and with it a lesson in the perils of corporate funding  for scientific research. But is it really a bombshell? Take a closer look at some of the Koch brothers’ energy investments and pair that with another BEST funder, and it’s clear that the new study works in favor of the Koch interests, not against them.

The Koch brothers and natural gas

First off, it’s important to note that not all fossil fuels are due for a quick and brutal end once the so-called climate “skeptic” movement is neutralized.

Fossil fuels will continue to feature prominently in the U.S. energy landscape during a transitional period to low-carbon energy, and proponents of natural gas have positioned this particular fuel to play a key role in the transition, based on the idea that it is “cleaner” than other fossil fuels.

It’s also worth noting that natural gas is not necessarily deserving of this advantage, at least not when it is obtained through fracking.  Fracking is a highly controversial drilling method that involves pumping a toxic chemical brine underground. It has been linked to water contamination, greenhouse gas emissions, and even earthquakes.

Be that as it may,  Koch Industries is heavily involved in natural gas, as detailed in an article last spring by Lee Fang in the Republic Report. Its recent activities in the natural gas industry focus on services for fracking operations including pipelines, storage, processing, and supplies.

BEST, Novim and natural gas

That pretty much explains why the new report from BEST is not such bad news for the Koch brothers after all.

In fact, the report is not such bad news for the natural gas industry as a whole, judging by another major funder behind BEST, a non-profit organization called Novim.

According to its website, Novim initiated and sponsored BEST in line with its stated mission, which is “to provide clear scientific options to the most urgent problems facing mankind.” Novim’s mission also focuses on cost/benefit analyses, and it claims to report its findings “without advocacy or agenda.”

That’s all well and good, but Novim’s news page currently leads off with an Associated Press article asserting that evidence of water contamination and public health impacts from gas drilling is “sketchy and inconclusive.”

Other featured articles include a New York Times piece touting increased natural gas production (with a veiled reference to new fracking technology) as a critical factor in carbon emissions management, and a love letter to fracking in the form of a Yale study review published in Forbes.

Aside from BEST, Novim is also involved in at least one other research project with implications for the natural gas industry, an analysis of methane leakage from natural gas drilling. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and critics argue that the leakage effectively neutralizes the low-carbon advantage that natural gas is supposed to have over other fossil fuels.

He who laughs last, laughs BEST…

As for the methodology behind BEST, some critics are already lining up to shoot it down but according to a recent article in The Guardian, others are having themselves a bit of a chuckle over it. For all the media firestorm surrounding BEST, so far it pretty much confirms conclusions about global warming that had already achieved general acceptance back in the 1990′s.

At any rate, regardless of the science it’s a win-win for the Koch brothers. Either the critics are right and BEST contributes little or nothing to the body of climate science, or it is a valid study that happens to support Koch Industries’ investments in the natural gas industry.

Who’s laughing now?

5 Comments »

  1. Please stick with nonfiction.

    Comment by Jana Pellusch — April 14, 2013 @ 12:26 am

  2. Weird to toss nuclear power into this otherwise honorable go at outdated fossil fuels and fracking. What does the cleanest energy production method in existence (assuming we’re talking about things actually capable of meeting human need now) have to do with the extraction of coal and gasses from the ground by manual labor? Sure nuclear power is a danger because it’s controlled by capitalists with no concern for anything but profit — but that’s a question of means of production, not a black and white check off list for a type of technology. The disaster in Japan (which was pretty moderate when compared to the non-stop disasters of collecting and then burning coal, oil and gas) was caused by a refusal to make nuclear facilities capable of dealing with disasters. The owners were warned but did nothing in order to save money. Had they followed the recommendations, which is what would have happened if the plant was under workers control, nothing at all would have happened.

    Comment by Zhang Wang — April 15, 2013 @ 12:00 am

  3. This essay seems to cast doubt on the Richard Muller BEST Report from a number of months ago. At that time, the greenies were crowing that Muller was supported by Koch but the results were decidedly in favor of anthropogenic climate change. Now it seems like Muller’s motivation is suspect.

    I love it when the lefty’s turn and eat their own. It truly makes my day.

    cheers

    Comment by klem — April 20, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

  4. Now it seems like Muller’s motivation is suspect.

    I think it has become more and more difficult to make the case for global warming skepticism. Muller’s report reflected that reality. But this article is not so much about that but Elizabeth Muller’s advocacy of an insane policy: stepping up the use of fracking in China. Clearly, this is in the Koch brothers’ interest since they can profit from it. These guys wouldn’t care if millions of people died as a result of the policies they promote as long as they continue to benefit.

    Comment by louisproyect — April 20, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

  5. Very interesting post. Things like this put me in touch with the terrible things going on back home.

    When it comes to destructive methods like long wall mining and now fracking, the proof is in the pudding (seasoned by the shady deals between industry and government): http://www.anglersnotebook.com/2013/05/21/coal-natural-gas-and-consols-duke-lake-deal/

    Comment by Jim Davies — May 30, 2013 @ 3:16 pm


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