Money And The Planet

We’re at a time of the year and election cycle when news about the political campaigns tends to drown out other important or newsworthy developments. Policy arguments, particularly, take a back seat to “breaking news” about the latest evidence or eruption of Trump’s mental illness and general despicableness–like the taped confession that he knew in February how contagious and dangerous the COVID-19 virus was.

So I’ve seen very little about an important effort to counter climate change being made by the Democrats in the House of Representatives. Late last month, The Guardian reported on a three-part plan that aims to expose and counter the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded efforts to conceal the scale of the climate crisis.

Senate Democrats are set to release a 200-page plan arguing that significant US climate action will require stripping the fossil fuel industry of its influence over the government and the public’s understanding of the crisis.

“It’s important for the public to understand that this is not a failure of American democracy that’s causing this,” said Sheldon Whitehouse, a Senate Democrat from Rhode Island. “It is a very specific and successful attack on American democracy by an industry with truly massive financial motivation to corrupt democratic institutions.

A report titled Dark Money has laid out in detail just how “giant fossil fuel corporations have spent billions – much of it anonymized through scores of front groups – during a decades-long campaign to attack climate science and obstruct climate action”.

It isn’t as though the media hasn’t reported on this web of disinformation. Environmental groups have brought lawsuits that have exposed the fossil fuel industry’s efforts to conceal the scale of the problem and its use of dark money groups to slow a shift away from fossil fuels. But as Whitehouse points out, the story has yet to reach the American public.

In an indication of how interrelated our current problems are, and the extent to which campaign finance permissiveness has affected policymaking, the report blames the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision that allowed industries to spend virtually unlimited sums of money to sway elections.

The elements of the three-part plan are:

“Expose the role of the fossil fuel billionaires, executives and corporations in funding and organizing the groups trafficking in climate denial and obstruction.”

“Reform federal laws and regulations to require greater transparency and reduce the influence of money, particularly dark money, in politics.”

“Alert industries that support climate action to the depth, nature and success of the covert fossil fuel political scheme.”

The article points out that climate change–like so much else in our polarized political world–has become a defining feature of partisanship.

Republicans meanwhile are split on the climate issue, with some outright denying the science, many questioning the severity of the crisis, and a growing minority pitching technologies for capturing emissions from fossil fuels so they can continue to be used. Donald Trump has called climate change a hoax and rescinded essentially all of the federal government’s biggest climate efforts.

The article noted that fossil fuel companies knew the severity of the climate crisis as early as the late 1970s, and are only now–reluctantly–confronting it. Whitehouse pins the success of their intervening efforts to mislead and misdirect directly on Ciitizens United.

Whitehouse was elected to the Senate in 2006, and he said everything changed immediately after the supreme court issued the Citizens United ruling in 2010. “There’s a very clear before and after,” he said.

“I don’t think Americans understand enough the extent to which the fossil fuel industry has weaponized a whole variety of systems and laws that now competes with the government itself for dominance,” Whitehouse said.

A final note: The United States is scheduled to exit the Paris Climate Agreement on November 4th.


  1. “Policy arguments, particularly, take a back seat to “breaking news” about the latest evidence or eruption of Trump’s mental illness and general despicableness…”

    Did anyone else here happen to watch Trump’s “press conference” yesterday afternoon? It was an escalated classic mental meltdown including Trump’s personal policy arguments, lies and chest pounding which included is rightful firing of Comey and blaming President Obama and Vice President Biden for leaving no stockpiles of pandemic protection, he doesn’t use teleprompters but Biden came out of his basement to use them, and on and on and on. He continued into the Q&A segment during which he returned to his rant after being asked why he lied and didn’t release vital information about Covid-19 as other world leaders accomplished without cause panic. At that point MSNBC cut off the “press conference” and for some reason very little has been replayed or referred to in all news. I then turned to CNN who were not showing his press conference but were discussing the Woodward tapes and Trump’s lies and denials of protection from the coming pandemic. Why the cover up of his rapidly escalating mental status?

    “A final note: The United States is scheduled to exit the Paris Climate Agreement on November 4th.”

    Dark Money is behind all that Trump has done, and especially what he has NOT done to protect this country. Trump is doing, and NOT doing, this on his own. I read Sheila’s final statement above as meaning Dark Money has already bought and paid for the Electoral College REAPPOINTMENT of Trump to the presidency and the Republican Congressional members which allows him/them to finalize HIS/THEIR scheduled exit from the Paris Climate Agreement the day after the “election” and continue their deconstruction of this government.

  2. In the spirit of news relating to environmental destruction on behalf of Big Oil, I urge you to look at the recent article by Bill McKibben from the New Yorker regarding the 900 mile long pipeline running through Uganda and Tanzania. In it he writes:
    “The proposed route looks almost as if it were drawn to endanger as many animals as possible: the drilling pads are in the Murchison Falls National Park, in Uganda, and the pipeline runs through the Taala Forest Reserve and encroaches on the Bugoma Forest (home to large groups of chimpanzees) before crossing into Tanzania and the Biharamulo Game Reserve, home to lions, buffalo, elands, lesser kudu, impalas, hippos, giraffes, zebras, roan antelopes, sitatungas, sables, aardvarks, and the red colobus monkey. The pipeline also manages to traverse the Wembere steppe, a seasonal paradise for birds, and hundreds of square kilometres of elephant habitat. (Indeed, a charismatic elephant is featured in the online petition that an international nonprofit organization launched last week opposing the plan.) And, once the pipeline gets to Tanzania, tankers the length of three football fields will try to transport the oil out through mangrove swamps and over coral reefs, in waters teeming with dugongs and sea turtles.”
    A perfect example of Big Oil’s long term plans to profit in developing countries with complete disregard for the consequences for the future of our environment.

  3. It’s like an auction house in D.C. after a topic is raised like oil and gas reform. The dollars start flowing into the political system to targeted candidates on essential subjects. Just an FYI, the top recipient so far is Donald Trump, by a large margin. In the sixth spot, Joe Biden.

    Most of the monies are flowing to the normal states you’d expect to see, but since Donald appoints heads of the EPA, etc., who directly can save or cost oil and gas industries, you have more persuasion, which means more money. Pulling out of climate accords also affords you more money in donations.

    Most Americans understand very well what Citizens United has done to our country. Still, I don’t see politicians or the media calling for limiting the ruling by introducing a bill for public financing of campaigns that would end the auctioning off of our elected officials and would have our reps spending time writing bills and laws versus on the phone raising money.

    Without reforms to campaign financing which legalizes bribery, the political class will continue working for the oligarchy instead of serving voters.

  4. I am reading Michael Lewiss’ “The Fifth Risk”. It discusses the transition of power from President Obama to trump, a process that usually takes every bit of time, and hundreds of people, from the day after the election is decided until the swearing in. trump, to no ones surprise, didn’t bother sending anyone for weeks, and then often one person but no one with any qualifications other than being a trump supporter. Among the first things asked for at DOE and USDA were lists of people who had attended conferences about or worked on issues related to climate change science. We have a lot of repairs to do and if my trump loving friends are any indication even if Donnie loses in a land slide they aren’t going to go along and start respecting science.

  5. Yesterday, in a left-handed way, Trump did refer to the climate crisis, he support continuing the crisis; he stated “…we are helping the Kurds who are wonderful people, we have their oil and we are almost out of Syria…”

    Remember his 2015-2016 campaign foundation of claiming the “spoils of war, such as their oil” when we conquer a country? He chastised all previous presidents of the United States of America and their administrations for not having done this. He appears to be destroying any and everything in this country which could be considered “spoils of war” when we are invaded by his good friend Putin and the Russians. His repealing EPA regulations will be his legacy to Putin; but will Putin want Trump’s remains?

  6. I’m going to say some things that aren’t going to be popular on here – but first let me say that I believe that climate change is real, man-made, and is an existential threat that makes Covid-19 seem like child’s play:

    1. There does not exist a sustainable form of energy that can replace carbon based fuels within the time frame we need – with the exception of nuclear energy. Nuclear plants are not being built and many are coming to the end of their life and will be decommissioned in the next few decades. I say this as no fan of nuclear energy. It’s time to get real about this and stop engaging in magical thinking. Solar and Wind doesn’t have the utility scale storage systems and there really isn’t anything in the pipeline.

    2. Donald Trump, while not sane, is also not stupid. He seems to have understood very clearly that the way to win a second term and significantly change the game board is to have full employment and a robust economy – and do that in a very short period of time. Granted he was handed an economy in good condition, and then he goosed it. Any longer-term issues such as the deficit, climate change, etc. was put on the back burner. The pandemic changed the playbook.

    3. Biden will need to do magic – deal with the virus, deal with the corruption and lawlessness, make significant progress on climate change AND he will have about 2 years to dramatically accelerate the economy. I think one of the big lessons of the Obama years is that an extended economic recession/recovery brings about the type of political instability that we are witnessing now. It was also the lesson of Germany after WWI.

  7. Oh, The Trumper’s will not ever believe in Global Warming being largely assisted by human activity. Climate change is a given over the earth’s history. These could be nasty, they were natural occurrences. Since the bible thumper’s believe all events emanate from their god, one way or another Global Warming has god’s blessing or it is simply denied.

    Humans have piled on Climate Change so to speak. If there was a “referee” for earth, humans would be penalized for UN-necessary roughness. I suppose in a way we are being penalized, with out of control wildfires in the West.

    The pictures from the West, show towns that would appear to resemble the towns fire bombed during WW 2. Other pictures show a strangely orange landscape like Mars.

  8. Good points, Kurt.

    In order to do all those things, it would require full control of the House, Senate, AND a green light from donors.

    Furthermore, not all the money pumped into the economy has come from the FED, so Biden will have to deal with an exploding deficit. You know the conservatives who’ve exploded the debt will be clamoring to reduce it under a Democrat-controlled administration. The conservative media will suddenly turn up the volume on the financial balance sheet.

  9. Yes, global warming and climate change is a very big deal. But meanwhile OUR country has to deal with a psychopath of legendary proportions. In reading Cohen’s book, each chapter reveals more of the classic symptoms of such a creature.

    The House is more concerned with keeping our people housed and fed, right now. With a totally sycophantic Republican-controlled Senate, nothing that benefits anyone but the rich donors is going to see the light of day. McConnell has made that pretty clear since he took over as majority leader.

    NOTHING will benefit mankind in the United States until Republicans are GONE and out of government. That’s the discussion that needs to happen: How do we work every day to get rid of the scourge of Republican politics?

  10. The Trumpet’s comments on dead soldiers being losers or suckers fits his frame of reference. The Trumpet’s mind could conjure up something worth fighting for, the key ingredient though is to persuade someone else to place THEIR life on the line.

    An interesting comment from The Guardian: Nothing sticks to Donald Trump.

    It’s a curious fact about his denials that they appeal to his base precisely because they are so wildly implausible. A large part of Trump’s popularity lies in his shamelessness; in his willingness to lie, flagrantly and repeatedly, to disregard the most basic political and social norms. Prior to this latest upset, his brazenness clearly struck many of his supporters as a twisted version of truth to power, a burn-the-house-down middle finger to “liberal values” and all they imply. The fact that his lying was so adolescent and obvious made it all the more thrilling to the mob.

    The Trumpeter’s can and have denied The Trumpet ever disparaged the military dead. However, now we know in the Trumpet’s own words to Woodward, he knew back in February how deadly Corona was. He promised it was under control, or it would go away, a hoax, just another flu, or some snake oil cure was available. The “mob” ate it up.

    It is difficult to comprehend the minds of The Trumpet followers. The Trumpet receives a pass on his lies – A Macho-Male Authoritarian Figure has a blank check to deceive without any consequences.

  11. Todd,

    Indeed, in order to do much we must have control of the House and the Senate. If that happens, we typically have 2 years before the House flips. In addition, any changes take years to make a difference and more years to change hearts and minds. Obama care wasn’t “popular” for about 6-9 years until after it passed.

    I’m more of a fiscal conservative, but you deal with the budget deficit when the economy is doing well, not when you have massive unemployment. That said, I believe you are right- Republicans will suddenly start talking about the deficit in a Biden administration.

    The larger point here is that ALL of these things are not possible to do in the first 2 years of a potential Biden administration. There will have to be priorities. In addition to flipping the Senate, it will be necessary to keep the House in two years and keep it all together in 2024. You really need 6-8 years of being able to get things done – to get things done.

    I think instead of helicopter money, we should see incentives for green energy. We should also see big investment in infrastructure – with direct infrastructure aid to cities to avoid Republican controlled state legislatures. If we are going to spend government money, let’s fix some crumbling roads, bridges, power distribution, water lines, sewers, etc. that also puts people back to work.

  12. It would have meant SO much more if the main speaker in Shanksville, PA, had believed even a few words he read from the teleprompters at his left and right. It was so phony coming out of his mouth.

  13. Richard Nixon once declared that “We are all Keynesians now,” but Republicans are selective Keynesians, as suggested in this blog by some today. Keynes came up with the rather simple and obvious idea that governments should borrow during downturns and pay back what they borrowed when the economy recovers. Republicans believe in the first part of such an idea, i.e., borrow during recessions, but are reluctant to pay back during upticks in GDP. This, of course, means that we are in perpetual deficit and adding to it during downturns, and even (as we have seen) giving tax breaks to the rich and corporate class (aka spending) during GOOD times! This, as we have repeatedly seen in our economic history, results in deficits which incoming Democrats have to clean up. (See FDR, Obama and, I hope, Biden).

    The good news is that (I hope) Biden will have the opportunity to avail the country with initiatives such as an immense infrastructure program and a manufacturing at home program (among others) that will end unemployment and provide good wages which, along with pent up demand and a resulting boom in GDP Democrats will, as usual, honor the second half of the Keynesian theory in cleaning up the Hoover, Bush and Trump messes and, one would hope, the idea that the U.S. Treasury is a Republican candy store free for the taking. So, honoring the second half of the Keynesian is a good idea? Yes, and a necessary one, since I read recently that our current long term deficit (and counting) exceeds our annual GDP for the first time since WW II.

    The Paris Accord departure can be corrected on the afternoon of January 20, 2021, but the Citizens United problem will take a more concerted effort. The answer is, of course, public financing of elections as well as certain other election reforms designed to meet the tests of Baker v. Carr (one man-one vote). Such reforms would finally thwart the designs of the dark money titans and bring us nearer to the continuing quest for the democratic idealism espoused by our Founders, but we will even then have to remain vigilant for other means the rich and corporate class have in mind to destroy our environment in their oblivious drive to make money, a class that apparently believes (contrary to the evidence) that you CAN take it with you.

  14. Kurt: “Donald Trump, while not sane, is also not stupid.”

    I fully agree with the first part of that sentence. The second part, not so much. I have not heard him speak on a single subject in the past five years on which he sounded like he had any information or any depth of understanding. Shouldn’t he know something about something (other than how to use teams of attorneys to browbeat people)? After many years of (well earned) humility about my intellect, I’ve developed a superiority complex vis a vis the president. Since Trump took office, I have not heard him hold forth on any subject where he sounded as if he knows a fraction of what I or my family or my friends know. To me, he is a certifiable dumbbell on all subjects except how to make thinking people loathe him.

    In line with your theme, Sheila, Charleston has just hired an environmental law firm from California to represent the city in a suit against a great number of fossil fuel companies. The city maintains that it will be forced to spend billions building a wall to prevent being engulfed by sea level rise and that since the fossil fuel companies knowingly caused the problem, they must contribute to the solution. That case should be very interesting to follow in the courts and the Post & Courier has smart enough reporters that we are sure to get many of the details.

    South Carolinians are celebrating Trump’s announcement on a drilling moratorium for our state, but many see it as a cynical boost to Lindsey Graham’s campaign. Trump can cancel the moratorium on November 4, or whenever vote counting concludes, if he chooses.

  15. There is no higher priority than to vote blue no matter who and mobilize as many voters as possible to their voting place or through the mail.

    The first big assault on mitigating the unaffordable cost of the consequences of accumulating atmospheric carbon based fossil fuel waste is coming in the form of electric vehicles as fast as the auto industry new and old can make that happen in order to shut down the oil business.

    No matter how the energy to power them is harvested there will be huge savings just in efficiency. EVs use about half as much energy as what I call ICEmobiles. More economic benefit will come as the energy harvesting and distribution corporations switch to sustainable sources. We are nowhere close to the limits of intermittency from solar and wind.

    Coal is and will continue to die of old age as new coal plants are very rare globally.

    The problem with nuclear is that at the present we don’t have even an investor attractive design for it. We will for sure but we’ve used up all of the spare time we can afford doing the nothing that fossil fuel marketing has promoted for decades.

    California at the moment is leading the world in demonstrating the consequences of failure to employ sustainable energy are.

    The primary roles of government for all of this are one, to plan the new distribution system required for a modern energy distribution network and two, support the high risk R&D required and three coordinate our efforts with the rest of the world through the UN.

  16. Terry – Yes, it is Trump cynicism at its best and even so is only a moratorium and not a permanent policy, akin to Trump’s naming of “acting” agency heads (reversible at his whim if such heads do not do his bidding, aka dictatorship). Based on such evidence we can ignore his throwing a pre-election liberal branch to the masses for their votes only to see such stance evaporate after the election, since like the Bohemian corporal who, like Trump, railed and ranted against his generals, all such promises whether kept or not are designed with a me-me-me result in mind (a mind that can only see dictatorship as a rightful reward). It is not possible for a terminal narcissist to represent others since their interests do not exist in his or her me-me-me world.

  17. Gerald; there is something about “acting” or “interim” heads of departments which appeals to Republicans, maybe because they are easier to get rid of if they displease their leader. Steve Goldsmith, while Mayor of Indianapolis, appointed a man named Warren Tyler as interim Director of the Department of Metropolitan Development, this was not made public and we did not receive notification of the appointment. Only if or when we asked questions were we told to go to Tyler for answers. Tyler was vice president of a bank in Columbus, Ohio, where he lived. He had been a major donor to Goldsmith’s campaign; got his foot in the door of Indianapolis city government when awarded a 9 month, $52,000 contract to study public housing. When Goldsmith tried to increase the contact to a full year and increase the amount to $100,000, the Metropolitan Development Commission began asking questions about who he was. As records secretary to the Commission, I was the one they asked and of course I answered honestly. Not knowing Tyler’s DMD blond secretary “friend” was listening to all conversations and reporting them till I was placed on a 30-day performance probation for not doing any work, having a bad attitude and having surgery 3 months earlier. The next interim director was rarely in the office as he had another position and office elsewhere, didn’t attend Commission meetings but always ordered a catered lunch which I had to pay for.

    Goldsmith accused the sitting Commission President of using his position to get development contracts for his personal company; not true but led to a lengthy investigation which the Commission President won then submitted his resignation. I received Goldsmith’s letter appointing a new President to include with their next meeting agenda; Commissioners all then called me to ask who the man was, I had no answer to give them. Then the newly appointed Commission President called me to ask what exactly does the Metropolitan Development Commission do? I managed not to laugh till I had explained what they did and hung up the phone. Can you imagine what has gone on behind public knowledge in the Trump administration for 3 years and 9 months?

  18. If the fossil fuel industries had practiced integrity and wisdom, they would have started shifting their industry to sustainable sources of energy years and years ago. Instead they stifled innovation because of greed.

    But, of course, much of their industry goes to the production of plastics. Something Americans including yours truly find very convenient. So,the other smart thing they could have done is start shifting toward sustainable recycling of plastics.

    Are they moving toward making batteries for electric cars? I doubt it.

  19. In Jane Mayer’s book “Dark Money” she outlines the systemic way that fossil fuel industry has bought it’s way into grass roots politics & education across the US. They invest in schools & even influence the curriculum to favor thinking that supports their business. In Indiana a few years ago the legislature imposed a “road fee” on hybrid/Ev’s for not using enough gasoline. This kind of regressive thinking & action is detrimental to promoting acceptance of ways to help clean up & sustain healthy environment. We have to find a way to keep industry from buying into & running our government for their own profit, since we don’t all benefit from their enterprise.

  20. For a very accessible and comprehensive look at climate change, please read “The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here” by Hope Jahren. She is an American geochemist and geobiologist at the University of Oslo in Norway, born and raised in the heartland of the U.S.
    Her chapter on fossil fuels lays out the finite nature of fossil fuels in hard data and dire consequences if we continue to rely on it for more and more and more. The book is loaded with data almost to the point of glazing over eyes, but she never the less stays rooted in reality for the layperson with limited scientific education.
    If we continue to consume and more importantly produce the waste generated by that consumption, our grandchildren face an unhealthy and dark future buried up to their chins in sh*t of all kinds.

  21. Kurt,
    Countries like Germany have had amazing success with green energy. Maybe not enough to abandon fossil fuels, but enough to make a huge dent. It take a government and citizens willing to pay for the costs.

    As for the economy and full employment, resentment was still building over the lack of wage growth. Full employment is great. A booming wall street is not makes people happy. Having a living wage that will support a family is what make people happy.

    The sluggish growth of the Obama years was the direct result of all of those “fiscally conservative Republicans” harping on their hypocritical “no deficit” policy. Or if you remember “we will do everything in our power to make sure Obama is a 1 term president” policy.

    Signed “A former Republican”.

  22. @Dan Mullendore,

    I understand there are certainly gains to be made with renewable energy and energy efficiency. There’s still plenty of low-hanging fruit.

    That doesn’t change my first point: There isn’t a renewable solution to do what we need to do within the time period in which we need to do it.

    “It take a government and citizens willing to pay for the costs….” A Tesla Powerwall storage device is currently about $10,000 installed cost for ~13.5 kWh – a little less than half a day’s electrical usage at my house in July/August. The cost of the solar (8.16 kW – installed – is about $34,000. So now we are up to about $44k for a modest grid-tie system and almost 12 hours of storage. It’s in the realm of possibilities… but it’s a pretty big chunk of change. Ditto electric cars. The PV will have a lifespan of about 30 years and the storage I’m guessing around 10 years. And again, that’s a modest residential system with utility backup. Have you dropped your $44K for solar or $60k for an electric vehicle? Me neither.

    I wasn’t necessarily blaming Obama for the drawn-out recovery. The point is that you have to do things quickly while there is political will and because it takes time for that to move through the system and change hearts and minds. And I wasn’t talking about the stock market – I was talking about Main Street.

    A potential Biden administration has a VERY short time to get a lot of things done – roughly 2 years if history is any guide. Much of that will need to focus on getting the virus under control and getting the economy back on track.

Comments are closed.