David Suzuki: Oiling the machinery of climate change denial and transit opposition

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      Brothers Charles and David Koch run Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., behind Cargill. They’ve given close to US$70 million to climate change denial front groups, some of which they helped start, including Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch and a major force behind the Tea Party movement.

      Through their companies, the Kochs are the largest U.S. leaseholder in the Alberta oilsands. They’ve provided funding to Canada’s pro-oil Fraser Institute and are known to fuel the Agenda 21 conspiracy theory, which claims a 1992 UN non-binding sustainable development proposal is a plot to remove property rights and other freedoms.

      Researchers reveal they’re also behind many anti-transit initiatives in the U.S., in cities and states including Nashville, Indianapolis, Boston, Virginia, Florida, and Los Angeles. They spend large amounts of money on campaigns to discredit climate science and the need to reduce greenhouse gases, and they fund sympathetic politicians. 

      In late January, 50 U.S. anti-government and pro-oil groups—including some tied to the Kochs and the pro-oil, pro-tobacco Heartland Institute—sent Congress a letter opposing a gas tax increase that would help fund public transit, in part because “Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit.” 

      The letter says “transportation infrastructure has a spending problem, not a revenue problem,” an argument similar to one used by opponents of the transportation plan Metro Vancouver residents are currently voting on. Vancouver’s anti-transit campaign is led by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation—a group that doesn’t reveal its funding sources and is on record as denying the existence of human-caused climate change—along with Hamish Marshall, a conservative strategist with ties to Ethical Oil

      American and Canadian transit opponents paint themselves as populist supporters of the common people, a tactic also used against carbon pricing. Marshall told Business in Vancouver, “I love the idea of working on a campaign where we can stand up for the little guy.” The U.S. letter claims the gas tax increase “would disproportionately hurt lower income Americans already hurt by trying times in our economy.” Both fail to note that poor and middle class families will benefit most from public transit and other sustainable transportation options. 

      Although many organizations that promote the fossil fuel industry and reject the need to address climate change—including the Heartland Institute, International Climate Science Coalition, Ethical Oil, and Friends of Science—are secretive about their funding sources, a bit of digging often turns up oil, gas and coal money, often from the Kochs in the U.S. And most of their claims are easily debunked. In the case of the U.S. Heartland Institute, arguments stray into the absurd, like comparing climate researchers and those who accept the science to terrorists and murderers like the Unabomber and Charles Manson! 

      In some ways, it’s understandable why fossil fuel advocates would reject clean energy, conservation and sustainable transportation. Business people protect their interests — which isn’t necessarily bad. But anything that encourages people to drive less and conserve energy cuts into the fossil fuel industry’s massive profits. It’s unfortunate that greed trumps the ethical need to reduce pollution, limit climate change, and conserve non-renewable resources.

      It’s also poor economic strategy on a societal level. Besides contributing to pollution and global warming, fossil fuels are becoming increasingly difficult, dangerous, and expensive to exploit as easily accessible sources are depleted—and markets are volatile, as we’ve recently seen. It’s crazy to go on wastefully burning these precious resources when they can be used more wisely, and when we have better options. Clean energy technology, transit improvements, and conservation also create more jobs and economic activity and contribute to greater well-being and a more stable economy than fossil fuel industries. 

      To reduce pollution and address global warming, we must do everything we can, from conserving energy to shifting to cleaner energy sources. Improving transportation and transit infrastructure is one of the easiest ways to do so while providing more options for people to get around. 

      Those who profit from our continued reliance on fossil fuels will do what they can to convince us to stay on their expensive, destructive road. It’s up to all of us to help change course.

      Comments

      10 Comments

      Jerry Grant

      Apr 7, 2015 at 6:14pm

      It's unfortunate for the planet that the science laws don't allow scientists to say its 100% proven that a crisis is certain since it would have prevented the last 34 years of climate action failure and global disbelief.
      Accept the fact that science has failed and all hope is lost now.

      It's as if the world has given up since Occupywallstreet now does not even mention CO2 in its list of demands because of the corporate run carbon trading stock markets ruled by Republican politicians.

      Pro Green

      Apr 7, 2015 at 7:07pm

      Normally I agree on most issues with Dr. Suzuki.

      But in the case of Trans Waste I gotta disagree.

      Lets examine the facts...;

      Translink has at least $250 + Million in their current Budget as of 2014 - 2015 to spend as opposed to Waste.

      Waste.

      1. $200 Million to install Compass that will never pay for itself,

      2. about $85 to operate Compass in Translink's 2014's Budget,

      3. Ongoing operating Costs of Compass will be about $35+ Million per year,

      4. Paying $805,555 per Bus, that's about 3 times a Bentley or high end Mercedes,

      I could go on but you get the picture.

      Than there's the simple fact that Voting Yes does not give us increased Capacity.

      Voting Yes simply puts the 0.5% into a Fund for 10 years.

      While the Mayors most of whom won't be in power in 10 years lobby both Ottawa and Victoria for over $7.5 Billion in funding.

      Good luck with that.

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      Dr. Zen

      Apr 7, 2015 at 11:23pm

      Mr. Suzuki must be getting senile in his old age... or more manipulative. Trying to tie climate change deniers, the Koch brothers, etc.. via some loose conspiracy theory to the NO side is really stretching it.

      I believe climate change is real, I don't drive, I telecommute, and I build products that allow others to telecommute worldwide. And I proudly voted NO!

      There are many legitimate reasons to vote No and better ways to spend limited tax dollars. This is more of the same old, same old, we know what's best for you, central planning... straight out of Animal Farm.

      The Yes side is desperate, but still refuses to address real issues, explore alternatives... but will go down screaming how stupid we all are instead.

      I realized

      Apr 7, 2015 at 11:43pm

      Being taught by inspirational Engineers and Geoscientist on the daily- being immersed in their knowledge and the theories and laws of science; coming home and reading this I feel as if it was written by an angry child who is more interested in veiwing the world as a war of environmentalists vs big oil. Its not like that and the fact you call yourself a scientust baffles me. Throw down some facts and reasonable arguments and stop with the popropoganda.

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      As if..

      Apr 8, 2015 at 9:47am

      As if fossil fuel companies couldnt profit from any business they choose to be in. If there really WERE 'clean energy' at a competitive price, if windfarms REALLY didnt require coal plants in the background, if the sun shone at night, well you know they'd be deeply in it and probably doing very well at it. If I were a 'denier' rather than a rational being, I would be just as interested in where Suzuki Foundation, World Wildlife Federation, Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Dogwood, Tides, 360.org and so on and so on get THEIR money from. If I were serious about a starting point, I would look up Vivian Krause's website.. Fair Questions Krause. Yes you'll see the first G***le hits PAID FOR by organizations that dont want their funding revealed, returned first on your search but skip over DeSmog and others for what they are, and get to the actual information they dont and cant deny.
      Oh there's that word again.

      As far as 'Agenda 21' goes, call it a conspiracy if you want, or just call it a political movement, like environmentalism, either way it's not coming out of some Koch brothers conspiracy, it's posted as a set of source documents on the founders' website. THE UNITED NATIONS.

      http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?documentid=52

      That's UNEP's website, ( United Nations Environment Programme). It should get ya started.

      Yes you see, they changed the name from Agenda 21 to 'Sustainable Develepment'. And yes, that's what's happening in Vancouver and it's spearheaded by zealots of the Vision Vancouver designation funded by.. oh just go look up. You've heard of 'Sustainable Development' right?

      It's density density density, rewilding, no cars everyone on transit, humans are evil and far too numerous, the world is coming to an end from climate catastrophe, and .. oh yea... developed nations must PAY enormous sums to undeveloped nations.

      Call it a conspiracy if you want. I call it a political endeavour enacted through environmental poilicy and a very compliant media.
      I suggest you take this Suzuki drivel with a grain of salt. I do.

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      Sigh...

      Apr 8, 2015 at 2:12pm

      I just wish no voters, at least some of them, would admit that they're voting no because they don't want to pay another tax and because they don't really care about the consequences. Tired of all these over-argued bullshit excuses. Own your cheapness for christ sakes, you snivveling bitches! Makes me pine for the old days, when cheap selfish penny-pinching bastards were upfront about their cheapness and told you to fuck off if you didn't like it. What a bullshit culture.

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      sam2

      Apr 8, 2015 at 2:46pm

      If I could have voted I would have voted no. Not because I don't want improved mass transit in Vancouver. But because ~20% of it was for more roads and cars, ~1% was for bike infrastructure; and because it shouldn't be funded by sales tax.

      It should be paid by taxing all of the economic benefits - increased housing density, increased property values, increased commercial property values, etc... The way it is taxed ends up transferring money from renters and basement dwellers in debt and living pay-check to pay-check to property owners and landlords - who see increased property values and will probably raise the rents.

      Feudal Vancouver carries on.

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      Michael Binnion

      Apr 9, 2015 at 7:40am

      Koch brothers funded Richard Muller at Berkeley the converted skeptic and whose research converted me the Chairman of an oil and gas Association that climate change is real. Koch brothers through this funding did more than anyone to convert skeptics. There is a Dutch saying 'what you say is what's in your heart' Suzuki believes the hydrocarbon industry has a conspiracy and big funding against climate change because conspiracy is in his own heart. It is Suzuki foundation et al with the big funding. Industry is concerned about climate change and wants a civil and balanced dialogue. Suzuki please get out of the way.

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      Burnaby Bob

      Apr 10, 2015 at 4:42pm

      It's a sad state of affairs when the views of people like Hamish Marshall are greeted with warm enthusiasm, while those of David Suzuki are met with distain. Automobile dependency is incredibly wasteful and inefficient, mass transit gives people greater mobility for a cheaper price, yet people are yammering on about Compasscard and a relatively small amount of waste in Translink's budget.

      I'm actually embarrassed for Vancouver. Its future is being held hostage by short-sighted, self-centered people. They should be ashamed of themselves.

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      Burnaby Bob

      Apr 10, 2015 at 4:52pm

      To Dr. Zen:

      "There are many legitimate reasons to vote No and better ways to spend limited tax dollars. This is more of the same old, same old, we know what's best for you, central planning... straight out of Animal Farm."

      So basically you're faulting the mayors for coming together to present a comprehensive transportation plan that serves the whole region? Is that your criticism? You prefer projects like the Port Mann bridge or Golden Ears bridge that only serve a few municipalities and are massively overbuilt and wasteful?

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