By David Suzuki

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.

Written with contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

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  1. Suzuki should set a good example
    Climate debate too important to be dragged into the gutter

    By Tom Harris

    The climate debate is one of the most important discussions in the world today. Billions of dollars, millions of jobs, and, if people like Dr. David Suzuki are right, the fate of the global environment itself, are at stake. Consequently, we need all parties in the discussion, especially respected leaders like Suzuki, to behave responsibly.

    Sadly, the climate debate is now poisoned by ad hominem
    attacks (against the person, instead of their ideas) and other logical
    fallacies (errors in basic reasoning). Suzuki gives some rather nasty examples
    of this above.

    His assertion that the
    International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) “reject[s] the need to address
    climate change” is a straw man logical fallacy since we do no such thing. We
    encourage governments to spend far more helping people adapt to climate change,
    however caused.

    Next Suzuki implies that
    we are funded by oil and gas companies. This is the motive intent logical
    fallacy, implying that, because he suspects that ICSC has funding from vested
    interests, we have a motivation to lie in support of our benefactors and so our
    opinions should be dismissed.

    ICSC is not, nor has it
    ever been, funded by oil and gas companies (unfortunately), and that includes
    “the Kochs in the U.S.” with whom we have no relationship. However, a glance at
    one of the David Suzuki Foundation (DSF) past annual reports shows that they
    have received funding from oil and gas companies. It would be a fallacy to therefore
    suggest that the public should reject DSF advocacy because of that funding.
    That is why we do not.

    Suzuki commits
    another straw man fallacy when he writes, “It’s unfortunate that greed trumps
    the ethical need to reduce pollution, limit climate change and conserve non-renewable
    resources.” In reality, ICSC encourages pollution reduction and conservation and
    he could only know that “greed,” not an honest belief in the futility of trying
    to “limit climate change,” is our motivation, if he could read minds.

    Referring to groups who disagree with fashionable ideas
    about the causes of climate change as “climate change denial front groups,” as Suzuki did in his
    article, is a particularly nasty logical fallacy. It is
    often used to encourage readers to consider our opinions as misguided as
    Holocaust deniers and so discount what we are saying.

    making an analogy, even indirectly, between denial of the Holocaust and
    questioning the causes of climate change is disrespectful to the millions of
    people who were murdered by the Nazis. Climate change is one of the least
    understood, most complex fields ever tackled, while the Holocaust was a truly
    horrific event that is part of established history.

    As shown by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change reports, practically every one of the climate science points Suzuki promotes are seriously contested by leading climate experts. Regardless, no one that I am aware of on any side of the issue actually denies that climate changes. Indeed the only constant about climate is change. It is merely the causes of those changes that are being questioned, a very sensible enquiry indeed considering what is at stake. So, we deny that we deny climate change. We are denial deniers.

    The results of the
    mistaken belief of Suzuki and his supporters that we know that can control the
    climate of planet Earth is tragic. Of the approximately $1 billion US dollars
    that are spent globally every day on
    climate finance, 94% of it goes to trying to stop climate change that activists,
    but few scientists, are confident will happen decades from now. Only 6% goes to
    helping people adapt to climate change today (ref: Climate Policy Initiative,
    San Francisco). This is giving more value to people yet to be born than those
    suffering today due to the impacts of climate change. This is the real immorality
    Suzuki should focus on.


    Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition (

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