“We support the abolition of the Environmental Protection Agency.”

“We support the abolition of the Department of Energy.”

So announced David Koch, godfather of all Kochroach Klubs, when he ran for vice president of the United States in 1980.

He and brother Charles, reputedly worth $4 billion each, have devoted millions to organizations promoting climate change denial and an effort to undermine/weaken environmental regulation.

“From 2003 to 2007, the Koch Affiliated Foundations and the ExxonMobil Foundation were heavily involved in funding climate-change denial organizations. But since 2008, they are no longer making publicly traceable contributions” (phys.org, Dec. 20, 2013).

The Koch brothers are also heavily involved in controlling what we learn and how we are taught. For 150 colleges and universities, they have issued grants that include provisions giving them control over internal affairs; the privilege of hiring teachers who share points of view; what research the teachers can do and what they say in classrooms. For these institutions, the Kochs have made offers that supposedly independent scholars can’t — or don’t — refuse.

Why would these godfathers want to see environmental regulations emasculated? Let’s look at their corporate history.

The volume of toxic output of godfather Charles’ Koch Industries “… is staggering. According to the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute, only three companies rank among the top 30 polluters of America’s air, water and climate: ExxonMobil, American Electric Power and Koch Industries. Thanks in part to its 2005 purchase of papermill giant Georgia-Pacific, Koch Industries dumps more pollutants into the nation’s waterways than General Electric and International Paper combined. The company ranks 13th in the nation for toxic air pollution. Koch’s climate pollution, meanwhile, outpaces oil giants including Valero, Chevron and Shell. Across its businesses, Koch generates 24 million metric tons of greenhouse gases a year” (Rolling Stone, Sept. 24, 2014).

Now, however, the leader of an even more affluent — and perhaps even more influential — organization has arrived in the Americas bringing with him a message of a very different kind.

Pope Francis, holy father of the world’s Catholic Church, now visiting Ecuador, Bolivia and Paraguay, has written in his recent encyclical on poverty and climate change: “Faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”

Emphasizing the crisis posed by climate change, “He places most of the blame on fossil fuels and human activity, while warning of an ‘unprecedented destruction of ecosystems, with serious consequence for all of us’ if corrective action is not taken swiftly. Developed, industrialized countries were mostly responsible, he says, and are obligated to help poorer nations confront the crisis” (NY Times, June 19).

“The pope’s encyclical can be read as offering encouragement to both negotiation and divestment as viable strategies. Francis writes that the purpose of the document is to open a conversation on the severity and urgency of the climate crisis, and he anchors the idea of dialogue in Catholic teaching about respect for the other. ‘The gravity of the ecological crisis demands that we all look to the common good,’ he writes, ’embarking on a path of dialogue which demands patience, self-discipline and generosity, always keeping in mind that ‘realities are greater than ideas.’

“At the same time, he has clearly lost patience with decades of pious talk by politicians and corporate executives. In one of his most emphatic passages, he chides those who have been content to offer nothing but ‘superficial rhetoric, sporadic acts of philanthropy and perfunctory expressions of concern’” (The Nation, July 7).

The pontiff’s impatience with often futile attempts by investors to negotiate with fossil fuel companies may well be characterized by the behavior of ExxonMobil, which, “In response to shareholder filings … has reported that is sees no possibility of its assets being stranded and intends to keep exploring, drilling, and pumping oil and other fossil fuels until the end of time.”

In light of such history, environmental champion Bill McKibben tells us: “The only solution is to reject the fossil-fuel industry economically, politically, and morally through divestment and government action, and to immediately pursue the complex task of moving to a low-carbon economy.”

“’The pope has managed to do what no global leader has done in the past,’ says McKibben. ‘He has issued a clarion call to say that climate change is putting the entire human family and the planet we live on at risk, and that only a rapid, deep, and structural response will succeed. However well intended, the past efforts at dialogue, engagement, and diplomacy have fundamentally failed us. The pope looks at the human condition through the lens of centuries, and he has now told us unsparingly that we must make huge changes immediately’” (ibid).

Will Pope Francis’ address to the billion Catholics of the world — and, in fact, to all of us — stimulate an increasing tide of action to stem the devastation climate change threatens to bring to us?

Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, thinks so. “This is a game changer,” she says.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara