Billionaire Koch Brothers Investing Heavily in Climate Change Denial 'Research'

Posted Oct. 1, 2014

MP3 Interview with Connor Gibson, researcher with the Greenpeace investigation team, conducted by Scott Harris


The massive September 21st People's Climate March in New York City, and dozens of other cities and towns around the globe, sent an unmistakable message to world leaders that a growing majority of the planet’s population are concerned about the destructive power of climate change and want governments to take substantive action. However, while many nations have set targets for reducing carbon emissions and other greenhouse gases that cause global warming, the United States government has been virtually unresponsive to the urgent call by a majority of the world’s scientists that imposing new regulations on industry are essential if we are to avoid global climate collapse.

A major obstacle to passing legislation in Washington that would address climate change are the nation’s fossil fuel industry, which uses their money and influence to prevent the passage of new regulations while promoting research that claims climate change science is a myth, or exaggerates the dangers we face.

One of the most active family-owned corporations opposing action on climate change are Kansas billionaires Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries. The Kochs have given tens of millions of dollars to groups that deny climate change science, undermine policy solutions to the problem, and attack subsidies for clean energy competition while preserving handouts to fossil fuel companies. The activities of the Koch brothers who are heavily investing in university research is the focus of a new report from the environmental group Greenpeace, titled: "Koch on Campus, Polluting Higher Education." Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Connor Gibson, a researcher with the Greenpeace investigation team, who summarizes some of the key findings of his group's "Koch on Campus” report.

CONNOR GIBSON: Basically from my research on Koch Industries and its billionaire owners, Charles and David Koch, they fund groups that deny the science of climate change or block policies and regulations that solve the problem. It became impossible to ignore some of their political activity on campus. Your listeners might remember that in 2011, Florida State University had a controversy around the Charles Koch Foundation giving a multimillion-dollar grant which came with strings attached, where they had veto power over certain professors that were nominated for the positions Charles Koch was funding – you know, indirect control of the type of curriculum that would be advanced. That has been since proven and reproven in a series of leaked e-mails and whistle-blower professors.

But there's a much larger mission by Charles Koch in particular to infiltrate the higher education system. My research suggests that he has funded about 250 universities to a total of $50 million since 2005, with the majority of that happening in recent years. Back in 2005, Charles Koch was only funding seven schools and at this point, he's funding about 250, according to their website. So schools like George Mason University in Virginia, Florida State University, Clemson in South Carolina, West Virginia University, these are schools that are heavily funded by Charles Koch. And what we've seen from certain contracts suggests to us a dire threat to academic freedom. You know, if the Charles Koch Foundation has any say in what professors are hired, whether it's a "wink-wink" agreement or whether it's explicitly written in the contract, that's entirely inappropriate, according to experts of academic freedom.

So to me this is an extension of our research on the Koch Industries' pollution of the environment into their pollution of educational curricula.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Connor, I wanted to ask you about differentiating legitimate funding for academic research and the kinds of research that you exposed in this report, "Koch Pollution On Campus." Certainly, you can have conservative, or liberal, or folks in the middle politically who do fund academic research that they have sympathies with. But what is it that you see different here with the Koch brothers that you feel crosses the line between legitimate academic research by disinterested parties and what the Kochs are doing?

CONNOR GIBSON: There are a few red flags that come with the Koch grants and this is very much consistent with Charles Koch's reputation as being very astute with his investments. He expects a return on the things he has been investing in and that appears to be true with universities. As far back as 1974, we have a speech from Charles Koch as the chairman of a group called the Institute for Humane Studies. Now that's a group he still chairs, and that's one of the two groups I mentioned at George Mason University. In his speech in 1974, Charles Koch made it very clear that business leaders should only be funding academic institutions that are willing to carry forward broad business interests. And that seems to be exactly what he's done in the contracts that the Charles Koch Foundation has signed with these economics departments and business departments mostly. They're written in certain code words for teaching the kind of ideology that has made Charles Koch as rich as he is. Things like "economic freedom" – those words are actually written into the contract with Clemson University in South Carolina. "Economic freedom" is a political concept that Koch-funded thinktanks – the Heritage Foundation in D.C. and the Fraser Institute in Canada – they measure economic freedom around the world and it tends to correlate with countries that have lax labor laws and low regulations and low taxes on corporations, things that Charles Koch favors. And this is what Clemson professors are supposed to be teaching if they're funded by Charles Koch.

So, that certainly is a red flag and you don't need to take Greenpeace's word for it. I would say, refer to the American Association of University Professors. They're kind of a clearinghouse on the concept of academic freedom and are willing to validate that these grants by the Koch Foundation have put academic freedom in the cross-hairs.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Connor, maybe you could go into some of the important debates that have developed on campus relating to Koch funding? Has there been a backlash among students who are becoming aware through your report and other sources that the Koch brothers are influencing the curriculum of their education?

CONNOR GIBSON: Concerned professors and students at Florida State University first started making a big deal about this in 2011, when the contract was reviewed by a faculty senate and they found it was inappropriate. And that became a major media story that is actually resurfacing this year as students are working to limit the influence of the Charles Koch Foundation at their school in Florida State. But there are other schools that have been vocal about this, too. In fact, fairly recently, George Mason University students just wrote a letter to their president asking for a meeting, asking for transparency to be provided about the contracts between Koch and their school, because they don't what kind of control Charles Koch might have at George Mason. But he does operate two think tanks at George Mason University that were founded by the Kochs and their executives at Koch Industries. As long as other school, Kansas University, I read, is now calling for transparency on the agreement with the Koch brothers. And just this year, the City University of New York, in Brooklyn rejected a multi-million offer from the Koch brothers because they were afraid of this kind of control.

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