'Pathetic': Author laments 'how cheap it is' for oil companies to fund climate opposition
A scorching heat wave continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa, resulting in hundreds of heat-related deaths and forcing thousands to evacuate their homes. The record-breaking temperatures come as Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has effectively killed President Biden’s Build Back Better climate legislation after stringing Biden along for 18 months. “It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger,” says Bill McKibben, climate author, educator, environmentalist and founder of the organizations Third Act and 350.org.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
Bill McKibben, I also want to ask you about the scorching heat wave that continues to fuel wildfires across southern Europe and parts of North Africa. In France, thousands have been forced to evacuate fires that have scorched over 22,000 acres. Meanwhile, the governments of Spain and Portugal said hundreds of people died from heat-related causes during the second week of July. In the United Kingdom, the British government has issued its first-ever 'Red' extreme heat national severe weather warning, with forecasters predicting high temperatures will top 40 degrees Celsius, 105 degrees Fahrenheit, for the first time ever.
This coming as last week West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin told Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill he will not support legislation to combat the climate emergency or any tax increases on the wealthy and large corporations. The youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement called Manchin’s decision 'nothing short of a death sentence.' And you tweeted in response, 'Manchin has taken more money from the fossil fuel industry than anyone else in DC. And the return on that investment has been enormous. Big Oil got its money worth a thousand times over.'
Talk more about what’s happening in the world with these scorching heat waves, and what the U.S. is not doing about it.
Well, let’s talk first about the heat. Britain has the longest temperature record in the world. People have been looking at thermometers there longer than they have any other part of the planet. And the temperatures we’re seeing today and tomorrow in Britain are going to smash those records, not even just beat them by a tenth of a degree but by a full 1 or 2 degrees Celsius, 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That shouldn’t be statistically possible, but it is, because we’re living on a different world than those old thermometers were on.
The scariest thing, really, about what’s happening this week, not just in Europe, but also in China, where there’s an extraordinary heat wave underway, and also across much of the U.S. — the temperature is going to be 104 in Minneapolis today, I think — the scariest thing is, we’re in the middle of a La Niña, a cold cycle on this planet. As you know, we break new global temperature records normally when we’re in an El Niño phase in the Pacific, but June, last month, was the hottest June ever recorded on Earth. When we next have an El Niño, the numbers are going to be just completely off the charts. This is very, very scary.
And what makes it scarier, as you point out, is the lack of a real political response from most places around the world, the U.S. in particular. Joe Manchin choosing this moment to sabotage finally the climate legislation that the president had put forward is particularly galling. This is the third time in the last 30 years that the U.S. Congress has considered serious climate legislation — the Kyoto stuff back in the 1990s, the cap-and-trade stuff in 2009, 2010, and now this Build Back Better bill, that groups like the Sunrise Movement had fought for years to get through.
I’m afraid that, in retrospect, it’s pretty clear Manchin was going to do this all along. You remember that leaked secret hidden videotape that came out last year, where Exxon’s chief lobbyist described Manchin as their 'kingmaker' and said that they met with him every week to discuss policy. It’s pretty clear how those meetings have been going. He’s played this very well by stringing it out all these many, many months, 18 months. He’s kept the Biden administration from being able to take executive action for fear of offending him. It’s appalling, but it’s not unexpected. It’s why we have to keep building movements bigger. We need more pressure on this system in order to make change, or we’re going to be stuck just where we are.
The one upside? We know, and we get more confirmation with each passing week, that renewable energy is getting cheaper and cheaper and cheaper. There was an auction last week in the United Kingdom for new tenders for electricity provision. And the cost of offshore wind was coming in at one-quarter the price of burning gas to produce electricity.
We can do this. We can get out of a world where we have to go kowtow, fist-bump the idiot king of Saudi Arabia. We can do it, but only if we’re willing to make the effort that Joe Manchin has kept us from making this week.
Let’s name some names. I’m looking at a Politicopiece that talks about where Senator Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy Committee, you know, the top recipient of oil and gas funds, gets his money. Last quarter’s campaign finance data shows the trend is continuing. 'The senator received donations from executives at Georgia Power, including the utility’s CFO Aaron Abramovitz, and from Dominion Energy CEO Robert Blue. Energy services firm Concord Energy CEO Matthew Flavin gave Manchin the maximum allowable amount of $5,800, as did Southern Company Gas CEO Kim Greene and Harvest Midstream CEO Jason Rebrook. Southern Company’s chair and CEO Chris Cummiskey gave Manchin $2,000, while three other company executives gave at least $1,000. An in-house lobbyist for the company donated $1,000 as well. Kara G. Moriarty, president of the Alaska Oil & Gas Association, gave $1,000, too, along with two executives from the energy storage company Form Energy.'
And it goes on: 'Manchin also took in more than $19,000 from political action committees belonging to fossil fuel or energy companies and their trade groups, including the Coterra Energy, NextEra Energy, North American Coal Corp., the American Exploration & Production Council’s PAC. The PACs for private equity giant the Carlyle Group and AT&T contributed $10,000 and $5,000, respectively.' Your response, Bill?
You know what’s pathetic? It’s pathetic how cheap it is to buy these guys. So, you know, for a few hundred thousand dollars, you can afford a senator, and he is able to put the kibosh on hundreds of billions of dollars in renewable energy spending. The list you just read is a list of all the people who don’t want the status quo to change, who want to slow down that change as much as they can. That’s what they are paying for, and that’s what they got, man. This was money well spent, from their point of view.
António Guterres said today, the U.N. secretary-general, 'Half of humanity is in the danger zone from floods, droughts, extreme storms and wildfires. No nation is immune. Yet we continue to feed our fossil fuel addiction. … We have a choice. Collective action or collective suicide. It is in our hands.' Bill McKibben, your final comments on this?
Guterres has actually been a hero, and he’s exactly right. And it’s not that hard. Look, there’s four big banks that are the big funders to the fossil fuel industry. They’re all American. That’s why at Third Act we’re working so hard to try and cut off that flow of funding to the fossil fuel industry. There’s a handful of people who are keeping us on a path toward existential destruction, and we have got to stand up to them, and we’ve got to do it now.
Your final comment about Saudi Arabia and other countries the U.S. is relying on to increase oil production, when in fact, actually, now gas prices are dropping, but, more importantly, it looks like these oil companies — while people think it’s because there’s a lack of oil and gas, it’s that they’re using this moment, this opportunity, this war in Ukraine — these corporations — to gouge consumers and are making more than they ever have in their history?
If you don’t like the oil companies — and, man, you should not like the oil companies — if you don’t like the Saudis — and I sure don’t — we need e-bikes, e-buses, electric vehicles. The day that we’ve got a bunch of them on the road is the day that we can tell these guys to go take a jump in the lake.
Bill McKibben, author, educator, environmentalist, founder of Third Act, organizing people over 60 for progressive change, also founder of 350.org, we’ll link to your piece in The New Yorker, 'If Egypt Won’t Free Alaa Abd El-Fattah, It Had Better Brace for an Angry Climate Conference.' His book is just out, The Flag, the Cross, and the Station Wagon: A Graying American Looks Back at His Suburban Boyhood and Wonders What the Hell Happened.
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