August 23, 2019 / 6:17 PM / 25 days ago

Breakingviews - Climate-denying magnate stoked potent opposition

Businessman David Koch arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala Benefit celebrating the opening of "Charles James: Beyond Fashion" in Upper Manhattan, New York May 5, 2014. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

NEW YORK (Reuters Breakingviews) - There’s a miserable symbolism to billionaire climate change-skeptic David Koch dying as a record number of fires rage through the Amazon rainforest. He, along with his brother Charles, ran fossil-fuel conglomerate Koch Industries. They spent $127 million over the past two decades or so funding anti-global warming causes, according to Greenpeace research. But governments, companies and investors have already consigned to the scrap heap his belief that free markets cure all ills.

Forest fires can, of course, start naturally. But climate change is making them burn more quickly. And in the Amazon they are often caused by loggers, farmers and others wanting to clear land for their businesses. That reduces the amount of oxygen trees put into the atmosphere—the Amazon rainforest accounts for some 6% of the world’s supply. It also decreases the amount of carbon they can take out and can release greenhouse gases stored in the soil. And the activities that then occupy the land are usually more carbon and methane intensive.

The Kochs would either downplay or reject the science proving how this vicious cycle works and they used their wealth to support like-minded conservative and libertarian politicians. True, they have been no fans of U.S. President Donald Trump, not least because his penchant for trade wars is anathema to them. But the White House’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement suited them nicely. Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro has also threatened to pull out.

Virtually all other countries, though, are still in it—as are U.S. cities and states representing around half the nation’s economic output. Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Friday even refused to sign the landmark Mercosur trade agreement between the European Union and Brazil and three other Latin American countries until Bolsonaro honors “its environmental commitments” in the rainforest. French President Emmanuel Macron soon followed suit.

Moreover, major companies from Walmart to Procter & Gamble to Shell are adjusting their strategies to cope with climate risk. And investors representing some $34 trillion in assets have formed the Climate Action 100+ group to force the world’s biggest emitters to clean up their act. The unfettered capitalism that David Koch espoused has some powerful opponents.

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