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Campaign Finance Reform is Imperative in the Fight Against Climate Injustice

By: Rachel L.

On June 23, 1988, NASA scientist James Hansen testified before Congress to emphasize that the earth was experiencing changes to its climate, and that these changes were man-made. It has been more than 40 years since this declaration of the arrival of effects of a human-altered environment brought the issue of climate change into the public eye, yet inaction and disregard to this long-standing issue has brought the world to an intricately dire climate emergency that we see today. Why?

Eleven years prior to the testimony, scientists at Exxon concluded the burning of fossil fuels directly influences the global climate, and that the subsequent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels would likely present drastic consequences in various regions around the world. However, as one of the most prominent oil and gas companies in the world, these findings would pose a tremendous threat to its business if exposed to the public. It was in Exxon’s best interest as a corporation to hide the data they collected, so naturally the company embarked on a misinformation campaign aimed at discrediting any scientists or public figures that tried to bring attention to the issue and used their vast resources to help put climate deniers in power. The actions of Exxon set a precedent for many other individuals and companies who profit off of the climate crisis to wield their monetary power in order to continue profiting at the expense of every lifeform on the planet.

The Koch brothers were just two of the individuals whose personal financial motivations have wreaked havoc on our planet and its people, and the legacy of their actions will be felt with each new disaster that arises with the ever-escalating climate emergency. Koch Industries have long invested large sums of money into political campaigns as well as education and research studies that support ideas and policies that align with the family’s and industry’s political goals, despite an opposing consensus from a vast majority of scientists and educators. In the 2016 election cycle alone, the Koch family and their network spent sums on par with that of both major political parties. These people have never been elected or voted for by the people that their dollars eventually impact. Spending on a scale as large as this one is not something that ordinary Americans could ever come close to competing with and disenfranchises those whose lives will be most harmed by the policies put in place by the people the Koch family help elect. The founders of a massive private corporation that actively benefit off the climate change-induced suffering of communities around the world unsurprisingly want to continue to capitalize on business methods that worsen climate change, and have used their far-reaching influence as incredibly wealthy individuals to further their agenda in American politics and put people in power that will act on their interests. Climate denial is deeply rooted in our politics and society, and it can largely be attributed to those who fund the organizations, politicians, and studies that have kept productive environmental legislation out of lawmakers’ hands for so long.

The Koch brothers have approximately $80 billion dollars in wealth. Photo from: PBS

These people actively work against public interest, and the future of our species and planet is on the line. In our democracy, the people in power are supposed to fight for legislation that will benefit the people that elected them. When wealthy corporations and individuals can freely and easily fund their interests, the foundation of our democracy is at risk, and in this case, along with it our very existence. The communities who are most impacted and at risk have the least amount of say in the very issues that are harming them, and instead those that profit off their oppression are the ones in charge, continuing and furthering the oppression. Campaigns need to be people-funded in order to serve the people. Reforming the way political campaigns are funded in this country is vital to providing those most affected by issues with a voice in who handles them and to keep the perpetrators of the problem out of the conversation.

Discussion Questions:

  • What tactics would the fossil fuel industry shift to if they could no longer finance political campaigns? How can we deal with their new outlets of influence as they find them?

  • Climate change cannot be discussed without addressing its disparate impacts on different communities. In addition to blocking corporate money from politics, how can the US ensure that frontline communities have a seat at the table when dealing with the issues that affect them the most?

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