The stealth climate villains of 2020

Not all heroes wear capes, and not all climate obstructionists carry snowballs on the Senate floor.

Do you know why the U.S. has never passed meaningful legislation to address climate change, despite how long we’ve known about its catastrophic consequences, and despite widespread public support for action?

The answer is encapsulated well in this 2019 New Yorker story by Bill McKibben: “Money is the oxygen on which the fire of global warming burns.” It explains that, when it comes to both saving the planet and destroying it, money equals the ultimate power.

I thought of that piece when I was looking at a list of billionaires who have very recently poured big chunks of money into the re-election campaigns of Republican Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler—two climate-deniers from Georgia whose special run-off elections on January 5 will determine party control of the Senate, and thus the future of the climate.

Whether they mean to or not, these billionaires are all using their immense power to fund climate destruction. They are the stealth climate villains of 2020, rich white dudes you might not associate with climate obstruction but probably should, given their recent donations.

Here’s the situation:

Republicans are tapping big donors to raise more money than Democrats for the effort to win two Senate runoff elections in Georgia, according to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission.

GOP donors gave $95 million to their party’s Senate super-PAC and party committee between Election Day and Nov. 23, more than four times as much as the $18 million Democrats gave similar groups over the same period. The GOP has been spending heavily to help senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler hold their seats in the Jan. 5 runoff.

But the two Democrats, Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, drew much more in small-dollar, online donations than their rivals during that time, garnering enough money to stay competitive.

The bigger direct contributions was not enough to make up the difference between the camps, however and the GOP’s edge has allowed it to book much more pricey advertising in Georgia. The Republican candidates and their allies have booked $161.6 million in airtime so far compared to just $118.3 million for Democrats.

It’s not particularly surprising that rich people are pouring money into these races for the GOP. Party control of the Senate will determine whether President-elect Joe Biden is able to implement his entire agenda, from healthcare to criminal justice to student loans, and many of those things stand to benefit non-rich people more than rich people.

But it’s not hyperbole to say that these elections will determine the future of the climate, and that this will be the most long-lasting consequence of the outcome by far. Achieving the only scenario where catastrophic health, economic, and ecological impacts are reversible requires the world to slash its carbon emissions by about 45 percent from 2010 levels within the next 10 years.

That means we have to start yesterday. But if either Loeffler or Perdue win, any climate legislation will rest in the hands of Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell—someone who has spent his entire 35-year career in Congress obstructing climate action.

The donors who are spending the most to put the climate’s fate in Mitch McConnell’s hands aren’t fossil fuel industry-connected donors, or people who even talk about climate change very much. They’re just very rich people who have decided their priorities, whatever they are, are more important than the planet’s livability.

Not all heroes wear capes, and not all climate obstructionists carry snowballs on the Senate floor. Yes, we are in this dire climate situation because of people like the Koch brothers, the Mercers, the Murdochs, who funneled hundreds of millions to groups explicitly pushing climate denial and inaction. But we’re also in this situation because of people who lived through one of the most devastating climate disaster years in U.S. history; heard warnings from scientists that emissions reductions can’t wait much longer; saw the near-consensus that a McConnell-controlled Senate would doom those efforts; and decided that Senate was still worth keeping.

Here are the billionaires who have given the most money to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund since Election Day, per Bloomberg, with some fun (I guess?) facts for each:

The stealth climate villains of 2020

Stephen Schwarzman, co-founder of Blackstone Group

Gave $15 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund on Nov. 12 in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

Schwarzman is the biggest donor to Republican Senate Leadership Fund since Election Day, which is funny considering the billionaire founder of the private equity giant Blackstone is the only one of the bunch who publicly claims to care about climate change.

Schwarzman in January, per the Wall Street Journal:

Blackstone Group Inc. Chief Executive Stephen Schwarzman said it is clear that the climate is changing, and businesses need to take action.

“You can’t watch the news literally anywhere without seeing giant fires and storms happening on a regular basis,” Mr. Schwarzman said at a Wall Street Journal event at the World Economic Forum. “There’s little doubt that something very profound appears to be going on, and it ought to be addressed.”

I hear a good way to address climate change is to keep Mitch McConnell in charge of the Senate.

Kenneth Griffin, founder of Citadel

Gave $10 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund on Nov. 12 in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

This hedge fund billionaire is apparently Illinois’s wealthiest resident, and Trump thinks he is hiding money from him:

“Ken Griffin. Citadel. What a guy he is,” the president said, referring to the Chicago-based hedge fund billionaire Griffin, who founded Citadel and now serves as the company’s CEO.

Trump continued: “Where are you, Ken? Where the hell is he? He’s trying to hide some of his money. Look he doesn’t want to stand up. Where the hell is Ken?” before finally adding, “He’s very quiet about it. He’s in here someplace, he just doesn’t want to stand.”

Timothy Mellon, billionaire bank heir

Gave $5 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund after Election Day in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

No picture, but some more about Mellon, from a Bloomberg Businessweek profile:

The top Republican donor in the 2020 election is the reclusive heir to one of the great fortunes of the Gilded Age, who over the course of a long career has flown commercial jets for Pan American Airlines, battled with unions, and sued over money he gave to search for Amelia Earhart’s lost plane. This election cycle, he’s given millions to support GOP candidates who, he hopes, will dismantle social welfare programs he calls “Slavery Redux”—but once championed.

Dude also appears to be kinda racist.

Steve Wynn, founder of Wynn Resorts

Steve Wynn, CEO of Wynn Resorts, is acknowledged at a news conference held by U.S. President Donald Trump in the East Room of the White House July 26, 2017 in Washington, DC. Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.

Gave $5 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund after Election Day in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

The former Las Vegas casino magnate may be exiled from polite society due to the multiple disturbing allegations of sexual assault and rape published by the Wall Street Journal, but he’s still a billionaire and using the money to effectively make sure we don’t do anything about climate change.

Bernard Marcus, co-founder of Home Depot

Home Depot Co-Founder Marcus Bernard, left, attends the Center for Disease Control's dedication of the new Marcus Emergency Operations Center April 1, 2003 in Atlanta,Georgia. Photo W.A. Harewood/Getty Images.

Gave $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund after Election Day in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

This billionaire retired from Home Depot over a decade ago but people still try to boycott the company every once in a while over Bernard’s support for Trump.

Joe Ricketts, founder of TD Ameritrade

Joe Ricketts speaks during the premiere of "The Conspirator" presented by The American Film Company in Washington, DC. Photo by Kris Connor/Getty Images for Roadside Attractions

Gave $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund after Election Day in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

The billionaire owner of the Chicago Cubs has a blog where he once wrote about climate change and, in the span of four paragraphs, managed to use the tropes “the climate has always changed” *and* “I’m not a scientist” while questioning human contribution without evidence and deriding the “violent and hostile” people (re: scientists) who say that question has been answered for over 30 years.

Geoffrey Palmer, real estate developer

Gave $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund after Election Day in last-minute attempt to keep Senate red.

A billionaire and one of Trump’s biggest donors. Some more about Palmer, from Housing is a Human Right:

Palmer, who praises himself as a “true visionary,” owns or manages more than 11,000 apartments in Southern California. He’s one of the largest luxury-housing developers and landlords in California, which has turned him into a billionaire. While millions of Californians worry about how to pay the rent, he lives a life of extravagance at palatial, multi-million-dollar estates in Beverly Hills, Malibu, and Aspen, Colorado. His Tudor-style mansion in Beverly Hills is estimated to be worth $16.3 million. 

That’s where Palmer held a big bash for Donald Trump in 2019, hosting a fundraiser that probably raked in millions — a minimum donation to attend the soirée was $1,000 for an individual dinner seat and $100,000 per couple. Geoffrey Palmer, in fact, has long been an ardent supporter of Trump’s. Since 2016, he’s shelled out a whopping $14.8 million to campaign or political action committees that back Trump, according to FEC filings

Chag Sameach, everyone! On this fifth day of Hannukah, why not give yourself the gift of independent climate journalism? It’s 25 percent off, after all.

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Catch of the day:

Fish doesn’t have any money. The only contributions he makes are licks.

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