The world's top fifty wealthiest individuals who benefit from climate change by being involved in fossil fuel industries, and who use their wealth and influence to block climate-friendly legislation, are exposed in a new report today.
Coincidently, the latest British Social Attitudes (BSA) report, also released today, reveals a decline in public concern for climate change.
Taken together, it seems that the oligarchs' influence is having some effect on public attitudes, along with the recession.
Billionaires benefiting from climate chaos
The top 50 'Who's-Who' list of businesspeople who make money from financing climate change includes oligarchs from Brazil, Mexico, India and China; new elites who are recasting the global corporate power balance.
This is happening as heavy industry is accelerating its presence in developing countries, whose carbon footprints are correspondingly increasing; the so-called 'BASIC' countries who are this week resisting pressure for a global legally binding agreement on climate change at the UN talks in Durban.
"They are exposed in the IFG report for their get-rich-quick gambles to grab more land and resources, which, in turn, concentrates even more political power in fewer hands,” says the report's co-author and IFG board member from India, Dr. Vandana Shiva.
The International Forum on Globalization (IFG)'s report, Outing the Oligarchy: Billionaires Who Benefit From Today’s Climate Crisis is compiled from a great deal of often obscure research.
It profiles individuals chosen for their ranking on Forbes' list of the World's Billionaires, their investments and holdings in fossil fuels, and influence networks that block the transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable alternatives.
Among them are the already well-known Koch Brothers and the world's richest man known as “Uncle Slim".
The top three1. Carlos Slim Helú and his family, from Mexico, worth $63.3 billion. President of Carso Infraestructura y Construcción, his company installs pipelines, erects chemical and petroleum facilities (through its subsidiary Swecomex), undertakes infrastructure and civil construction contracts, as well as owning his own media, including the New York Times, Rand Corporation and newspapers in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Northern Ireland and South Africa.
2. David and Charles Koch, from USA, worth $50 billion. Their political contributions to defeat climate legislation are believed to have exceeded those of the American Petroleum Institute (Big Oil’s own lobbying group) and Exxon (the country's largest oil company).
3. Eike Batista, from Brazil, worth $30 billion. He made his money from mining gold in the Amazon and now owns OGX and EBX Group which is involved in oil and natural gas, coal mining, electricity production and shipbuilding. Batista was an ally and large campaign donor to Brazil’s ex-President Lula. Batista current enjoys a similar relationship with Brazil’s new leader, President Dilma Roussef. Both leaders vigorously pursue industrial growth policies that make Brazil one of the world’s biggest emitters.
47 more industrialists are listed in the report.
Its authors say that climate negotiations will not have "meaningful progress until we address today’s extreme concentrations of wealth and power that have corrupted any prospect of democratic decision-making.
"Climate negotiators know that they are not calling the shots; rather, they are all restrained by political pressure from the very people who profit most from polluting our planet," says the introduction.
Sceptical, belt-tightening Britons
In this context, the new results from the annual BSA study of the British public’s attitudes and values would probably provide encouraging reading for these wealthy individuals.
The report, from the National Centre for Social Research and widely reported in today's media, also finds that many Britons believe unemployment benefits are too high and that people should stand on their own two feet rather than rely on the state.
It pinpoints economic hardship and climate change scepticism as key factors contributing to the decline in Britain’s collective environmental conscience.
Since 2000 the number of people prepared to pay higher prices to safeguard the environment has fallen, from 43 to 26%.
So too has the proportion willing to pay much higher taxes to protect the environment: from 31% to 22%.
Alison Park, lead editor of the report at NatCen Social Research, said that “if government wants to do more to promote green behaviour, it needs to tackle scepticism about the causes of climate change and convince people that it represents a real threat”.
Support for the environment has fallen among all income groups. Just over a third (36%) of those in the highest earning households (defined as those with household income of over ￡44,000 in 2010) would be willing to pay higher prices to protect the environment, down from 52% in 2000.
The report also finds that people are slightly more sceptical about the credibility of scientific research on global warming, with 43% now considering rising temperatures caused by climate change to be very dangerous for the environment, 50% down from 2000.
There are some encouraging signs however. Recycling now appears to be mainstream, with 86% of people saying they ‘always’ or ‘often’ make the effort to recycle.
In addition, 39% say that they take steps to reduce their home energy use and 32% choose to save or reuse water.
Activities which require more of a lifestyle change, such as cutting personal car use, have yet to reach comparable levels; despite higher fuel prices, only 19% of respondents said they have reduced the amount of driving they do.
However, of those who think climate change is dangerous for the environmentally-friendly behaviour is more common with 52% saying that they make an effort to reduce their energy use at home, double the rate (21%) found among those who do not share this conviction.
The survey also found that 54% believed unemployment benefits were too high, up from 35% in 1983 when the annual study was first carried out.