“Follow the money” is a basic rule of American politics. Find out who funds a given candidate’s campaign—and, equally as important, who isn’t funding it—and you can make a pretty good guess as to which interests and policies the candidate will support or oppose once in office. As the 2016 presidential campaign heats up, voters deserve to know where candidates stand on the challenge of our time: confronting the growing danger of climate change. In recent months, scores of governments, universities, companies, and pension funds around the world have begun to divest from oil, gas, and coal companies whose products are driving climate change and whose lobbying and public relations have delayed action and blocked solutions. Now it’s time for the politicians who wish to lead the United States to stand up and be counted: Will they too cut their financial ties with fossil-fuel companies by pledging not to solicit or accept campaign contributions from them for the 2016 election?
Just as fewer politicians welcome campaign contributions from tobacco companies, whose products cause cancer, so politicians should now shun contributions from fossil-fuel companies, whose products are overheating the planet and unleashing deadly and destructive droughts, storms, heat waves, wildfires, and other extreme weather. Tobacco executives knew perfectly well that their products were addictive and that millions of people would die if they kept smoking them. Likewise, fossil-fuel executives have known for decades that their products are the main drivers of climate change, and that the effects would be catastrophic if humanity kept burning more of them.
The International Energy Agency has echoed the scientific finding that 80 percent of the earth’s remaining fossil fuels must be left in the ground if humanity is to have a fair chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius, the internationally agreed-upon target. This two-degree limit, scientists say, is by no means safe; rather, it is the threshold between “dangerous” and “extremely dangerous” climate change. The global insurance industry, unlike Big Oil and Big Coal, is heeding such warnings. “If we think we can live in a world where temperatures would have increased by more than 2 degrees Celsius, we’re just fooling ourselves,” said Henri de Castries, the chief executive of AXA, France’s largest insurance company.
Nevertheless, virtually every major fossil-fuel company insists that its business plan trumps the need to preserve a livable planet for future generations, not to mention the global poor who already bear the brunt of climate change. Thus, Shell—with the blessing of the Obama administration—races to drill for oil in a melting Arctic, while ExxonMobil declares that the global production and consumption of oil and gas must increase for decades to come. But not to worry, declares Rex Tillerson, ExxonMobil’s CEO: Humanity can “adapt” to unprecedented temperature increases by moving “crop production areas around”—as if the Midwest’s rich soils can simply be dug up and moved to Canada.
Meanwhile, the carbon barons employ their vast wealth and the political and media influence it buys to maintain the status quo, confusing the public with disinformation and cajoling or intimidating the people’s elected representatives into refusing a safer course. In the 2012 elections alone, the oil and gas industry contributed at least $76 million to presidential and congressional candidates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics; the coal industry spent an additional $15 million.