Opinion: The Koch brothers brought us Ohio Dan

It’s time for an authentic, independent voice who will speak for Alaskans.

  • Friday, September 4, 2020 6:30am
  • Opinion

As a young climate scientist, I spent months in the Arctic Ocean aboard the icebreaker USCGC Healy, studying how disappearing sea ice affects phytoplankton, the first link of the food chain. Through satellite imagery and ice cores, I thought I understood climate change.

Until I read “Dark Money” by Jane Mayer, and learned that climate change is no longer a scientific problem. It is a political one, rooted in government corruption, exemplified by the notorious Charles and (now deceased) David Koch.

“Dark Money” chronicles how the Koch Family made billions on oil and gas (beginning with the family patriarch, Fred, who manufactured diesel for Hitler’s Third Reich), then turned their fortune on the American political system, disfiguring it in their image. First, they tried the old-fashioned way when David ran for Vice President in 1980. So unpopular was his extreme libertarian agenda (deregulation, privatization, tax breaks for the wealthy — all of which make the Koch Brothers even richer) that he garnered less than 1% of the vote. Undeterred, he and Charles soon realized they didn’t need to win elections themselves. They could simply buy politicians to do their bidding.

Over the next few decades, the Koch Brothers consolidated political power unlike any figures in American history, essentially creating a private mega-bank for political hopefuls. If candidates pledged loyalty to their agenda, the bank was open.

The centerpiece of that agenda became ferocious resistance to addressing climate change. Not only did they put dozens of climate-denying politicians into office, they spent millions lobbying for oil and gas interests, and built a vast network of think tanks and nonprofits, all spreading climate denial propaganda. For decades, the sticky tentacles of the “Kochtopus” have blocked climate action at every level, from local to international, again and again and again.

Then, in 2014, their tentacles wrapped around Alaska.

Americans for Prosperity, one of many Koch Brothers front groups, decided “Ohio Dan” Sullivan was their boy. This outsider group, funded by outsider billionaires from their New York City penthouses, backing an outsider candidate, spilled a supertanker of dark money into the race. When asked on the campaign trail how much Koch Brothers backing he’d received, Sullivan stammered, “Look, um… you know, we’re gettin’… we’re gettin’, we’re gettin’ broad-based support from Alaskans first and foremost…” before a handler dragged him out of the interview.

How much Koch Brothers backing is being received this year? Is that why you call us “climate change alarmists”? Is that why you deny the decades-long scientific consensus and ignore the devastating impacts hitting Alaska, the fastest warming state in the nation?

It’s time for an authentic, independent voice who will speak for Alaskans instead of billionaires from New York City.

Dr. Al Gross is that voice. A lifelong Alaskan, he’s not accepting corporate PAC money. With no special interests telling him to deny reality, he’ll listen to Alaskans, and take action. But if we want Al to fight for us, we’ll have to fight for him. Your vote is crucial, but it’s not enough to rise above the Kochtopus lies that will spread like an oil slick as more dark money spills into Alaska. We have to make calls, donate, canvas, and give our friends the courage to do the same.

Will the awesome power of the U.S. Senate remain in the hands of climate deniers who will forever obstruct desperately needed climate action? Or will power shift, at long last, to those who respect science? We Alaskans – only 2 out every 1,000 Americans – will decide in November.

For our salmon runs, for our coastal communities, for our cherished way of life, Alaskans have a golden opportunity this November. It will not come again. As a climate scientist, as an Alaskan, as a global citizen — I call on my fellow Alaskans to defeat Ohio Dan and the Koch Brothers this November. To build a cleaner, saner, more just world, no other action we can take even comes close.

• Zach Brown is a born-and-raised Alaskan and a climate educator, activist and scientist with a Ph.D. from Stanford University, who did his doctoral studies in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska. He is a resident of Gustavus.

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