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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Who are the Koch brothers?

On a different topic than I usually write about...

Hi. My name is Emily, and I have been living under a rock.

Up until a few weeks ago, I did not know who the Koch brothers were. I had heard their names of course, but I -- like many people -- assumed they were part of the Coca-Cola (Coke) family. I first found out the truth about them at a rally I went to with Alex and Winston in solidarity with Wisconsin public workers.

The Koch brothers were behind Gov. Walker's successful ploy to ban the right for public employees to collectively bargain, effectively undermining unions. Their company, Koch Industries, was one of the largest contributors to Gov. Walker's campaign, and they have grown Americans for Prosperity(AFP)'s -- a conservative group that has opposed progressive causes from health care reform to cap-and-trade legislation -- budget from $7 million to $40 million. It is AFP that has been the public face for the anti-union legislation in Wisconsin, and other states that have taken up the politically motivated fight against unions.

So, who are the Koch brothers? David and Charles Koch head Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned company in the U.S., an energy company. Koch is credited with supporting some of the leading conservative think tanks, in addition to AFP, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.

Right, so these guys are big. Like multi-billionaire big. And you really didn't hear about them until they started donating their big money to support conservative causes.

I had my first direct experience with the Koch brothers' far-reaching money today at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History when we went to the Hall of Human Origins. As soon as I saw the description of the exhibit, I knew something was up:

Travel back 6 million years to discover how our ancestors struggled to survive dramatic climate changes, and, in the process, evolved the traits that make us human..?!?!?! (punctuation mine)

You have got to be kidding me! An anti-climate science exhibit on human origins??? Oh, but it got better as we walked through the propaganda, mouths agape. Here's a snapshot of what we saw, as described by the online interactive floor plan:

A 2-minute climate video shows how Earth’s climate has shifted between periods that were warm and cool, and periods that were moist and dry. These shifts became more extreme over time. Human traits such as toolmaking and large brains emerged during times of extreme climate shifts.

An area on how modern humans changed the world, and how our human traits help us imagine our future.

A computer game asking people to think about what humans might look like millions of years from now as Earth continues to change and humans continue to evolve.

A graph explaining that climate fluctuations have been increasing in the last 6 million years. ***This graph was not featured in the interactive floor plan, but remains vivid in my memory ***

Alex told me that he had heard that it was subtle, and it was. After all, who would think it was egregious to say that climate change has been happening for the past 6 million years, unless they knew that was a talking point devised by climate deniers, like the Koch brothers?

If people aren't pretty familiar with climate science and the politics around it, they might leave thinking, "Okay, so humans and the Earth have evolved through many changing climates and ages, and we have all done fine."

But that is not the case, despite Mr. Koch's spin. Of course, our climate is warming at a dangerous rate that is threatening our coastal communities in many countries, our water supplies and sources, and land- and water-stabilizing ecosystems.

This is not the first time the Smithsonian Institution has crossed the line, but they should return the roughly $21 million Mr. Koch donated to create this propaganda exhibit, and stick to exhibits based on science, not the donor's political agenda.

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