By Bill Ehrlich
Originally published on Mosaic

As crazy as it may sound to say the Koch brothers could be good for solar, Bill Ehrlich shows why this may indeed be the case. By playing the role of villains who get people primed for a fight, the Koch brothers may provide a rallying effect that slow-paced climate change has not.

The Koch brothers have been in the news a lot recently as apparent opponents to renewable energy. For those unfamiliar with the Koch brothers, the “Koch brothers” are Charles and David Koch (pronounced “coke”), and are the owners of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately owned business in the United States. Koch Industries was founded in 1940 by their father, Fred Koch. Today, 78 year old Charles Koch is the Chairman & CEO while 74 year old David Koch holds the Executive VP position, each has a net worth of $40 billion.

Koch Industries.jpg



Koch Industries is a multinational conglomerate involved in the industries of manufacturing, refining and distribution of petroleum, chemicals, and energy. The Koch brothers are essentially old school oil men and have been making that known to the tune of hundreds of million dollars spent on political campaigns, and more recently, attacks on the renewable energy industry. At this point you are probably wondering how on Earth could these guys be GOOD for solar power?

Ehh . . . What’s Up Doc?

Climate change has been big in the news for at least the past ten years and although the scientific community has continued to prove its existence with data, it has not galvanized the American public to the degree many had hoped. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is the fact that climate change is gradual, faceless, and often lacks the emotional hook that is required to rouse a unified public response. No matter how nefarious climate change may be, its seemingly overwhelming nature makes it difficult to rally against. Fierce advocates can feel daunted by the challenge while naysayers view the cause as “Chicken Little” (i.e. “the sky is falling”). The problem is that climate change is a weak villain. In terms of villainy, climate change is the equivalent of Elmer Fudd, not exactly the type of character that brings out “the better angels of our nature.”

Elmer Fudd.png

SOURCE: Warner Bros. via YouTube

Bad Guys Who Like to Loot and Plunder

If you are in your 20s or 30s, you are probably familiar with the TV show Captain Planet. How popular would Captain Planet have been if he had to fight the hypothetical destruction of the world due to gradual warming caused by everyone including himself? The only thing worse than that show is one where Captain Planet conducts large multi-year environmental studies while writing academic papers on sea-level rise caused by anthropogenic climate change. We wanted to watch Captain Planet find out who is profiting from wanton pollution and make them pay. We still do.

Captain Planet and Villains.jpg

SOURCE: Time Warner via TBS

Captain Planet had a great cast of villains that made you want to fight on the side of the Planeteers because it hooked your emotional sensibilities and gave you a moral imperative, not to mention tangible “bad guys” to unite against. When the villain Looten Plunder plans to build a large polluting refinery on a pristine river, we are incensed not at the physical building but at the man behind it. Without great villains it is unlikely you will have great heroes. There is no Sherlock Holmes without Professor Moriarity, no Superman without Lex Luthor, no George Bailey without Mr. Potter, and no Captain Planet without the likes of Looten Plunder.                 Looten Plunder.jpg

SOURCE: Time Warner via TBS

E Solaris Unum

What the Koch brothers offer the solar industry is their willingness to actively pursue and play the role of the foil. If you were to write a story about climate change and had to come up with villains, the Koch brothers would almost seem too contrived as to be believable. The Koch brothers are putting a face and a name to the issue of climate change and as a result potentially doing a service to the cause. They appear to be working hard at becoming renewable energy’s very own super-villains or are at least very easily caricatured as such. At a time when many Americans are finding it harder to make ends meet and solar power offers the promise of millions of jobs as well as a better future for the country across the political spectrum, it is hard to imagine a better duo than billionaires Charles and David Koch that could bring together a united front.

Koch Brothers.jpg

                              Charles Koch                                                                    David Koch


“The Power is Yours!”

The Koch brothers may not realize it but they are positioning themselves to follow in the footsteps of forgotten railroad tycoons in the age of the car. The railroad magnates made the mistake of believing they were in the railroad business when they were really in the transportation business. The Koch brothers appear to be making a similar error in judgment believing themselves to be in the oil business when they are actually in the energy business. What was once an unchallenged grid crisscrossing the country owned by a few ultra-wealthy men was quickly relegated to the background when an alternative became available that allowed regular people the convenience, security, and independence we all desire. It happened to the railroads at the turn of the last century and is happening to the oil industry now.

Solar power enjoys bipartisan support across the country and any ostensible attack on renewable energy is going to have the effect of showing the attacker’s interests to be misaligned with the American public as a people, the United States as a country, and our future as a planet. Who will rise to the occasion under these unsolicited and counterproductive attacks has yet to be seen, if history is any indication, it will be all of us. The discussion of politics, money, power, and energy will continue to be at the forefront of our national dialogue, but it’s important to remember that the struggle is not about ENERGY but about POWER, and in America we believe that power shall remain with the people.




Bill Ehrlich is a Mosaic blog contributor who works in the electrical industry. After graduating from Notre Dame with a degree in Finance he worked on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and then taught English in China. Returning home to the States he worked at Inovateus Solar, a solar integrator in South Bend, Indiana. Originally from Minnesota, he is currently getting his hands dirty doing electrical construction in the city of Chicago. Outside of work Bill enjoys investing, solar power, and most of all, investing in solar power!


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