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Battle of the Billionaires Shapes This Year's Midterm Elections

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In a clash that harks back to the gilded era, oil titans David and Charles Koch will square off with hedge fund billionaire turned climate activist Tom Steyer in this year's midterm elections.

The Koch brothers, who have built up their vast fortune through oil, gas and coal, will battle to protect their fossil fuel interests from Steyer, who is determined to make climate change a winning political issue.

The face-off comes as the International Energy Agency echoed the United Nation's recent trilogy of reports on the state of our climate. According to the IEA, global temperatures are poised to hit the 6 degrees celsius mark by the end of this century.

That is three times higher than the safe limit endorsed by governments.

The battle of the billionaires comes after an easing in political financing rules has allowed for "unlimited donations," enabling the very wealthy to enter the political fray.

To ensure that the Republicans control both the House and the Senate this November, the Koch brothers have spent at least $30 million over the past nine months to try and topple vulnerable House and Senate Democrats.

If they succeed, it would mark doom for Barack Obama's final two years in office, and potentially scupper any of the president's second-term green agenda.

The Koch-backed Americans for Prosperity advocacy group has not indicated how much it will spend this year. But, according to the Financial Times, money into such groups is currently running at about three times the rate of the 2012 presidential elections, and 17 times that of the 2010 midterms.

And, the Center of Responsive Politics says that these groups might spend more than $1 billion this year.

The Koch's congressional campaign comes as they try to torpedo Obama's upcoming restrictions for power plant emissions by entangling them with several lawsuits.

Scheduled for release next month, the new rules mark's the president's signature piece of climate legislation: power plants account for most of the country's carbon pollution.

The news comes one year after the Kochs spent millions of dollars on setting up quasi think tanks to deny the science behind climate change.

In a bid to confuse the public, such misinformation campaigns are designed to keep the debate about global warming alive so that legislation on the matter does not pass. It's the same tactic that Big Tobacco used in the eighties to deny the link between smoking and cancer.

"The Kochs' bid for a hostile takeover of the American democracy is calculated to make themselves even richer," says Senate majority leader Harry Reid. His comments came after he endorsed amending the constitution to restrict "unlimited campaign spending."

In a bid to fight back, Steyer has set up his own super PAC to run a series of attack ads revealing the Koch brothers' shady ties to such obstructive campaigns. Unlike the Koch's who are gunning for a Republican Senate win, Steyer is only backing politicians with climate aspirations.

But, the $100 million that he has pledged to spend is but a fraction of what the Koch brothers have in their vast war chest.

In the end, the battle may just boil down to a handful of crucial seats that the Democrats must hold onto if they want to maintain control of the Senate.

Although Steyer may have less money to play with, Mother Nature may step in to lend a helping hand: El Niño is expected to arrive this summer.

The weather phenomenon ushers in unusually warm water temperatures across the Pacific, ultimately warming up the atmosphere. Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research describes it as a "mini" global warming event.

The opposite happens during el Nina, it's colder sister.

According to recent models, there is a 75 percent chance of El Niño arriving before the midterms, and Trenberth says that this could make 2015 the hottest year on record.

This could have a radical impact on public attitudes towards global warming.

According to Jon Krosnick from Stanford University, one third of Americans do not trust climate scientists. They base their opinion on the actual weather: In warmer than usual years, their belief in climate change thus rises.

As El Niño unleashes a string of extreme weather that accompanies hotter weather, it could reenergize Steyer's campaign against the Kochs who may not be able to account for events which may include torrential downpours and floods across the southern part of America.

It could also push climate change onto the center stage for the 2016 presidential elections: El Niño tends to be accompanied by a sustained period of warming.

This could leave Republicans with a public relations disaster if Senator Marco Rubio ends up being their frontrunner. He recently denied the link between human activity and the warming of our planet.

According to former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, most Republicans with political aspirations are forced to deny the science behind climate change otherwise they will not receive enough money to run:

They will face primary opponents financed by the Koch Brothers, and others who are part of their group, if they even breathe the slightest breath of sympathy for the truth about climate science. It's not that complicated.

Mark McKinnon, a Republican strategist, says catastrophic events will eventually soften the GOP's position on climate change. And, without such a change, legislation will not pass in Congress.

Challenging the Koch brothers to a climate duel last month, Steyer said:

Democracy isn't served by underhanded attacks and the voice of the American people shouldn't be drowned out by anonymous voices with expensive megaphones. Which is why today I am issuing a formal invitation to Charles and David Koch to come out of the shadows and join me in exactly what they've requested: a free and open debate.

Interestingly, they never replied.