We’re already familiar with conservatives like the Koch brothers pouring millions into campaigns to deny climate change and bankroll politicians to ignore this pressing issue, but what if there was someone who was willing to do the opposite of that – a billionaire who uses his fortune and clout to run a Super PAC that promotes environmental policy and curbing emissions?
Meet Tom Steyer, a hedge fund billionaire who hopes to make climate change reform the United States government’s top priority. Though we tend to think of the extremely wealthy as destructive and anti-progressive, Steyer is looking to spend $100 million on elections this year to help climate-conscious politicians gain control of the government.
$100 million seems like a lot, but as Steyer points out to the New York Times, “that would be a really cheap price to answer the generational challenge of the world.” Steyer intends to put up $50 million of his own money, and hopes other liberal-leaning rich friends and philanthropists will match the amount.
While many of these donors have preferred philanthropy to politics in the past, seeing the inaction by politicians on both sides of the aisle to address the issue of climate change has motivated them to throw their money at elections instead. The goal is to put individuals who care about the environment into positions of power, while unseating those who do not.
Two of the races Steyer intends to target are:
- Senator of Iowa – Bruce Braley, a Democrat running for the seat, has a history of aggressively trying to curb climate change. If Braley is elected, Steyer expects that he will propose and support legislation that actually makes a difference.
- Governor of Florida – Rick Scott, the current governor, refutes climate change science, and as a result is far too lenient on environmental policies. Replacing Scott with someone who acknowledges the human influence could tighten the state’s regulations on pollution.
Though his immediate goals primarily involve winning seats for eco-conscious Democrats at high levels at the cost of Republicans, Steyer has demonstrated that he is not afraid to go after Democrats who are an obstacle to climate change reform. His group also hopes to unseat Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, who has a strong allegiance to big oil companies. Ultimately, the urgency of the issue trumps political affiliation.
Fellow philanthropist Wendy Abrams admits that Steyer influenced her to stop donating money to her own Democratic friends in Congress who do little to nothing to tackle global warming. “The party is afraid to fight the fight because they’re afraid to lose more conservative Democratic votes,” she said.
Lest you doubt Steyer’s commitment to protecting the environment, he wrote an excellent article on the need to block the Keystone pipeline that Care2 published last year. Previously, Tom Steyer was one of 40 billionaires who pledged to donate his fortune to charitable organizations rather than passing it down to relatives in the form of an inheritance. “We relish the opportunity to do our part and leave our collective campsite cleaner and better tended than we found it,” Steyer said in a joint statement with his wife, Kat Taylor.
Nevertheless, Steyer has faced some criticism even from liberals for his plan. Although it is refreshing to see large campaign donations going toward causes that would literally improve the welfare of everyone on the planet, it’s still yet another example of a handful of Americans being able to influence elections in a way most Americans never could… which is one of the main reasons we’ve found ourselves on the brink of environmental disaster in the first place.
As tempted as I am to denounce all Super PACs, this pro-environment one is certainly necessary at the moment. It’s going to take time to defeat Citizens United, and in this particular case, that’s time the earth doesn’t have to waste. In the meantime, we’ll have to be thankful that there are some billionaires like Steyer who consider climate change even more important than padding their own bank accounts and are willing to fight fire with fire.
Photo Credit: Helloaloe