Opinion
Tom Steyer speaks at Global Green USA Tom Steyer speaks at Global Green USA's Millennium Awards at Fairmont Miramar Hotel on June 8, 2013 in Santa Monica, Calif. (Photo by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Global Green)  

The Environmental Hypocrisy of Tom Steyer

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Keith Naughton
Public Affairs Consultant
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      Keith Naughton

      Keith Naughton is a public affairs consultant specializing in policy analysis, development and messaging. He has a PhD in public policy from the University of Southern California, where he won the Reining Award for his dissertation on congressional earmarks. In addition, he has over 20 years experience in campaign politics working at a range of levels from presidential to local offices. He is a contributor to the San Francicso Chronicle, Harrisburg Patriot-News and Public CEO.

The climate change lobby has a new celebrity: Billionaire, venture capitalist Tom Steyer. And, same as it ever was, he’s just the newest fashionable environmental sugar daddy. That is to say, more interested in being famous and popular than actually creating a cleaner environment.

Steyer has announced his intent to spend at least $100 million to defeat climate change skeptics and those who fail to pass his litmus tests. One of his top priorities is stopping the Keystone XL pipeline. Never mind that even hard-core environmentalists admit that stopping Keystone won’t really reduce carbon emissions and that it’s really just symbolic. I suppose shipping oil by rail would make more sense to him even though that increases carbon emissions – but let’s not confuse Steyer with the use of logic. The bulk of his demands are all about government intervention to limit the supply of oil and gas.

This is fundamentally an interdiction strategy. And interdiction doesn’t work. Not now, not ever. As long as there is demand, there will be supply.

Name any product disfavored in the media and culture and it’s all the same. Oil, alcohol, soft drinks, reality TV: The culture and media may criticize it, but the public demands it and it is supplied. Only one major consumer product has seen declining consumption due to government intervention: cigarettes. But in the case of cigarettes interdiction was not used. Consumption fell due to increased taxes and a major and continuing public health campaign.

If dealing with product demand works so well, why won’t Steyer address the demand side? Why doesn’t he give away hybrid cars to individuals? Steyer is worth over $1.6 billion. Just giving away $600 million for Ford Focus electric vehicles would put over 17,000 low-emission cars on the road (at an approximate cost of $35,200 each). And, he would still be a billionaire. Why not give away 60,000 rooftop solar panel systems (approximate cost $10,000 each)? Why not retrofit low and middle income apartment buildings – and keep the rent the same? Steyer could use his wealth to guarantee long production runs for green products, making the products economically viable while the technology catches up.

There are two reasons why Steyer won’t address the demand side. First, Steyer and his environmental friends on the left are, at heart, autocrats. They view the public, at best, as gullible dupes and, at worst, as just stupid. To Steyer and his friends, it is necessary to dictate options, remove choices, and run people’s lives. Of course, God forbid Steyer fly coach, move to a studio apartment or take the bus to work. That’s for the commoners.

Second, the slow gradual process of transforming an economy doesn’t make headlines. Until his dramatic entry into politics, Steyer was just another ho-hum Silicon Valley billionaire. Now, he’s a celebrity. He gets tons of fawning attention. Nevermind that his efforts could very well come to nothing. Nevermind that attacking the demand side would yield tangible, immediate benefits. The real issue is that Al Gore shouldn’t get all the attention. Tom Steyer deserves his share of the limelight.

Typical of the climate change movement, Steyer is focused on grabbing the coercive reins of government to force policy. For Steyer, this path is ideal. He spends a pittance of his wealth to force costs upon others who may or may not be able to afford those costs. Meanwhile, his lifestyle changes not a whit. In fact, given that he claims to be a “green” investor, any political gains may result in significant personal profit.

In the end, Steyer just shows that a major part of the environmental movement is about social climbing and celebrity, rather than about a cleaner environment.