Peter Dykstra: From impeach to impair

Billionaire Tom Steyer could make real progress on climate action. Instead he joined the circus.

In 2010, billionaire hedge-fund investor Tom Steyer took a giant step back from Wall Street, quitting his firm and pledging his fortune to a slate of charitable causes, notably the existential threat posed by climate change. And the money flowed –


to energy research projects and NGO'S focused on raising awareness, or raising hell, over inaction on climate change.And he was making progress—until he announced that he was joining the bloated field of Democratic presidential hopefuls.

In November 2016, Donald Trump's stunning victory over Hillary Clinton changed everything for America, and for Steyer. Only months into the Trump presidency, Tom Steyer became more ubiquitous than plaque psoriasis ads on cable news broadcasts, starring in his own 30-second calls to impeach Donald Trump. He poured a reported $10 million into the campaign.

Steyer was calm, almost shy, in firmly describing Trump's "clear and present danger." Response to the www.Needtoimpeach.com petition was impressive. Combined with efforts from Moveon.org and other groups, Steyer delivered 10 million petition signatures to Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in early 2019.

But since climate denial is not an impeachable offense, it marked a major departure for Steyer.

Rewarding 'Fox & Friends'

He spent millions on broadcast ads, promoting the petition while paradoxically shipping the sales checks to reward cable news outlets – notorious delinquents on climate coverage. Steyer even spent a reported $700,000 on ad placement in Fox & Friends, the morning show said to be a must-watch for Trump.

As late as January, Steyer waved off questions about his own presidential ambitions. Then, earlier this month, he cannonballed into the crowded Democratic pool to join the two dozen already treading water there. In his announcement video, Steyer laid out the challenges in classic Liberal fashion. Climate change rated two lines of the four-minute piece.

Turning a firehose of philanthropy on himself

@TomSteyer/Twitter

To me, Steyer has swapped out any claim to moral authority for an exercise in both narcissism and futility. In all likelihood, the late-arriving Steyer won't even qualify for the ludicrous spectacle of marching hopefuls out to podiums in groups of ten, with each candidate getting less than ten minutes to make their case to America.

To advocates of action on climate change, this has to be tragic: Steyer has turned his firehose of climate philanthropy on himself. Meanwhile, several presidential hopefuls whose prospects are scarcely better than Steyer's could instead be focused on chasing climate deniers out of the Senate.

The GOP Senate goes unchallenged

Gage Skidmore/flickr

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock could challenge Republican Sen. Steve Daines next year. (You forgot Bullock was running for President, didn't you?) Ex-Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper could run against incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner – despite the fact that Gardner's 10% lifetime score from the League of Conservation Voters makes him one of the greenest GOP Senators.

Two of the Big Blue Wave could challenge Texas incumbent Sen. John Cornyn—Beto O'Rourke or Julian Castro. And South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigeig would have two opportunities to unseat either of Indiana's two Republican Senators, but they wouldn't face reelection until 2022 and 2024, respectively.

If Tom Steyer doesn't burn off his enthusiasm or his cash supply on his D.O.A. vanity presidential run, he could fund them all, help topple Mitch McConnell's Senate stranglehold and guide the U.S. to right its sunken ship of state on climate.

International Courts to rule on climate obligations
photo: Vince Reinhart/Flickr/Commercial use & mods allowed/Artwork by Nissa Tzun/

Three international courts could soon rule on the obligations of nations in responding to climate change

The rulings, while legally non-binding, could still carry significant moral and legal weight. A group of 18 climate-vulnerable nations are seeking an opinion from the “World Court,” with support from 117 other countries.

Senator Whitehouse & climate change

Senator Whitehouse puts climate change on budget committee’s agenda

For more than a decade, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse gave daily warnings about the mounting threat of climate change. Now he has a powerful new perch.
hauling water children
Photo by Gyan Shahane on Unsplash

U.N. warns of water wars as 2 billion people lack clean water

A new report by the United Nations warns that a quarter of humanity lacks access to safe drinking water, and nearly half of the global population has no access to basic sanitation. Unless action is taken, 60% of the world’s population could face water supply issues by 2050.

tornado warning systems deficiencies
NOAA Photo Library/Flickr/Commercial use & mods allowed

Rolling Fork residents say they didn't hear any tornado warning sirens

Many Rolling Fork residents say they didn't hear sirens before the Mississippi tornado. Questions now remain about warning systems in poor, rural communities.
sea creatures are washing up dead
Michael Coghlan/Flickr/Commercial use & mods allowed

Why sea creatures are washing up dead around the world

From Florida to New Zealand, algal blooms, warming seas and human activities are threatening aquatic species.
EU chiefs use private jets
Photo by Chris Leipelt on Unsplash

EU chiefs flew to UN climate talks in private jet

European Council President Charles Michel hopped on a private jet for 72 of 112 official trips.
Puerto Ricans bracing for blackouts
Photo by Karl Callwood on Unsplash

Why Puerto Ricans are bracing for more blackouts

President Joe Biden tapped Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm last year to lead the federal government’s efforts to modernize the grid.
climate change protest
A protest inside COP27 demanding Loss and Damage funding. (Credit: Robbie Parks)

Mourning family and climate change in the age of loss and damage

The doctors told me that my mother’s hearing would be the last sense to go. My sister, a few close friends and I gathered around her hospital bed and sang “Amazing Grace,” tears rolling down our cheeks in disbelief.

Keep reading...Show less
From our Newsroom
Partha Dasgupta economics of nature

An economist's 'answer to everything.' Hint: It takes nature

Economist Partha Dasgupta takes issue with our failure to account for the cost of Earth's destruction

oil and gas wells pollution

What happens if the largest owner of oil and gas wells in the US goes bankrupt?

Diversified Energy’s liabilities exceed its assets, according to a new report, sparking concerns about whether taxpayers will wind up paying to plug its 70,000 wells.

Paul Ehrlich

Paul Ehrlich: A journey through science and politics

In his new book, the famous scientist reflects on an unparalleled career on our fascinating, ever-changing planet.

oil and gas california environmental justice

Will California’s new oil and gas laws protect people from toxic pollution?

California will soon have the largest oil drilling setbacks in the U.S. Experts say other states can learn from this move.

Stay informed: sign up for The Daily Climate newsletter
Top news on climate impacts, solutions, politics, drivers. Delivered to your inbox week days.