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Is Billionaire Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer Really An Environmentalist?

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Tom Steyer, a billionaire, former hedge-fund manager, and environmentalist announced on Tuesday that he will run for president in 2020. Although late in the game, Steyer is looking to invest over $100 million in his campaign, which could potentially be a game-changer.

Steyer has donated millions of dollars to green initiatives as early as 2008, but his financial record contains hypocrisy — his hedge fund invested in coal mining. The question is: can Steyer be an environmentalist if he invests in renewables research while investing in coal? To answer that, we have to dig into how his financial success put him in a position to influence politics in the first place.

Tom Steyer‘s Success Provides a Segue Into Politics

For years, the public has kept a close watch on the Democratic megadonor, who also ran Farallon Capital, one of the largest hedge funds in America, before leaving in 2012. Although highly successful at that point, Steyer’s gain of national attention spiked after funding campaigns to impeach Trump. In the last two years alone, the billionaire activist has poured millions of dollars into these campaigns.

Tom Steyer’s Record as an Environmentalist

On the front line of his successes, Steyer’s Super PAC, NextGen America, is continuously influencing key political decisions, particularly when it comes to the politics around environmental policy. Allocating much of his money towards the climate crisis, he strives to elevate its severity in voters’ minds.

With Steyer’s political action committee strategically influencing Senators and Governors, much of its effort is geared towards races in which climate change can play a major role. Residually, the work done by NextGen carries over to shape voting patterns in 2020 as well.

But beyond politics, Steyer has had a long-standing (and money-intensive) record when it comes to environmental initiatives.

Steyer and his wife donated $41 million to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University.
Steyer and his wife donated $41 million to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University.

In 2008, Steyer and his wife donated $41 million to create the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University, which researches (renewable) energy systems and trains “future energy leaders through education and outreach.”

Later, in 2013, Steyer teamed up with billionaire Michael Bloomberg on the Risky Business Project, which focuses on vocalizing the economic ramifications of climate change. In 2015, Steyer joined Bill Gates’s Breakthrough Energy Coalition, dedicated to supporting green energy initiatives.

Steyer’s Hypocrisy: Record of Investing in Coal Mining

Despite his reputation as an environmentalist, Steyer didn’t include climate change in his announcement pitch. However, Steyer slights towards the topic by arguing that climate change stems from a broader issue: corporate greed. 

He holds a similar view to Elizabeth Warren, who also believes corporations (specifically, corruption) are the underlying problem.

Steyer holds a similar view to Elizabeth Warren, who also believes corporations (specifically, corruption) are the underlying problem.
Steyer holds a similar view to Elizabeth Warren, who also believes corporations (specifically, corruption) are the underlying problem.

Throughout his lifetime, Steyer’s career has had an abundance of opportunities. However, his successes coexist alongside many related controversies. While Steyer continues to make strides in his climate change activism, many often criticize his record as hypocritical and opportunistic.

From 1999 to 2014, Steyer’s company, Farallon Capital, had ties to many companies. Among these relationships, recent reports reveal that Farallon invested in companies that operated international coal mines and coal-fired power plants.

Conclusion

Steyer’s long-standing dedication to environmentalism cannot be ignored. Undeniably, he has spent millions on renewables research and initiatives that have uncovered the severity of the climate crisis.

However, because he led his hedge fund to back coal projects, Steyer’s reputation as an environmentalist can be debated. Should the pursuit of financial gain excuse him from investing in coal mining?

That’s up to you to decide.

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The UK becomes the first major economy to enforce net-zero carbon emissions

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Smaller economies worldwide are adopting carbon neutral emission laws. On the other hand, countries like the United States are simply talking about it. For the United Kingdom, carbon neutrality isn’t just theoretical. It has recently become the first major economy in the world to pass laws enforcing net-zero carbon emissions. It’s a huge step, and no doubt, it has paved the way for other large economies to follow suit.

What does the legislation involve?

Energy and Clean Growth Minister Chris Skidmore signed the legislation into effect June 27, 2019, after passing both houses of Parliament without a vote. These new regulations require the UK to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. This greatly exceeds the previous target of cutting emissions at least 80 percent below 1990 levels.

“The U.K. kick-started the Industrial Revolution, which was responsible for economic growth across the globe but also for increasing emissions,” Skidmore said in a statement.

“Today we’re leading the world yet again in becoming the first major economy to pass new laws to reduce emissions to net zero by 2050.”

How will it be implemented?

The UK’s Committee on Climate Change originally recommended the idea. It stated that the net-zero target could be achieved within a budget of 1-2% of GDP by 2050. The Committee added that if Britain’s actions were replicated worldwide, the effect would be tremendous. Specifically, it would make limiting the average global temperature rise to the “safe” limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius possible.

The country has already cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 43.5% since 1990, mostly due to its shift away from fossil fuels. This goal, however, will require the UK to add even more renewable energy sources; completely eradicate fossil fuel vehicles by 2035; and cut beef and lamb consumption by 20 percent.

Additionally, net-zero emissions require the UK to balance greenhouse gas emissions through strategies including planting trees or carbon capture. These stratagies intend to effectively balance atmospheric gas levels, and therefore make up for any pollution the UK emits. 

How will the UK’s carbon neutrality laws impact other countries?

The UK is also part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme, which will allow it to reach net-zero emissions via international carbon credits. This means the UK can “offset” its own emissions by paying for cuts elsewhere.

However, ever since the UK enacted the legislation, environmentalists have argued that this policy detrimental to developing countries. According to the chief scientist of Greenpeace UK, “this type of offsetting has a history of failure.”

The UK, on the other hand, has deemed these carbon credits as an “essential” part of the 2050 cutoff. “We’re pioneering the way for other countries to follow in our footsteps driving prosperity by seizing the economic opportunities of becoming a greener economy,” Skidmore stated.

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Over 60 percent of Americans hate Trump’s climate position. Here’s why.

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Trump has made his climate position clear since the days of the campaign trail in 2016. He’ll help big coal and roll back environmental regulations set forth by the EPA. All the while, he’ll tell Americans he’s dedicated to fighting for a cleaner environment. But Americans aren’t stupid. They’ve noticed, and the latest Washington Post-ABC polls reached an unflattering conclusion:

62% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s climate position. Here are four of the biggest reasons this is the case.

Trump’s Hypocrisy Won’t Fool Voters

The Rising previously reported on Trump’s 84 EPA rollbacks, ranging from pulling America from the Paris Agreement to repealing rules for coal companies to dump rubbish into rivers. This makes sense though: one of Trump’s lofty promises is to save big coal, one that received its fair share of backlash.

Though Trump said Monday that he would work hard to fight for a cleaner environment, his method of criticism of AOC’s GND and more importantly, his EPA rollbacks, tell a different story.

Trump says he would work hard to fight for a cleaner environment, but his method of criticism of AOC's GND says otherwise.
Trump says he would work hard to fight for a cleaner environment, but his method of criticism of AOC’s GND says otherwise.

All the while, Trump touted his climate victories ahead of his bid for re-election. His hypocrisy hasn’t gone unnoticed though. Earth.com staff writer Kay Vandette called Trump’s actions “greenwashing.”

If so, the WaPo-ABC poll shows that Trump’s efforts to convince the electorate he actually cares about the environment are futile.

Concern for the Environment Growing Rapidly

AOC’s Green New Deal has brought the discussion of climate into the mainstream, and since then, concern for the environment has grown rapidly. Presidential candidates have obviously taken notice. (Just take a look at what Inslee, Warren, Booker, and O’Rourke are doing.)

Polls back this idea too. According to a recent CNN poll, 82% of young Democratic voters see climate change as a top priority. Though most outlets are taking the chance to report on the meager 7 minutes climate got in the first Democratic debates, that’s already more than the topic got in the entire last election cycle.

The growing concern for the environment isn’t entirely unique to the left either. Almost a third of Republicans believe that the environment needs to be a top priority, according to a Pew Research survey done in early 2019.

Altogether, the appetite for climate policy has gone way up in the last 8 years, according to figures by Pew, as shown.

Appetite for climate policy is way up since 2011. Source: Pew Research
Appetite for climate policy is way up since 2011. Source: Pew Research

Most Americans Aren’t Buying Trump’s Man-Made Climate Change Denial

In 2016, Trump went ahead to call climate change a hoax. Though he no longer believes what he said just over three years ago, he wouldn’t conclude that climate change is man-made (as recent as October 2018).

This stance is deeply unpopular, both among scientists and the electorate. NASA reported:

“Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.”

Yale University found through a 2018 survey that a majority believe climate change is caused “mostly by human activity.”

Whether or not Trump actually denies climate change is a result of human activity seems irrelevant to the electorate, particularly given his history with big oil and gas.

Conclusions

As climate policy becomes an increasingly big deal for voters in 2020, Trump’s audience-pandering won’t go without criticism. Voters are more aware of greenwashing efforts than ever before and even if they aren’t vocal about it, poll statistics will more than do the talking.

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Is carbon capture the answer to global warming?

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Carbon capture is yet another climate change plan that doesn’t include reducing emissions. Instead, it involves capturing and separating carbon dioxide from the air, storing it far away from the atmosphere, and often eventually injecting it into oil reserves to enhance oil recovery.

Although carbon capture has been used by the oil and gas industries for decades, people have only recently begun seriously considering using carbon capture to prevent climate change. So, is it the answer to global warming?

Carbon Capture Gathers Momentum

On June 27, the Senate passed the USE IT, a bipartisan bill that supports carbon capture research and infrastructure. The USE IT bill would promote building pipelines to transport carbon dioxide and facilities to capture and store carbon dioxide. Across the globe, the United Kingdom also awarded 26 million euros to companies building carbon capture technology.

Government credits are often necessary to fund expensive carbon capture projects. Carbon capture costs around $60 to $70 per ton of CO2 for oil and natural gas companies. At those prices, it often isn’t economically viable for energy companies to invest in carbon capture. However, in February 2018 Trump signed a bill that provided tax credits for storing and reusing carbon.

Since then, private oil companies have invested more heavily in carbon capture projects. Occidental Petroleum Corporation, a multibillion-dollar oil company, recently invested in a carbon capturing plant that would pull in 500,000 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere.

Does It Actually Stop Climate Change?

Unfortunately, carbon capture is no silver bullet. Oil and gas companies ultimately use captured carbon to extract more oil or gas. This oil or gas releases more carbon after being burned. However, one could argue that this oil would have been extracted whether or not carbon capturing existed. Therefore it’s difficult to tell whether carbon capturing reduces overall carbon emissions.

Oil companies, including Occidental Petroleum Corporation, have invested heavily in carbon capture in order to extract more oil.
Oil companies, including Occidental Petroleum Corporation, have invested heavily in carbon capture in order to extract more oil.

Even with heavy investments in carbon-capturing technology, these industries will still release significant amounts of other greenhouse gases that won’t be mitigated by carbon capture. The process of carbon capture can also release other pollutants into the air.

Furthermore, investments and government credits for carbon capture may trade off with investments in renewable energy.

Still, carbon capture is one of the few climate change reducing policies that has bipartisan support in the United States. The oil and gas industries probably won’t be going anywhere in the next few years either, so many scientists believe carbon capture must be part of our nation’s climate change prevention plan.

Prospects for Carbon Capture

Carbon capture could effectively combat climate change if companies used stored carbon for purposes other than extracting oil and gas. Climeworks, a Swiss company, plans to sell pure carbon or use carbon to create synthetic fuels. The beverage and botany industries often use pure carbon, but profits from selling carbon hardly offset capturing costs.

Creating synthetic fuel is also hardly economically viable at the moment. However, a combination of improved technology and government kickbacks could someday make synthetic fuel a promising carbon-neutral fuel source.

But until that day, carbon capture will likely remain a mitigating force in the oil and gas industries rather than a powerful tool for reversing climate change.

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