NEW YORK -- For such a scientific country, America has an absurd amount of climate change deniers. How many? Around 23 per cent of the population, according to recent polls including more than half of the Republican Party, with donors, traditionally from the business sector, ensuring the GOP does little to help the environment at the expense of their bottom line.
However, the interests that have ensured a lack of green political consensus are about to be challenged by a huge injection of campaign finance from a billionaire climate activist. On Thursday, Tom Steyer, a hedge fund manager turned philanthropist, said he would be expending $100 million (including $50 million of his own money) to attack climate change deniers in key races for the senate and state governorships ahead of the mid-term elections in November.
Steyer intends to specifically target politicians that have dismissed climate science, issuing a statement through his Super Pac (an organisation that pools campaign contributions) to announce that the 56-year-old wanted to bring environmentalism to the fore in both this year’s mid-terms and the 2016 presidential election.
"The debate on climate change is settled: it is here, it is human-caused and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities," said Steyer. “But we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late. This means making politicians feel the heat – in their campaign coffers and at the polls."
In recent weeks, Marco Rubio, a likely Republican presidential candidate, said he "did not believe" climate change was man made, despite a near scientific consensus on the issue emphasised in a recent National Climate Assessment report that warned that the US has already witnessed an average warming of 2 degrees with a likely rise of 10 degrees by the end of the century should the current rate of greenhouse gas emissions not be curbed.
Rubio is not on Steyer’s list, however he is targeting politicians with a similar mind-set, including senatorial candidates Cory Gardner in Colorado, Joni Ernst and Mark Jacobs in Iowa, Terri Lynn Land in Michigan and Scott Brown in New Hampshire. Governors Rick Scott of Florida, Paul LePage of Maine and Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania are also on Steyer’s hit list.
However, the decision to invest such a large amount of money into the political system is likely to provoke a backlash not only from Republicans, but also from those across both parties bent on campaign finance reform. The billionaire libertarian Koch Brothers have already given a substantial part of their fortune to right wing groups, distorting the political system to their free market ideology.
Even if Steyer’s investment does manage to build a greater political consensus on global warming, it will have done so by compounding an already disfigured political system in which the wealthy wield the power.