Billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer has spent millions of dollars trying to make climate change a major issue on the 2016 campaign trail. But neither the candidates nor the voters seem to notice.
Failure to Sway Public Opinion on Global Warming Illustration by Greg Groesch/The Washington Times
After one of the Democratic presidential debates, Mr. Steyer issued a statement lamenting that the focus on climate change was “far too brief.” Following a Republican debate, he expressed outrage that “not a single Republican presidential candidate took this threat seriously,” to which he added, “And that’s why not a single one of these candidates is qualified to get anywhere near the Oval Office.”
To be fair, Mr. Steyer does appear to hold sway over the Democratic presidential candidates. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have, at Mr. Steyer’s insistence, pledged to achieve at least 50 percent “clean” energy by 2030. Mr. Steyer, who has yet to throw his support behind a candidate, appears to be dangling his wealth and endorsement over the Democratic candidates to cajole them to do even more.
Just days before the New Hampshire primary, Mrs. Clinton was asked if she would support banning the extraction of natural gas, oil, and coal on public lands. “Yeah, that’s a done deal,” was her reply. Clarifying her position to another activist, she said, “No future extraction. I agree with that.” Similarly, Mr. Sanders has co-sponsored legislation in the Senate that would block the development of these resources on federal lands. According to a recent study commissioned by the Institute for Energy Research, of which I am president, these “keep it in the ground” proposals would forgo millions of jobs, trillions of dollars in higher wages, and $20.7 trillion in economic activity.
Fortunately, on the whole, Mr. Steyer’s campaign to restrict affordable and reliable energy isn’t getting many converts. Mr. Steyer spent $73.7 million of his own money in a failed effort to make climate change a major issue in the 2014 elections. He wasted millions of dollars on ads that often didn’t even address climate change and whose truthfulness was disputed by fact-checking organizations like Poltifact and Factcheck.org. After his nearly yearlong campaign, climate change actually dropped as a priority among voters, ending up near the bottom of their list of concerns.
Mr. Steyer shouldn’t be entirely surprised if presidential hopefuls aren’t jumping through his hoops with enthusiasm. In a recent Gallup poll of the most important problems facing the United States, climate change was not even listed. The broader “Environment/Pollution” was in 18th place as a concern of just 2 percent of the respondents. The political reality is that candidates must attract the mainstream electorate, who prioritize the economy, jobs and poverty — issues that are in direct conflict with Mr. Steyer’s goals.