NEW YORK – There are few areas of public discourse where the old adage, “People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones,” is more applicable than climate change. Given that fossil fuels are the lifeblood of the global economy, nobody has clean hands – and those who wish to lead the battle against global warming risk attracting the charge of hypocrisy. They must therefore be transparent about what they are willing to offer and how it affects their own interests.
The billionaire former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer is a case in point. Steyer recently pledged to donate $100 million to candidates in the 2014 US midterm elections who favor aggressive action to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. But Steyer’s own hedge fund, it soon emerged, had financed an Australian coal mine that is projected to produce hundreds of millions of tons of CO2 emissions over the next three decades. Steyer has since left the hedge fund and sold his coal interests, though it was unclear until recently whether he was still benefiting from his investments.
Although Steyer profited handsomely from the fossil fuels that he now opposes, many environmentalists and Democrats view him as an invaluable counterweight to the billionaire Koch brothers. They, too, made a fortune from fossil fuels, but they oppose any move to mandate emission reductions.
Indeed, following a thoughtful New York Times article about Steyer’s investments, the presidents of four large environmental organizations leapt to his defense, arguing: “Rather than mocking those with the courage to change – whether for switching from an SUV to a hybrid, adding solar panels to help power a school, or rethinking how they invest their money in the global economy – we should regard them as individuals who are taking steps toward a cleaner tomorrow.” Bill McKibben, a People’s Climate March organizer, denounced the Times article as a “transparent hit job.”