Climate activist: ‘We have to do this’

Billionaire giving cash to candidates who want to take on global warming

ASPEN — A billionaire climate-change activist throwing $50 million into political races, including efforts to get U.S. Sen. Mark Udall re-elected in Colorado, says events and impacts from global warming are unavoidable.

“But not doing something means those events and those impacts are going to be much greater. So can we save ourselves in time? We have to do this no matter what,” Californian Tom Steyer said Tuesday at the American Renewable Energy Day summit in Aspen.

Steyer has garnered considerable attention for committing $50 million of his own money as part of a $100 million fundraising campaign aimed at electing candidates who support action to combat global warming.

He’s hoping to counter efforts by others, including billionaires David and Charles Koch, to elect conservative candidates.

“The Koch brothers are in it for the bottom line. Tom’s in it because he cares about the planet,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Tuesday during a panel discussion that included Steyer.

Steyer said he left his job as an investor at the end of 2012 because he felt climate change was an “overwhelming issue” and not enough people were trying to address it.

“Not that I thought I was so special, but I felt there needed to be soldiers in that army pushing it forward and bringing it to the attention of America,” he said.

He said a lot was being done by science and policy organizations on climate change, but not so much on the political side.

He said he won’t know for sure for a while whether he can raise another $50 million, but that his political action committee, NextGen Climate, has raised enough for the races it is focusing on in this fall’s election.

The group’s focus is on seven states, including Colorado, where Democrat Udall is facing Republican Cory Gardner.

Karpinski said his group has given Udall a 97 percent lifetime score regarding votes on conservation issues, compared to 9 percent for Gardner, “so there’s a sharp contrast there.” And he said Gardner was a climate-change denier who more recently “kind of wiggled with words a little bit.”

Steyer said his PAC is focusing efforts on states that are important to it where there are races between candidates with big distinctions, meaning who gets elected will make a substantial difference.

In an election year without a presidential race to draw voters, Steyer said a big focus of his effort is encouraging voter turnout in races like Udall’s. Gardner supporters are more likely to still vote, while some Udall supporters, such as younger voters, may not bother, he said.

“It’s about registration, getting people energized and delivering them to the polls. If you vote you have a voice. If you don’t it doesn’t matter,” Steyer said.

After Steyer announced his plans to campaign on behalf of Udall, Gardner spokesman Alex Siciliano said in a statement, “Make no mistake about it, Senator Udall and Tom Steyer support an energy agenda that would not only do great harm to Colorado’s economy, but would wreak havoc on families’ pocketbooks.”


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