Last week, Michael Barbaro and Coral Davenport of the New York Times wrote a front-page story about billionaire activist Tom Steyer and the hedge fund that he founded almost 30 years ago, Farallon Capital Management. The piece examines the investments that Steyer’s company made under his leadership, including many that promoted the use of fossil fuels around the globe. This week, Steyer took to the pages of Politico magazine and attempted to defend his decision to divest his holdings from companies that promote fossil fuel production. He went on to describe a radical change that molded him into the Tom Steyer we know today, dedicating his life, and his pocketbook, to battle climate change.
It’s ironic that a man with so much money claims to want to help the world; yet the beliefs he evangelizes and the initiatives he supports, in fact, hurt low- and middle-income families. I’m sure the radical environmental groups and political candidates that receive funding from Mr. Steyer wouldn’t be too pleased to learn that profits from coal helped write those checks. But that isn’t the point.
The recent coverage of Mr. Steyer illustrates two fundamental problems among those who set environmental policy in this country: elitism and a complete disregard for the economic and social consequences of their actions. Mr. Steyer profited for decades off of an entire industry. While Mr. Steyer certainly got rich, coal and other fossil fuel industries support millions of direct and indirect jobs, helping to keep energy costs low for American families and businesses. The industry that is partially responsible for helping Steyer achieve this status of wealth is the same one where hard-working Americans are receiving pink slips because their mines or plants cannot operate any longer due to EPA regulations; regulations that were supported in large part due to Mr. Steyer’s own activism. Does this seem right to you? Not to me.
The elitism Mr. Steyer and others in the environmental community display is downright insulting to his fellow Americans who work hard to keep food on their tables, to meet payroll, to pay their utility bills each month. I’d venture to say that Mr. Steyer, a mainstay of the San Francisco and Democratic social scenes, hardly considers such consequences when he’s writing his check to organizations that are equally out of touch with these concerns. But seeing as how he is currently tens of millions of dollars short in his current bout of fundraising for the Democratic Party, he might be looking for his next venture sooner than we think.