Tom Steyer ups climate change pressure on Obama
Joe Garofoli for SF Chronicle, 6/20/13
On Thursday, San Francisco billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer is launching a new online campaign Thursday in Washington, D.C. to turn up the heat on his friend President Obama to do more to take on climate change — starting with urging him again to oppose the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.
Called “We Love Our Land,” it will run at least 10 weeks and be based largely on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and later, Change.org. If some street demonstrations grow out of this, fine, organizers said, but that’s not the point.
It is an argument aimed squarely at Obama supporters who are disappointed that he hasn’t done more on climate change.
But Steyer told The Chronicle that this campaign won’t be about Obama-bashing. Remember, Steyer held a fundraiser for Obama at his house. Steyer understands that the President is hesitant to move quickly because he thinks that climate change doesn’t poll well and that the overall “politics of this are tough.”
“We think we’re supporting the President in doing what he wants to do but finds difficult. We view this as support,” Steyer said. “This is a global problem with a global solution. We think there’s a chance for him to be an absolute hero here. Keystone is really important in that context, but obviously it’s not the only thing.”
If Steyer’s approach sounds like all carrots and no stick, it is. We asked Steyer when he is going to say, “I’m not going to give you any more money or raise any more money for you or Democrats until you do something on climate”?
“I would never say that to the President,” Steyer told us. “This is a great opportunity for him to be a hero. And I think it’s a self-inflicted wound if he does the wrong thing. It’s got nothing to do with me. This isn’t about Tom Steyer. I would never presume to say that. I’m a speck in the ocean. I’m irrelevant. A bad decision on this is very bad for him. Not because of me. I’m a supporter of his. I want the best for him.”
So why didn’t Steyer pound the Keystone message to Obama when he held a climate change-themed fundraiser for him at his San Francisco home?
“I think there were people there who were trying to be candid,” about the issue, Steyer said with the utmost of diplomacy.
“I said pretty much to him what I said to you. I think I’ve been consistent in saying the same thing to different people. I’m not smart enough to have two messages, if we’re being honest here,” Steyer said and laughed.
National polls say a majority of those surveyed support Keystone. Which explains why Obama recently said at a Portola Valley fundraiser at venture capitalist Vinod Khosla’s house that when he mentioned climate change in his State of the Union speech, his instantly-tabulated favorability ratings “plummeted” when he promised to take action if if Congress refused to do so. Which they will.
Steyer agrees that climate change doesn’t “dial test” well.
“That’s not exactly a startling revelation. That doesn’t surprise me in the least,” he said.
“There are ways to talk about this and ways not to talk about this. I can talk about this in a way that people respond to this really well,” said the man who has been on the winning side of two energy-related California ballot measures.
Steyer thinks that Obama “genuinely doesn’t know” yet how he’ll vote on Keystone. “I think the longer it gets delayed, the harder it is to approve because the arguments are just falling apart.”
“What we’re trying to do is communicate broadly to Obama supporters — not high-dollar fundraisers.”
Meanwhile, while Steyer is in Washington Thursday, his wife Kat Taylor will be at what’s expected to be a large climate-related demonstration at the Golden Gate Bridge led by the Oakland-based National Nurses United union.Back to News »