Tom Steyer ruined the planet before he offered to save it
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr
July 8, 2014 7:10 p.m. ET THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
In "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber," a Hemingway story, a man goes big game hunting who should have stayed home. Tom Steyer maybe should have stayed home.
The hedge-fund king has sought to propel himself to the top circle of Democratic money men and possible future officeholders on the strength of his concern about global warming. He wants to spend $100 million this year influencing the midterm elections. All the media lately wants to talk about, though, is his thoroughly postmodern hypocrisy.
The New York Times is the latest to investigate his former hedge fund's investments to increase the output of Indonesian and Australian coal mines to feed China during a period when China surpassed the U.S. as the world's biggest carbon-dioxide emitter.
The Times report treads in the footsteps of a lengthy Reuters reconstruction, which follows the Canadian press's detailed reporting of his firm's tar sands investments. Many stories are festooned with environmentalist comments lamenting the damage Mr. Steyer did to the planet before he decided to save it.
Tom Steyer speaks at the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 5, 2012
That a man's politics are against his economic interests might normally speak well for the sincerity of his politics. A better target of media investigation might be those who loudly preach climate calamity while lining up for green handouts, which would amplify some truly inconvenient truths. But never mind. It couldn't be happening to a more deserving guy.
Mr. Steyer made his money wherever money was to be made. Then, when he wanted to start a new career, claimed to have experienced a "road to Damascus" conversion on climate and energy at age 55.
By his own account, his transfiguration was induced by a long Rolling Stone article by activist Bill McKibben. Mr. McKibben's article, like all such articles, offered zero evidence (which remains elusive) of man's actual contribution to observed warming, let alone a pending catastrophe.
Mr. Steyer thereupon convened two-dozen activists for a seminar at which, as the New Yorker reported, "there was no debate about the science and little debate about the policy prescriptions."
He may be sincere, but does this not shriek of a man who convinces himself, or allows himself to be convinced, that mouthing the right liturgy and casting the right imprecations (while pouring millions into open palms) is the easy path to political grace?
He wouldn't be the first to consider himself "passionate" on the subject of global warming without being quite so passionate as to delve into its complexities and ambiguities. But you might at least expect a shrewd latecomer to notice a few things—such as how signally the standard doom-mongering and oil-bashing has failed to move the needle. But then the very clichéd-ness of Mr. Steyer's adopted patter has been his lever to the overnight visibility and pseudo-influence that he apparently aspires to.
And we do mean pseudo-influence. He vilifies the Koch brothers ("evil persons"), and lobbies universities and foundations to dump their fossil energy holdings, though the only effect is to transfer those holdings to investors like Mr. Steyer's former hedge fund that are immune to pressure and unwilling to forgo the profits from meeting the world's wholly non-illusory demand for energy.
Advised by Clintonites John Podesta and Chris Lehane, he would spend millions to drive up the negatives of those candidates (invariably Republican) he would "destroy" (his word). But even if he succeeds in shifting the outcome of one or two close races, it will be because voters are angry at big oil over gas prices, not global warning.
In case he hasn't noticed, the world is embarked on a multi-decade fossil-energy investment boom. A sliver of a sliver is $2.5 trillion the International Energy Agency says North America will invest in oil infrastructure alone in the next 20 years—of which the Keystone pipeline would be 0.2%.
A true revolution would be a new breed of climate activist who admitted what they didn't know and toned down their absurd pretense that they're going to ban or seriously curb fossil fuel by fiat. If they were smart, they would put all their effort into winning government funding for battery research. But there are reasons, quite apart from lack of imagination, which is the nicest explanation of Mr. Steyer's shrill imposture, that this doesn't happen.
Our political system is adept at making use of people like Mr. Steyer. Democrats will gladly spend his $100 million, then go back to their real environmental business, which is green cronyism. Happily Mr. Steyer's fate won't be that of the Hemingway character—who finally got to prove his merit while accidentally being shot in the head by his wife. But like Al Gore before him, Mr. Steyer will be able to say of his impact on the climate debate: I softened up the public to be milked for green handouts that did nothing for climate change.