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NextGen Climate Founder Tries to Get Ohio Millennials Fired up About Policy

Tom Steyer

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is putting an estimated $20 million toward galvanizing young voters in seven swing states --  Ohio, of course, being one of them. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with Steyer in-between campus visits here about climate change, millennials and the so-called war on coal.

Steyer -- a hedge fund manager who has promised to give away at least half his net worth by the time he dies -- says the U.S. has plenty of think tanks to work on the science of climate change and renewable energy. He says what it’s lacked is a way to ensure climate change is part of the political dialogue. That led him to start the super PAC NextGen Climate four years ago, which is backing Hillary Clinton this fall.

“All Americans including registered Republicans agree with her that Mr. Trump’s assertion that climate change is a hoax perpetuated by the Chinese is laughable. And that his policies on energy, which are basically to get rid of the the EPA, to reneg on the Paris Accord that was signed last December, and to cancel the clean-power plan are extremely unpopular with Americans.”

He acknowledges the anxiety caused in some communities by his advocacy for renewable energy standards -- including that half U.S. energy needs be met by renewables by 2030, ratcheting up to 100 percent by 2030. For places like Harrison County, Ohio, where coal is woven into the history and culture as well as the economics – that can be frightening.

“We’re definitely going through an energy transformation in the U.S. and the question is going to be how fast.

“Overall, it’s going to create net a couple of million new jobs.  Overall, it’s going to grow our GDP and make people better employed and have  higher wages and lower costs. But the fact is, that doesn’t matter if you’re one of the people caught in this transition. That transition is going to negatively impact normal American citizens who have done nothing but go to work and try and do their best.

“And so it’s really important for us to be aware that for that transition that is the responsibility for our communities and our government to try and support those people and make sure that their lives are impacted as little as possible by that change.”

He says that includes retraining and encouraging new-energy industries to set up in the areas where fossil fuels are fading.

Why not the Green Party?
Steyer indicates -- had NextGen found no tangible differences in climate change policy between candidates Clinton and Trump --it may have turned to a third party. But given the differences in the environmental policies advocated by what he calls the two “candidates who can be elected,” he went with Clinton.

Steyer acknowledges some supporters of Bernie Sanders are having a tough time transitioning to Clinton, but insisted that’s coming together over time, with three quarters of the Sanders supporters now saying they’re with Clinton – up from about two-thirds after the conventions.

“It’s always an imperfect choice. You never have the savior coming down from on high to run for office. You have a person, and it’s very rare that you agree 100 percent with anybody.
But “here we have a choice, and from my standpoint it’s an extremely clear choice -- one of the biggest gaps, maybe the biggest gap in terms temperament, in terms of police, in terms of fitness in my lifetime.”

Tom Steyer, founder of NextGen Climate, says one other issue – economic equality -- ranks in importance with global change for him -- and he sees them as interwoven.

NextGen is focusing on registering young voters in Ohio and other swing states. Ohio’s registration deadline for the November election is tomorrow night (Tuesday) at 9 and early voting begins Wednesday morning.  

M.L. Schultze came to WKSU as news director in July 2007 after 25 years at The Repository in Canton, where she was managing editor for nearly a decade. She’s now the digital editor and an award-winning reporter and analyst who has appeared on NPR, Here and Now and the TakeAway, as well as being a regular panelist on Ideas, the WVIZ public television's reporter roundtable.