Steyer: Climate change will drive voter turnout

By Evan Lehmann | 07/26/2016 07:31 AM EDT

PHILADELPHIA — Billionaire climate advocate Tom Steyer believes young Americans will cast more votes this year based on rising temperatures than in past presidential elections.

In an interview with ClimateWire last night, the founder of NextGen Climate also downplayed the idea of placing a price on carbon dioxide and dismissed the notion of swapping the Clean Power Plan for a carbon tax.

"That’s a huge wedge issue," Steyer said of young voters’ concern about climate change. "I think it’s a critical issue as to whether they turn out."


NextGen is spending more than $25 million to encourage millennials to vote in November. Young adults currently account for the largest and most diverse population in the United States, and Steyer believes that could help Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump on Nov. 8.

Separately, Steyer’s group is partnering with five different unions to canvass working-class and minority neighborhoods, where the issue of climate change could help compel young voters to turn out this fall. Large percentages of African Americans and Latinos believe that global warming is occurring, and Steyer’s group is trying to turn those concerns into electoral action.

Tom Steyer
Tom Steyer. | Photo courtesy of NextGen Climate.

"We’re spending a lot of time trying to do voter-to-voter contact in the swing states, trying to make sure they are aware of the facts, know the difference between the candidates and know how important their vote is," Steyer said.

Inside the Wells Fargo Center last night, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont and other speakers raised their own concerns about climbing temperatures on the first day of the Democratic National Convention.

"This election is about climate change, the greatest environmental crisis facing our planet," Sanders told the audience packing the basketball arena.

"Hillary Clinton is listening to the scientists who tell us that — unless we act boldly and transform our energy system in the very near future — there will be more drought, more floods, more acidification of the oceans, more rising sea levels. She understands that when we do that, we can create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs," he said. "Donald Trump? Well, like most Republicans, he chooses to reject science. He believes that climate change is a ‘hoax,’ no need to address it."

Trump aims for Bernie supporters

Last night’s program also included a short video on climate change and its impact on the Everglades.

"The effects of climate change can no longer be ignored," the narrator in the video said, noting that warming threatens seagrass and mangroves in the Everglades, which absorb carbon. It touted the Obama administration’s $2.2 billion funding for restoration of the Everglades, which among other things will help improve the local drinking water supply.

The video was followed by a speech from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), the lone senator to endorse Sanders during the presidential primary campaign. He said Sanders "emboldened us" to push for 100 percent renewables but added, "We need to fight together with Bernie and Hillary."

Meanwhile, Trump reveled in the disunity being broadcast from Philadelphia on his first day of stumping on the campaign trail since the GOP convention closed Thursday.

"They’re having massive protests over there," Trump told a mostly full auditorium in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We had a great convention. It shows you what law and order can do."

Trump accused Clinton of betraying Sanders and his supporters by picking Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) as her running mate. He called Kaine "the opposite of Bernie" because of his support of trade deals.

"Bernie’s giving up, and I never thought I’d see that," Trump said. "We’re going to get Bernie people coming over to us."

Numerous speakers, though not Trump himself, invoked the image of Clinton going to prison, inspiring chants of "Lock her up!"

Steyer’s comments in Philadelphia underscored the need for congressional action to help fund clean energy programs. Steyer’s group wants to see the United States derive half of its energy from clean sources by 2030, a goal that’s unlikely to be met without bipartisan support in Washington.

"This is not happening without the United States government determining that it has to happen," Steyer said. "This is a societywide [and] an urgent priority. And if we intend to solve it, it’s with societywide, urgent activity, you know, government-led. Otherwise, we’re not going to succeed."

Steyer also dismissed the idea of swapping the Clean Power Plan for a carbon tax, a concept favored by several conservative and libertarian think tanks.

"I don’t think that’s the right way to think about it," he said. "Look, we need to have the overall plan that takes into account the actual urgency and actually solves the problem. There are a number of ways to get there. But there’s no way to get through all these hypotheticals going forward."

Reporters Josh Kurtz, George Cahlink and Mike Soraghan contributed.