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Activist Tom Steyer Announces Big-Spending Election Plan to Take Down Climate-Denying Candidates
There's no dark money in Tom Steyer's green coffers.
Alongside his political action committee, NextGen Climate, the billionaire environmentalist and Democrat on Wednesday announced plans to spend big on seven election races this November, with hopes to elect senators and governors around the country who are dedicated to combating climate change. He will spend at least $50 million supporting such candidates, while also fundraising another $50 million from other donors.
“The debate on climate change is settled: It is here, it is human-caused and it is already having a devastating impact on our communities, but we need to accelerate the level of political support to address this critical issue before it’s too late,” said Steyer, who founded NextGen in 2013. “This means making politicians feel the heat—in their campaign coffers and at the polls.”
Here are the races Steyer is targeting and why, as described by NextGen:
- Colorado U.S. Senate Race: Fossil fuel development and its adverse health impacts affect Colorado’s most vulnerable communities, yet Senate candidate Cory Gardner—a science denier—has taken hundreds of thousands in donations from fossil fuel companies while voting for their interests.
- Florida Gubernatorial Race: While communities across Florida are threatened by sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion and rising flood insurance costs, Gov. Rick Scott is a climate denier and has decimated efforts to “preserve environmentally sensitive land.”
- Iowa U.S. Senate Race: Iowa’s farms and rural communities are feeling the pain in their wallets and on their land due to record floods coming on the heels of a record drought, while State Sen. Joni Ernst has “not seen proven proof ” that climate change “is entirely man-made” and former energy CEO Mark Jacobs is “not convinced that man-made causes are causing” climate change.
- Maine Gubernatorial Race: The forestry industry in Maine is at risk and fishermen are already experiencing the negative effects of higher ocean temperatures, yet Gov. LePage denies that climate change is a threat, rather saying it offers Maine “a lot of opportunities.”
- Michigan U.S. Senate Race: Air pollution is affecting kids’ education across Michigan, with over half of Hispanic and African American children attending school in the most polluted areas, yet Senate candidate Terri Lynn Land has the support of the Koch Brothers who are spending millions on her race and have threatened the state’s water and air quality with their dirty energy stockpiles.
- New Hampshire U.S. Senate Race: New Hampshire’s tourism industry—which supports more than 60,000 jobs—stands to be devastated by the effects of climate change; meanwhile Senate candidate Scott Brown looks out for the Koch Brothers and his Big Oil buddies, taking their campaign dollars and voting to protect $24 billion in oil subsidies.
- Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Race: Low-income communities in Pennsylvania are disproportionately affected by asthma and often live in the shadow of the state’s biggest polluters; meanwhile Gov. Corbett favors powerful corporate energy executives over Pennsylvania families.
NextGen says it will use climate change as a "wedge issue" to inspire voter turnout while exposing why climate deniers would make poor leaders and legislators.
“This is the year, in our view, where we are able to demonstrate you can use climate—if you do it well and in a smart way—as a wedge issue to win in political races,” Chris Lehane, a Democratic strategist known as Steyer's right-hand man, told a group of reporters on Wednesday, according to The Hill. “The side that does a better job of changing or expanding the voter pool is the side that has the competitive advantage.”
Lehane said NextGen's strategy will be heavy on data and localizing issues, while NextGen's statement says an "all-star political team" will be on deck to drive home the message. For instance, if flood insurance rates have gone up in an area impacted by climate change, potential voters will hear about it. The same goes for health issues brought on by fracking and drilling.
While Steyer spent about $8 million on last year's Virginia gubernatorial race to successfully land Terry McAuliffe in office, NextGen realizes climate denying candidates and their funders will be tough to take down.
"We are never going to have as much money, but all we need is enough for David’s slingshot is to fire through," Lehane said, "and to fire fast and to fire quick to be able to reach the big oil Goliath.”
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Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
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A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?