Republican Businessman Pledges $175 Million to Convince GOP to Act on Climate Change
Wealthy Charlotte, North Carolina-based entrepreneur Jay Faison has taken on a task that is probably more formidable than building his business empire was: he plans to spend a chunk of his fortune working to convince his fellow Republicans that climate change is real, human-caused and needs to be addressed.
Last year, Faison founded and put $165 million into his ClearPath Foundation to promote clean energy and solutions to climate change. He's starting to spend it in a campaign to persuade Republicans to accept the science and start to talk about solutions instead. ClearPath.org just had its official rollout this week.
"Climate change is both the greatest risk and the greatest opportunity of our time," says the site. "Most experts strongly urge us to act on the risks. The most actionable solution—a switch to clean energy—is already underway. We just need to accelerate the transition."
"I always felt a little alone out there as a Republican, and so I started ClearPath to create a dialogue around this in a way that hadn’t been done before and sort of be part of the solution,” Faison told Politico. “We think that there are real Republican solutions to the problem.”
Now he's pledged to put $10 million into a 501 (c) 4 nonprofit, a political advocacy group to push Republicans toward more reality-based positions on climate issues. The group "will reward thoughtful response to the issue," he said. It's a sort of conservative counterpart to Tom Steyer's liberal NextGen Climate, which is working to call out climate-denier candidates.
"Millennials especially want to see forward looking leadership that acknowledges the realities of today," he told the National Journal. "I think it's a brand issue. How our party and our presidential candidate talks about it will have a significant impact over voter perception, and I think the Democratic candidates know this."
"Nothing would be better for the planet than a bipartisan effort to put forward solutions to the tackle the climate crisis," said Debbie Sease, Sierra Club's DC Bureau Chief. "Time will tell how effective this approach proves to be, but Jay Faison's forward thinking investment is hard to ignore. We look forward to the dialogue."
All of the declared Democratic candidates—former Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and former governors Lincoln Chaffee and Martin O'Malley—have emphasized the need to address climate-related issues. Of the 10 declared Republican presidential candidates, only two—former New York Gov. George Pataki and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham—have shown any openness to this message, and only Pataki has shown a commitment to dealing with climate change.
The others—Senators Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio, former governors Rick Perry and Mike Huckabee, former Sen. Rick Santorum, businesswoman Carly Fiorina and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson—are all fire-breathing climate deniers. Six more candidates expected to enter the race this month—former Gov. Jeb Bush, Governors Bobby Jindal, Scott Walker, Chris Christie and John Kasich, and Donald Trump. Most have largely been on the denier side, although Bush and Christie have dipped a timid toe into the reality of climate change.
Faison believes that once the primaries are past, the eventual Republican candidate will be able to adopt a more sensible position on climate change. He suggests that even though it's inevitable that the Democratic candidate will have a better record on environmental issues, Republicans can distinguish themselves by promoting market-based solutions as opposed to regulatory ones.
"I think they're looking for a new, fresher argument," Faison said of voters. "We could probably agree that a more advanced energy system is better for America even if climate change were not an issue at all, and that's not a bad place to start when you're talking to any Republican. Or some Republicans, I should say."
Nobody on the planet is leading like Elon Musk. He defies gravity. https://t.co/jNh2aHgYwa
— Jay Faison (@JayFaison1) April 22, 2015
Not included among "some Republicans:" Charles and David Koch, the infamous Koch brothers of the fossil fuel Koch Industries, have pledged to spend nearly $900 million during the 2016 presidential election cycle to elect someone committed to protecting the old, dirty, carbon-spewing way of producing energy.
Who is Faison's candidate of choice? He hasn't endorsed anyone yet, but if you want to read the tea leaves, he's already donated $50,000 to Bush and $25,000 to Graham, among the least denialist candidates in the GOP field, although Bush in particular has done some serious waffling, saying it's "arrogant" to claim the science around climate change is settled. Graham, on the other hand, told CNN's Dana Bash last week, "I do believe that the CO2 emission problem all over the world is hurting our environment."
In the past, Faison has donated to some climate-denier candidates such as Sen. Mitch McConnell who has been appealing to the states directly to defy federal environmental regulations. But he's saying never again.
"That was a long time ago and no, I would not give to somebody who's fighting against this issue," he said.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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