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Republican Businessman Pledges $175 Million to Convince GOP to Act on Climate Change

Climate

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.

Good luck with that.

One Republican businessman thinks climate change needs to be addressed, and he's set to spend a lot of money convincing other Republicans. Photo credit: ClearPath Foundation

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."

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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"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

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At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.