Climate change should be top issue despite public apathy, Steyer and Cisneros say

Despite a recent Gallup poll showing climate changing ranking last among a number of environmental priorities, including polluted drinking water, air pollution and the loss of tropical rain forests, billionaire hedge fund manager Tom Steyer and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Henry Cisneros argued last week that climate change should be a top public policy concern.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer

The Los Angeles World Affairs Council event, April 2, hosted just over 100 people to hear  Steyer and Cisneros discuss climate change and refute the recent poll at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City,

Steyer emphasized that “three quarters of the public and 97 percent of the scientists believe with us” that global warming is “one of the top three issues” facing the world.

Steyer’s new emphasis is on gaining the support of business leaders and Latinos for global warming. Steyer distributed a glossy, spiral bound brochure titled “Risky Business” about climate impacts on California. The brochure was supported by the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance at Stanford.

Implications for CA drought

The event’s moderRisky Businessator Terry McCarthy asked the speakers if global warming had any connection with the California drought? Steyer answered in the affirmative and elaborated that the drought just isn’t about less rainfall and snow but also about rising temperature.

Cisneros added that the water content of California snowpack had decreased from 28 inches to 1.4 inches this year, a 95 percent drop and an all time historical low. But California drought planning is on a 5-year cycle and the 5-year average water content in snow is about 65 percent of normal. Moreover, no mention was made that the Los Angeles Times recently reported California has decades of groundwater supplies available.

Cisneros claimed that the drought was having a negative impact on new housing construction. A fact check, however, indicates that construction is up 13.5 percent as of Feb. 2015 in Fresno, up 17.9 percent in Bakersfield, and up 44.7 percent in Sacramento, all areas hard hit by drought (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2015).

Rising sea levels

McCarthy asked about the projected sea level rise and its effects on California described in the Risky Business brochure. Cisneros said that the Oakland and San Francisco Airports would be the most affected by a projected sea level rise of 1.5 to 3.5 feet over the next few decades. Cisneros quipped that billionaire Larry Ellison, who is an airplane pilot (and Republican Party contributor), might not be able to land one of his private jets any longer at those airports. The San Francisco Airport is 13-feet above sea level; Oakland Airport 9 feet, 3 inches.

Both speakers spent the night sniping at Republicans about climate change but also solicited businesspersons to get on board with their climate change agenda. Billionaire Eli Broad, who built two Fortune 500 companies, KB Homes and SunAmerica, was in the audience.

McCarthy asked Steyer if combating global warming was “irrelevant” given that China is generating increased worldwide pollution. Steyer said he was in China last week and the U.S. and China signed a global warming pact last year.

Question and answer

The question and answer period was fraught with questions from the audience critical of Republicans about their stances on environmental policies and lauding the two speakers for their efforts on global warming.

One member of the audience commented about “the comical displays” and “clownishness about the future” by Republicans toward global warming. Steyer humorously answered that “he was no expert on the Republican Party,” and offered an “analogy” from Warren Buffett: in the short run history is a popularity contest but in the long run it is an adding machine.

Cisneros said Republicans “are on the wrong side of history” because Republican cities like New Orleans and Houston would be hardest hit by rising sea levels brought about by global warming.

When asked, Steyer denied he was going to pursue supporting an oil severance tax in California in 2016.


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