An environmentalist money man and other observations

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A blog in a recent issue of High Country News (HCN) was titled “The Enviro’s New Money Man.” The man is Tom Steyer, a California billionaire who resigned from his position as a hedge-fund manager to devote time and money to environmental and children’s health issues. Regarding the former, he is especially concerned about climate change and its effects on the Earth’s ecosystems. He was reportedly the main money man behind a 2012 state ballot measure to close a tax loophole that benefited out-of-state corporations, and he designed the measure so that part of the new revenue would go to promote energy saving programs. He also helped to defeat an effort to repeal California’s global warming law and has given $65 million to Stanford and Yale to fund clean energy programs.

Steyer, a Democrat, is taking a keen interest in a race in Massachusetts in which Democratic voters will choose which of two congressmen will be their nominee to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by John Kerry, who is now Secretary of State. One is Congressman Steve Lynch, who supports the proposal by TransCanada to lay a pipeline, Keystone XL, that would transport Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries. Taking an opposite position on the proposal is Lynch’s opponent, Congressman Ed Markey. Markey has a strong pro-environmental voting record.

A letter sent to Rep. Lynch criticized his support of Keystone XL and asked him to “either act like a real Democrat and oppose (Keystone XL)…or get a sworn, binding statement — with securities law-enforcement – from TransCanada and the refineries that all of the Keystone-shipped oil will stay here (in the U.S.).

“If you decline we will then immediately launch an aggressive public education campaign, including: investigative reports about your record, targeting interested Democratic voters, a college-based-get-out-the-vote effort, community-to-community activities in cities and towns with the worst childhood asthma rates, and a robust media effort to help voters understand that their climate interest is on the ballot.” The letter was signed by three Massachusetts college students and a Harvard law grad and director of a local climate activist group. Also signing the letter was Tom Steyer.

Should Rep. Lynch ignore the request, Steyer is promising to bankroll a Super Pac to ensure his defeat. Steyer’s spokesman told Globe and Mail that he sees Keystone XL as “the defining issue in the climate change fight of our times.” The spokesman told The Hill, “He plays to win. Obviously since the evil empire, i.e. Big Oil, is on the other side, he’s willing to invest.” The New York Times’ Green Blog asks, “Is Thomas F. Steyer the anti-Koch?”

The author of the blog in HCN, Cally Caswell, concludes, “Though environmentalists have certainly begun to play the dark money game, the climate movement has, to the point, not had a real answer to the Koch brothers where money and political strategy are concerned. Steyer, a very rich and ambitious individual who seems to possess equally strong convictions on the opposite end of the political spectrum, may be (the anti-Koch).”

Now, if the likes of Ted Turner, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett would devote more of their philanthropic contributions to helping Tom Steyer curb the influence of the Big Mules than they’re doing now, it would be enormously beneficial to the well-being of the current and future inhabitants of the Earth, human and non-human alike.

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The few exotic azaleas in my yard were obviously damaged by the recent freezing weather in our area. Much more so than was done to the ones blooming in town. I assume the city azaleas fared better because they benefited from the urban “heat-island effect.” On the other hand, the native Piedmont azaleas (Rhododendron canescens) growing along my creek and pond banks are in full bloom and suffered no harm from the inclement weather.

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Kudzu bugs are becoming increasingly abundant in Auburn. In many areas in Opelika, they showed up in large numbers a year or so ago. The little stinkers are attracted to white houses, light-colored automobiles, and tall structures, including humans, especially gray-haired ones, to which I can attest. I’ll provide some additional information on the Asian invaders in a subsequent column.

Bob Mount is a Professor Emeritus with the Dept of Zoology and Entomology, Auburn Univ. He is also chairman of the Opelika Order of Geezers, well-known local think tank and political clearing house. He writes about birds, snakes, turtles, bugs and assorted conservation topics.

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