Climate Profits Prophet

Climate Politics
The Rio Bravo Fresno biomass plant operates less than a mile from Malaga Elementary School and less than half a mile from Malaga Park and Recreation Center. Photo by Joey Hall
The Rio Bravo Fresno biomass plant operates less than a mile from Malaga Elementary School and less than half a mile from Malaga Park and Recreation Center. Photo by Joey Hall

It’s difficult to imagine bringing a child into today’s world, someone destined to live beyond the year 2100; the extreme weather-related risks between now and 2050 worry me enough already. But that’s where we are. The babes around us—granted full life spans and a stable climate—would live beyond the turn of the century.

But long before then, around 2040, parents would be faced with an anxious 16-year-old demanding answers to difficult questions. Such as why and how it was decided to bring them into a world of unfolding environmental collapse and societal chaos.

Many readers will stop here, dismissing such talk as doomerism. Still ahead, others can accuse me of misreading or misrepresenting the latest science, ignoring the solutions being offered and, unforgivably, killing hope.

They believe, as I did 25 years ago when I first entered the climate debate, that this isn’t a scientific problem: We know the amounts and sources of pollution. And that it isn’t a technological problem: We have the technology to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. That what we have is a political problem and all we lack is political will.

I’ve concluded that’s a false narrative, but it does provide comfort to troubled consciences.

Politicians, of course, have the role of writing the laws needed to protect us. Unfortunately, they present themselves to the public as leaders, rather than the ciphers most really are, there to serve personal ambition at any cost. Where they lust for power, others lust for riches, and they soon fall into each other’s arms. In short, American politics are profit-driven, our country’s “political will” determined by those whose cash fills campaign coffers.

Profit is the problem, more specifically, modern capitalism and its unprecedented concentrations of personal wealth. Yet that is where some see the solution to our existential crisis: more capitalism, more profit, more of the same. To wit, the latest book on climate change, Cheaper, Faster, Better: How We’ll Win the Climate War.

“Products. That’s how we’ll actually solve this problem,” billionaire hedge fund manager turned activist turned author Tom Steyer told CBS News last month, one of multiple outlets he visited to promote the book.

Long on platitudes, soft stories about inventions and sound bites like “silver buckshot” solutions, “climate investor” Steyer’s private-sector solution unabashedly begins with using governments to create a bigger market for pollution credits. The plan is to have companies tally up and pay for the pollution costs they currently ignore.

What will ensue is a years-long debate and even longer legal battle over the science of taking an accurate inventory. Then comes the rulemaking and enforcement, meaning more lawsuits and delay. Time we don’t have. Surprisingly, what Steyer and countless others preaching the climate prosperity gospel seem to lack is experience in real world rulemaking.

In practical terms, they want governments to draft what air districts call attainment plans; these work no better than the politicians in charge. The San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District has a long history of failed cleanup plans for ozone and particulate pollution; these have always relied on undetermined “black box” measures to demonstrate legally required future reduction estimates. Similarly, climate attainment plans will rely facetiously on black-box carbon capture and sequestration technology.

What proponents of market-based solutions want us to ignore is climate reality. Theirs is a world in which the planet’s imbalanced energy equilibrium between the ocean’s stored heat and atmospheric warmth is to be disregarded, despite the coming increase of 3℃ to 10℃, which will drive the current global average temperature of 59℉ to as high as 77℉, according to Dr. James Hansen.

They inhabit an imaginary world in which global average temperatures are capped at 63℉, a 2℃ increase, or that, at the very least, developed nations can be buttressed against 65℉. Most dangerously, they believe natural tipping points haven’t been or won’t be crossed.

Conveniently, they’re shifting the narrative to falsely suggest that immediate greenhouse gas reductions will result in immediate drops in global average temperatures, as if civilization’s annual GHG emissions are a thermostat simply to be turned down to cool the planet.

What Steyer does understand is the modern economy he helped create. Now worth an estimated $2 billion, up from $1.6 billion in 2019, according to Forbes, his faith in it sounds absolute. There is plenty of green to go around in a Green New Deal. But he and fellow billionaire activist Michael Bloomberg missed their moment back in 2020 when they were spending hundreds of millions on their own presidential campaigns.

What they missed then—and remains missing—is a genuine New Deal, like the original, forced into creation a century ago by political and union organizing led by communists and socialists. President Franklin D. Roosevelt had to take on his fellow elites through high wealth taxes to fund massive public infrastructure projects; 2020’s pair of ultra-wealthy Democrats couldn’t have imagined suggesting such an approach.

The public infrastructure needed now for climate adaptation is complex and has to be implemented at the watershed level. Local energy, food, water, transportation and shelter must be given priority, and these typically are not profitable ventures for investors.

Yet Steyer’s approach is regarded by many as the most politically feasible, endorsed wholeheartedly by no less than Bill McKibben. In 2008, the latter founded, named so because that was the CO2 level estimated in parts per million as the maximum for a stable climate; we’re now at 426 ppm and climbing at a record rate. He has moved on to head Third Act.

And the curtain is falling. Valley communities are being left to fend for themselves—impacted by air and water pollution from myriad investor-backed “renewable bio-energy” projects while being hit by fatal floods, wildfire smoke and heat. Climate profiteers are already sucking the life out of the San Joaquin Valley—physically and financially. And like the planet it’s supposed to save, the market is only heating up.


  • Kevin Hall

    Kevin Hall hosts Climate Politics on KFCF 88.1 FM every second and fourth Friday, 5 p.m.–6 p.m. He tweets as @airfrezno and @sjvalleyclimate and coordinates an informal network of climate activists at Contact him at for presentations and information.

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