As all three branches of American government lurch right, more people are looking at how the incoming Trump administration will affect the environment. Between gutting the EPA of its funding and pulling out of vital treaties like the Paris Agreement, it’s becoming clear that corporations, nonprofits, and citizens will have to shoulder the weight and create green initiatives.
One such private citizen is Tom Steyer, the billionaire activist and former hedge fund manager who founded NextGen Climate, a super-PAC aimed at tackling threats to the environment. He left the hedge fund he founded four years ago to work as an environmental activist full time.
Since the election on November 8, Steyer has vowed to “engage voters and citizens to fight back” the Trump administration’s potentially reckless endangerment of the environment, with money as no object, according to Reuters.
“We have always been willing to do whatever is necessary,” he said, adding that he won’t be fighting back against the administration through the courts. The Supreme Court could become very Republican-friendly in the coming years, but the first court to challenge environmental laws is typically the D.C. Circuit, which currently has an ideological range on it. Trump could just as easily flip the lower federal courts to the right by nominating right-wing judges.
Trump has vowed to gut the EPA of its funding and pull out of the Paris Agreement, effectively undoing much of the environmental progress that the Obama administration has in the past eight years on climate change.
“Every single one of these things, whether it was getting rid of Paris or cutting back the EPA, we think are extremely dangerous to the security of every American," Steyer said. "We think it is based on willful ignorance of the facts and flies in the face of the realities facing the world.”
Steyer’s super PAC, NextGen, spent about $69 million in its elections-related programs during the presidential campaign. Steyer doesn’t plan on slowing that down in the coming years, and is currently working on a strategy to get people to care about climate change. Eschewing TV ads, Steyer’s group focused mostly on field work like extensive personal voter contacts, digital initiatives, and events like comedy shows and concerts where millennials could register to vote, according to Business Insider.
Steyer invested $60 million of his personal cash on 2014 races, to low ROI — only three of the seven Senate and gubernatorial races he backed were victories. Using similar campaigning tactics in the 2016 race, despite the catastrophic loss, Steyer saw some silver lining: He said that young voter turnout in areas where NextGen focused its mobilization efforts during the 2016 campaign was up more than 20 percent from the last presidential election in 2012. “Millennials actually did show up,” he said, “but the Democratic base, it turns out, it wasn't the millennials that was everyone's concern. From our standpoint, where we were, what we did worked. The issue was we weren't every place."
Now that the race is over, there is an urgent need to get as much information about the environment and climate change to as many people as possible — in a time where many doubt if phenomenon is real. Steyer is ready to deliver that dedication, regardless of personal cost.
“We're doubling down,” Steyer said. “We're getting the information and trying to come up with an effective plan. We've got to sit here and figure out what is the right thing to do under the right circumstances." He added, “Now our backs are to the wall, so we better have a lot more conversations.”