“Who in their right mind leaves a job at a hedge fund in order to make money? That’s why you go to a hedge fund, for goodness sake. Why would I leave a full-time job where I’m getting lavishly compensated, in order to go work for free – in fact to spend a bunch of money – and how does that make me money? If you knew the numbers, the idea that I’m doing that is absurd and shockingly inaccurate. We want to make sure there’s no appearance of conflict of interest.”
His investments in clean technology, he says, are made by his foundation, so their profits will go to non-profit and charitable causes and conflicts of interest can be avoided.
Mr. Steyer does believe, however, that the quest for profits is the only path out of fossil-fuel dependence.
“We want to make darn sure that clean tech is profitable – but that doesn’t mean I’m doing this to try to make profits myself. Because if it isn’t profitable, we’re not going to get the kind of investments we need over the coming decades to make sure that it actually happens.”
It is his enthusiasm for hard-nosed capitalism that makes Tom Steyer such a difficult opponent for conservatives. He helped to create the Sustainable Accounting Standards Board, which provides market information on the ecological costs of business to ensure that these costs are incorporated into share prices and corporate decisions – one of several ways he hopes to use market forces to replace fossil-fuel energy with alternatives.
“I’m not an anti-capitalist,” he says. “I happen to believe the private sector is going to be the engine of this transformation. I went to Stanford business school; I was a business person and an investor for over 30 years.”
That said, he still believes the best way to cut emissions is through an act of government – the blocking of Keystone. Which is likely the other big purpose of his Alberta tour: to find the evidence he and his allies need in their bid to talk the President out of backing Keystone.
“I came up to Canada to learn a bunch of things,” he says. “But I have a big mouth. I expect to communicate what I’ve learned to people. I think it’s relevant.”