Climate Change

Charting a Different Course

6.25.2014 · Tom Steyer

I firmly believe that climate change is the issue of my generation—an issue that serves as a litmus test for America’s willingness to build a future worthy of our children. However, I will be the first to admit that climate change has not always been on my radar.

In the mid-1980s, I founded Farallon Capital Management, a global fund that invests in every sector of the economy, including the fossil fuel industry, leading to investments in projects like coal mining in Australia and Indonesia, and in oil and gas companies like Kinder Morgan and BP.

In this role, I led a team of bright and dedicated professionals at Farallon Capital for more than 25 years, with clients that included pension funds, college endowments, and private investors. It’s no secret; we were successful.

But over time, my priorities changed. My wife, Kat, and I agreed it was time to further align our finances with our values and philanthropic efforts.

My version of a Paul on the Road to Damascus conversion on the issue was the result of continuing to learn more about the devastating impacts of climate change and as the scientific evidence became clearer, I realized I could no longer remain at my company—not when it meant supporting investments in the fossil fuel industry. Truly reconciling my values meant selling my ownership stake and divesting the remainder of my investments.

In 2012, I left Farallon Capital Management, committed myself to working full-time to address climate change, and began the process of divesting my investments from fossil fuels. No process is perfect, and it didn’t happen overnight, but I’ve been able to divest in just 18 months. In fact, I’m now in a position to formally announce that—as of June 30th—my personal investments will be 100% divested from fossil fuels.

More than just a personal or financial change, my decision to step down from Farallon Capital Management presented a profound opportunity to tackle climate change in the public arena. I’d already become involved in my home state of California—my first political experience taking on climate change had occurred in 2010, when I was asked to co-chair a campaign to protect a groundbreaking climate law in California. Then in 2012, I co-chaired a campaign to close a corporate tax loophole that will free up hundreds of millions of dollars to make our schools more efficient and create thousands of advanced energy jobs throughout California.

These campaigns resulted in real-world impacts that changed the dialogue and leveled the playing field for Californians. Make no mistake: taking on big oil and special interests is certainly no small feat. But I saw then, and believe now, that Americans are up for the task.

The question, then, was simple: how to expand on our lessons in California and bring climate change to the attention of politicians nationwide? Divesting my personal investments from fossil fuels was a matter of personal conviction, but it was only the first step. That’s why I founded NextGen Climate—because when it comes to climate change, the price of inaction is too high, and Americans across the country are already paying the cost.

Climate change impacts us all, and we must each make personal decisions about how we live, spend and work to preserve our planet. But beyond these private decisions, one thing has become abundantly clear: the time to act politically to avert climate disaster has arrived. As a nation, we must chart a different course, one that preserves our prosperity and empowers American businesses to create jobs while building the clean energy future our kids deserve.