Environmental

Billionaire Promises to Sink GOP Climate-Change Deniers in Florida

New studies emerge by the week illustrating how Earth's climate is changing. Sea levels are rising, and the only real question is how quickly and whether low-lying regions — like, you know, the entire state of Florida — will have enough time to save themselves. The only significant group that seems to be tone-deaf to that reality is, alas, one of America's two major political parties.

Of all the major contenders for the GOP presidential nomination, only New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems moderately open to the facts of manmade climate change. Now a billionaire environmentalist is pledging to spend whatever it takes to defeat climate-change deniers in Florida and four other presidential swing states.

Tom Steyer, a massively wealthy California hedge fund manager, formed a PAC called NextGen Climate with one goal: to make climate change a central campaign issue. 

To that end, he spent heavily in Florida's last gubernatorial race — without much success in sinking climate-change doubter Rick Scott's chances. But Steyer says he has learned from that experience and announced yesterday he'll re-up NextGen's spending for the presidential cycle by concentrating on vulnerable swing states such as Florida.

“We are going to take swings at a number of candidates that are throwing us hanging curve balls on a regular basis,” Chris Lehane, the PAC's chief strategist, told reporters during a conference call

Among those candidates, without a doubt, are Miami's power couple, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio. 

Before launching his de facto run for the White House, Bush has tried to walk a fine line of not quite denying climate change. Here's what he said in 2011:

"I think global warming may be real... [but] It is not unanimous among scientists that it is disproportionately manmade. What I get a little tired of on the left is this idea that somehow science has decided all this so you can’t have a view."

Rubio has been far more vocal. Last year he said flat-out that he doesn't believe scientists who say manmade climate change is real. Here's his quote from an interview on ABC's This Week:

“I don’t agree with the notion that some are putting out there, including scientists, that somehow there are actions we can take today that would actually have an impact on what’s happening in our climate... Our climate is always changing. I don’t know of any era in world history where the climate has been stable."

Steyer didn't specify how much he'll spend on ads highlighting the GOP's climate stance in Florida, but Lehane told reporters it would be significant.

“Whatever Tom is going to spend, again he has made it clear he will spend what it takes," he said.

There could be some early fireworks in Miami. Steyer's staff also hinted during the call that they might try to disrupt Rubio's official presidential campaign announcement next week at the Freedom Tower
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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink