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The political activist group run by billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer featured a Canadian speaker at a Monday event who has called for significant tax hikes and for people to give up their televisions to combat global warming.
Steyer’s group, NextGen Climate Action, hosted Dr. Danny Harvey at a Monday event in Washington, D.C., titled "Can Keystone Pass the President's Climate Test?" Harvey has previously called for massive amounts of government spending and significant levels of personal privation to stem “climate change.”
Harvey, a geography professor at the University of Toronto, said in a 2010 interview that he believes that climate change is a “moral” issue, and that consumers must give up numerous modern luxuries in an effort to stem the rise of global temperatures, which have not actually increased since the 1990s.
“At the individual level, we need to adopt frugality and simplicity as a part of our moral compass,” he told Dr. Mishka Lysack, a professor of social work at the University of Calgary, who conducted the interview. “You don’t need that large 52-inch plasma screen TV. It’s an electricity pig. Be happy with something smaller and more modest.”
“I think our taxes are going to have to go up because some of the things that need to be done are going to be collective expenditures and it’s going to have to be paid for,” Harvey added. He called for massive increases in government expenditures, on the order of a trillion dollars per year, to combat what he sees as the existential threat of global climate change.
“I’m really opposed to debts to nature and I’m opposed to running deficits economically so we have to decide what’s more important,” he told Lysack.
NextGen and its billionaire financier, who has been criticized for his former hedge fund’s environmentally destructive business practices, have poured money in political races throughout the year, helping to elect Sen. Ed Markey (D., Mass.) and Governor-elect Terry McAuliffe (D., Va.).
Steyer’s primary focus is the Keystone pipeline. He insists that it will irreparably impact the world’s climate by increasing energy-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Recent studies have shown that the pipeline’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions, and hence on global temperatures, will be small. Studies have also downplayed the supposed dangers of using pipelines to transport tar sands crude oil from Northwestern Canada to refineries on the U.S. gulf coast.
Energy policy experts say Harvey’s presence at Monday’s event could lend an air of environmental radicalism to Steyer’s efforts. James Taylor, a senior fellow for environmental policy at the Heartland Institute, called his presence at the event “deeply troubling.”
“More troubling than Harvey’s crackpot ideas is the fact that billionaire political activist Tom Steyer appears to be supporting them,” Taylor said.
Harvey also suggested drying clothes on a clothesline instead of using a drying machine.
“Now, sometimes we have no choice, but there are times when we can say I chose to do something that’s a little less convenient for me because that’s the right thing to do and in our personal life we can make a factor of two difference,” he added.
His proposal for tax increases to fund trillion-dollar expenditures aimed at combating global warming also entails less money for individual Americans, he said.
Those additional expenditures are “going to cost money,” he noted. “That’s money that won’t be available to spend on empty frivolous empty material consumption.”
Taylor sees Harvey’s comments as an effort to impede or even reverse the material benefits of living in a prosperous society.
“Harvey believes the only way to fight his perceived global warming crisis is to absolutely destroy American prosperity and the American way of life,” he said in an email.
William Yeatman, a senior fellow and energy policy expert at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, also criticized Harvey’s vision.
“The fact is that wealthier is healthier, both for humankind and the environment,” Yeatman noted.
“As such, global warming policies that engender poverty and inhibit wealth-creation commonly pose a greater danger to our well-being, and that of future generations, than the warming these ‘solutions’ are supposed to mitigate.”
However, Yeatman sees a distinction between Harvey’s prescriptions for energy efficiency on the personal level and his proposals for government action to combat climate change.
“Dr. Harvey’s proposed asceticism is fine—so long as he doesn’t want the government to impose his preferred austerity on all citizens,” Yeatman said.
“And of course, if everyone adopted Dr. Harvey’s lifestyle by choice, the world would surely be a worse place.”