Steyer on Climate Change: ‘The Time for Politeness Is Over’

Billionaire Democratic funder and 2020 presidential hopeful Tom Steyer announced over the weekend that when it comes to fighting climate change, "the time for politeness is over."

Speaking to an Ivy League audience at the new U.S. Climate Action Center in Poland, Steyer argued that winning the climate change debate would require a sea change in rules and tactics.

First, he said the issue was important enough to preclude any mercy. Steyer said Democrats would need to "kick their ass" and "crush these people," presumably in reference to Republicans and those resistant to the Democratic Party's approach to climate change policy.

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Steyer was in Poland for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24). Thousands of participants, some of them scientists, have converged on Katowice, in the south of Poland, for the 13 day event.

Steyer said the message would need to be one of "justice," not any one particular issue. Steyer pointed to California's success advancing a progressive agenda because "we lead with justice, not with climate."

Though justice would be at the center of the agenda, moderation was absent. Steyer rejected the idea that climate activists could work with those who disagreed.

"I think the whole idea that they're going to compromise, they're going to come to their senses … they all went to college, they all can read," he said. "Many of them went to Yale. Really. They're looking at their interest. They're not fooled. They're doing something that they believe is really good for them, and to hell with everybody else."

Steyer told the Yale students in the room they could only "justify being an elitist" by fighting climate change. Since climate change posed an existential threat to the next generation, students would need to be a part of the fight, he reasoned. "If you want to justify whatever it is – $29 billion – and all those fancy classrooms and all those fancy, you know, labs and dorms and everything that Yale has," he said, "then you are going to have to be part of this in a big way, and Yale is going to have to be part."

Steyer praised the dozens of Yale students who occupied a Yale investment office Friday to protest the university's "complicity on climate injustice and the Puerto Rican debt."

He also spoke publicly during the conference, presenting a more subdued version of his pitch at the U.S. Climate Action Center.

Steyer is not alone among Democrats to call for incivility. In October, former Attorney General Eric Holder said that when Republicans "go low," Americans should "kick them."

"You cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for, what you care about," 2016 Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton said in October.

Though Steyer waited for the weekend to call for an end to politeness, he has a head start. "The goal here is not to win. The goal here is to destroy these people," he said in April 2013.

Steyer has organized town halls and placed ad buys in preparation for a 2020 run for the presidency.