First Round: Green cosh

In the second installment of this month’s ‘Private Equity Guys Trying to Save the World’ series (running for one month only), First Round brings you Tom Steyer – best known as the zillionaire founder of hedge fund Farallon Capital Management, but also a long-time partner at venerable West Coast private equity firm Hellman & Friedman.

Having made his fortune and retired from the rat race, Steyer is now trying to spend his money convincing his fellow Americans that their attitudes to fossil fuels are entirely bonkers – the kind of challenge that must make running a $21 billion absolute return fund feel like a walk in the park.

Not for the first time, Steyer found himself in hot water in August (the globally-warmed kind, perhaps) after suggesting at an event in Aspen that almost everyone in America is basically clueless about climate change.

Somewhat unwisely, Steyer attempted to draw a distinction between “the super-sophisticated people who think about politics and policy more than five minutes a month” and “the 99.5 percent of the people whose lives are very busy and complicated and pressing and they don’t have a lot of time to think about the things that don’t immediately impact themselves and their family”. In terms of getting across the message about the dangers of climate change, he said: “On the former we’re kicking ass and in the latter we have a long way to go.”

With the possible exception of equating ‘people who think about politics a lot’ with ‘super-sophistication’, it’s hard to escape the feeling that his basic point isn’t terribly controversial. Then again, while First Round doesn’t know much about politics (or anything else, for that matter), the one thing it does know is that this is one area where honesty is definitely not the best policy. Sure enough, Steyer has since been getting flak from all angles.

That said, since he gives lots of money to Democrats fighting for seats against Big Oil-backed Republicans, and makes a lot of noise about the planet going to hell in a handcart, he’s no stranger to abuse. You can totally see why successful business people are so keen to switch to a career in public service!