Rich conservatives turn their attention to climate change
North Carolina entrepreneur Jay Faison, dubbed the “Green Sugar Daddy” of the Republican Party by Vice News, has been making waves in the conservative community.
A proponent of climate change prevention, Faison founded the ClearPath Foundation, an organization focused on educating conservatives about climate change.
Political conservatives historically have had a complicated relationship with climate change. Whether releasing carefully crafted statements that either tiptoe around the subject or outright denying the problem, Republicans and other right-wing politicos have earned a reputation as being apathetic to environmental issues.
It’s a reputation that could hurt them as the younger, more environmentally-conscious generation reaches voting age. To win these votes, the Republicans’ environmental image is in need of a facelift.
The need for this change is not lost on political activists like Faison, who says he intends to change Republican views on climate change and educate consumers on clean energy.
In August, Faison invested $165 million to build ClearPath, a 501(c)(3) foundation that aims to “simplify the oftentimes complicated and emotional debate over what to do about climate change,” according to its website, www.clearpath.org.
Faison, in a Forbes magazine interview, said he was inspired to create ClearPath after noticing the lack of resources available for educating consumers on environmental issues and climate change in a way that was “respectful to moderates and conservatives.”
Recently, Faison made news with his $500,000 donation to Granite State Solutions, the super PAC that supports New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte. Ayotte, who has said she intends to run for reelection in 2016, currently has a reputation as one of the few Republican senators with a voting record somewhat in favor of conservation and environmental protection.
It hasn’t always been that way. According to a Huffington Post article, Ayotte previously stated that scientific evidence was not conclusive enough to determine if climate change was a direct result of human activity. Ayotte, though, is not the only Republican to change her position on climate change in recent years.
In 2014, the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication surveyed 726 adults who identified as Republicans or Republican-leaning independents. The study showed that overall, most surveyed believed climate change is happening. They also believe in using clean energy, that the benefits of clean energy outweigh the cost and that there should be a response to climate change.
The study also showed that only one-third of respondents agree with the Republican Party’s position on climate change, and fewer than 20 percent believe they had an influence on what elected officials did or thought concerning climate change.
The disparity between these beliefs and GOP leaders’ actions is troubling for the party. Faison says he hopes that ClearPath will help to educate policymakers and consumers alike in order to start a dialogue on climate change among conservatives. Faison and his board of directors have other reasons for founding ClearPath, too.
As a 501(c)(3), ClearPath is able to engage in some political lobbying. The organization’s leadership comprises businessmen and entrepreneurs with many ties to clean energy enterprises. Several, like Faison, are from the Charlotte, N.C., area. Although these connections may raise questions, many are not bothered by the potential conflict of interest.
Several environmental organizations, such as the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club are supportive of ClearPath. Jesse Simons, chief of staff for the Sierra Club, said there is nothing wrong with people who have solutions to climate change sharing those solutions.
“They are essentially an antidote to the Koch brothers’ Americans For Prosperity,” Simons said, noting that ClearPath is helping to make climate change a bipartisan issue.
“I think if I were leading the Republican party, I would urge them to listen to Jay and ClearPath,” Simons stated.
Many Republicans have also expressed their support for ClearPath.
Jacqueline Coleman, the director of social activities for the Miami Young Republicans, doesn’t see a problem with ClearPath’s ties to energy companies.
“Everyone has a financial motive,” Coleman said. She said that if its motives help develop clean energy and benefit society, it is fine for someone to make a profit. Not everyone shares Coleman’s level of comfort, however.
Isabel Villalon, president of the Greater Miami Young Democrats, considers ClearPath’s economic ties a conflict of interest.
“ClearPath will try to fill their pockets and advance their agenda at the cost of the citizen,” Villalon said.
ClearPath is not the only organization with the goal of educating a primarily conservative audience. Others, such as RepublicEn and ConservAmerica, use education as their primary method of fighting climate change.
“Education is the way we’re going to round up the troops to combat climate change,” Coleman said.
“Our generation is very different in the way we do business and see people,” she said. “I’m curious to see how we’ll change, and I’m optimistic about the people I see in leadership positions.”