Wealthy Donors Dump Obama Over Climate Fails, Keystone XL Approval

Green donors claim they're dumping Obama after he announced he'll 'fast track' the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (its southern half, anyway). They're especially mad that the president hasn't even so much as acknowledged the threat the pipeline project poses to climate change, and that he's eager to approve drilling projects to appeal to moderates but won't even discuss global warming in public.

Politico's Morning Energy newsletter featured a roundup of various donor reactions to Obama's speech yesterday. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

"The president can support solar, but if he is also championing oil and gas drilling, the glaciers will still melt, the seas will still rise, and his kids and mine will have a very scary future," Betsy Taylor, a philanthropic adviser to several climate donors and foundations, told ME. "I think a lot of donors may just sit this election out. We're scared of Romney and Santorum, but we're terrified of how fast the climate is changing and I'm just really wondering if he truly grasps this existential threat.'
And here's Jabe Blumenthal, board co-chairman of Seattle-based Washington Progress Alliance and the co-designer of the original version of Microsoft Excel: "What I was looking for was some sign - any sign - that he really gets that tar sands is a climate issue, not just an electoral issue, that he really gets that climate change is an existential threat. And I didn't hear it," said "My checkbook remains closed and, sadly, I'm getting closer and closer to just ripping it up."

And David Kaplan, a Seattle cleantech entrepreneur: "It saddens me to see the president - whom I strongly supported in 2008 - move away from his commitments to a clean energy future for America, an end to the 'tyranny of oil' and true leadership on climate change. In this election, I'm withholding my support until I see evidence that the president will honor these commitments."

Yesterday, environmental author and activist leader Bill McKibben made a similar, more scathing point.

"No movie producer, fifty years from now, will be able to resist a scene that explains the depth of our addiction to oil," he said. "The president coming to the state that just recorded the hottest summer in American history, in the very week that the nation has seen the weirdest heat wave in its history, and promising not to slow down climate change but instead to speed up the building of pipelines."

Clearly, big donors whose primary concern is climate change are few and far between, and represent but a tiny sliver of the exploding campaign finance pie. But it's newsworthy when those high-profile folks retract support, and such objections may have a chilling effect on other potential donors ambivalent about Obama's progressive record. Still, Soros or Jeremy Grantham or someone would have to pony up some serious Super PAC cash in the name of climate action to bend Obama's tack on climate from the donor base, I imagine.

Hooray for modern American democracy!

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