"You Want Clean Air? Well, Screw You."


We've just spotted a new form of conservative protest against the EPA and the Clean Air Act: Coal Rollers. Pick-up trucks customized to spew black smoke -- "the newest weapon in the culture wars."

As one salesperson of these trucks put it: "You want clean air and a tiny carbon footprint? Well, screw you." The people driving these trucks spew black smoke over anyone they think looks like an environmental softie-people driving Priuses or riding bikes, for instance.

Let's compare this "Right to Pollute" attitude with that of a polluter who now wants to do right by the world. Tom Steyer is a former hedge fund manager who is forcefully and effectively using his vast wealth to support regulations that will slow down climate change. He will invest $100 million in political races around the country this year; he is targeting places where polluting climate deniers, backed by the Koch Brothers, are trying to stop any action to curtail the dangerous carbon pollution that is wreaking havoc on our world.

Recently The New York Times published a story about one large source of Steyer's wealth from Farallon Capital Management: Coal. Investments in massive coal plants around the world, in Australia, Indonesia, China.

Steyer sold his stake in Farallon in 2012. He divested his own portfolio of fossil-fuel holdings. And he began focusing on climate pollution.

The article triggered dismay from environmentalists around the world -- and, naturally, jubilation among polluters, who say Steyer's credibility is thoroughly undermined.

But one thing is missing from this conversation, and it is an important acknowledgement: We are ALL complicit in fossil fuel fortunes, whether we are middle class or mega wealthy. We have all benefited, enormously, from the cheap and abundant and reliable power that has come of oil and coal. We have all been blithely turning on the lights, powering up the computers, putting the key in the ignition, without a thought to where that amazing, wonderful, life-enhancing power comes from -- much less what it might be doing.

Most of us didn't know, until recently, what the consequences of carbon and methane pollution might be. We didn't understand -- and still find it nearly unbelievable -- that we have altered the very chemistry of the oceans and the skies.

Now we know. And now, we have a moral obligation to clean up. That's exactly what Steyer is doing. He cannot undo the past -- any more than any of us can. He can make reparation-and to my mind, that's what his climate activism is about.

And someday, new fortunes will be made, from industries creating renewable energy, and battery storage, and things we haven't dreamed of yet.

Back to those Unholy Coal-y Rollers. In case you think this is just silly extremism: This attitude goes all the way to the highest levels of government. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Minority Leader, a Republican from Kentucky, is right now actively trying to defund the EPA. It's the equivalent of asking Americans to suck up all that pollution.

Coal rollers make it obvious: This is what Pro Pollution looks like.

I'll take coal money, converted to caring money, any day.