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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Searching for a Bold Leader - A Letter to 2008 Democratic Presidential Candidates

The following is a letter written by successful silicon valley entrepreneur, philanthropist and major political donor, Steve Kirsch, addressed to each of the major 2008 Democratic presidential candidates. Mr. Kirsch and I began corresponding about this letter a couple of weeks ago and after going through successive drafts, he is now interested in getting feedback from readers.

Mr. Kirsch has this to say by way of introduction:

"Global warming is the greatest threat to our planet that we have ever faced. Unfortunately, most scientists refuse to recommend a clear goal for the country to achieve because the choice of goal is a cost-benefit trade off. Scientists can tell us the costs, and only roughly quantify the benefits (because there is so much variation in the numbers). So it is left to the lawmakers to decide. The current Sanders-Boxer bill is a good start, but the goals were reduced to improve its chance of passage by Congress and Bush.

But that's no excuse for why the Presidential candidates are not stepping up to the challenge. I composed this letter to each of the candidates to ask them to make a bold 30% by 2020 reduction in greenhouse gas emissions the centerpiece of their campaigns, and I'd love to get your feedback before I send it. In particular, is #12 true for you?"
Personally, I know that any candidate willing to make a bold and aggressive greenhouse gas reduction goal the centerpiece of his or her campaign would earn my steadfast support. Are there others out there who would like to see a candidate make the commitments Mr. Kirsch asks for in this letter? Would such a candidate earn your support?

Read on for the letter (this version is for John Edwards, but similar letters will be delivered to all major Democratic candidates)...

May 12, 2007

Dear Senator Edwards,

We’ve met several times before, but you meet thousands of people so I’ll re-introduce myself. I’m a successful high tech entrepreneur and nationally recognized philanthropist.

I’m also a generous supporter of Democratic candidates. In 2000, I donated close to $10 million to help Gore win. That was more money than anyone else in the country gave to any candidate. I’ve also donated over $1M to the DSCC, DCCC, and DNC.

In this election, a Presidential candidate hasn’t emerged who I can get passionate about. I want to tell you why.

For me, it boils down a simple question of leadership. Global warming is the single most important issue of our lifetime. Our top climate scientist, James Hansen, has said that the faster and deeper we cut our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the next 10 years, the better our chances of averting a tipping point where the temperature rises every year at an ever increasing rate and we are completely powerless to stop it no matter what we do. Dramatic progress in the next 10 years is absolutely critical. If we do not make substantial cuts in the next 10 years, then our mitigation options disappear as David Hawkins of NRDC pointed out to me.

If you were diagnosed with cancer and the best doctors in the country told you that you must treat it as aggressively and as quickly as possible in order to save your life, do you do less than they suggest? Sadly, that is what we are doing now. The Sanders-Boxer bill which you support doesn’t go far enough in the required reductions in next 10 years. It’s a start, but it’s far from the best our country can do. It is less than our leading scientists say we can and should do.

The leading experts that I have consulted concur that a 30% reduction by 2020 is both technically and politically achievable. In fact, it’s not much more than California law now requires. In addition, a group of our top scientists will be meeting in June to lay out the details on the best way to achieve this goal.

I have three questions for you that will help me decide who to support in this election:

1. Will you adopt a goal of cutting GHG emissions by at least 30% from 2007 levels by 2020 and encouraging other nations to do the same?
2. Will you make this goal a centerpiece of your campaign?
3. Are you willing to set a goal for the US higher than the 30% that our leading experts say is achievable and inspire the US to achieve a higher goal than many think is possible? A tougher goal, if the rest of the world follows our lead, would allow us to stop temperatures from increasing at an ever increasing rate in less than 20 years (at which time they would still increase, but at a declining rate instead of an ever-increasing rate).

An aggressive goal has additional benefits:

1. It would inspire the country to achieve more than experts think is possible, e.g., as JFK did in 1961;
2. It would distinguish you from the other candidates;
3. It would reduce or eliminate our dependence on foreign oil;
4. It would improve our balance of trade (no more $ going overseas to pay for oil);
5. It would strengthen our economy;
6. It would improve our standing in world opinion;
7. It would create millions of new jobs in America;
8. It would create products and technologies that can be exported to further improve our economy;
9. It would allow us to secure, to the best of our ability, the long-term health and prosperity of our country and our world;
10. It would modernize our economy and make the world more secure;
11. It would free up billions of dollars that we now spend defending and subsidizing fossil fuels to spend on the nation's real priorities: health care, education, taking care of the aging population, etc.; and
12. It would motivate hundreds of thousands of people to put their heart and soul into helping you win because there would finally be a candidate who is supporting a goal that is both important to them and worth fighting for.

In short, if we are to preserve the quality of life we now enjoy, we must have a President who has the courage to make an aggressive 10-year GHG reduction goal the nation’s top priority. We must have a President who will inspire and challenge us to rise to the greatest challenge of our lifetime and inspire other nations to follow. We must have a President who believes in America, who will invest in America, and who will allow us to do our best. We need a President who has the courage to set a goal for America and stick with it, a goal that some will say we cannot achieve, and who will hold us accountable for achieving it. America desperately needs such a leader. Is that you?

In the Democratic Convention in San Diego, Senator Obama was quoted as saying that he learned early in life that “when people rally around a goal they can achieve extraordinary things.

That’s what we need now. We need a President who has the courage to set a strong, bold visionary goal that we can rally around – a goal that will both inspire America and the rest of the world. Because for this problem, we can’t give it just a good try. We must give it our best shot. And we need someone who has the courage to ask us to do our best.

Thank you for considering this request.

Sincerely yours,

Steve Kirsch

So what do you think? We'd appreciate comments and feedback. Please comment below...


Phil Mitchell said...

This is the best analysis I've seen of the politics of our cost-benefit quandary. A fantastic, inspiring letter, and I absolutely agree. Sign me up!

To answer Steve's question, what I can offer is that about 2/3 of our 680 members have pledged to make climate the top priority in the 2008 elections.

Summa Academy said...

A candidate who is willing to exercise bold leadership and take the initiative on this crucial issue is showing that he or she has the fortitude and integrity to do the right thing in other areas, too, instead of bowing to political expedience as most candidates do. Such a candidate would have my active support.

Jesse Jenkins said...

After doing some more research into the candidates positions and talking with all three major candidates, Steve Kirsch has decided that John Edwards is the candidate that is the most likely to lead America and the world to a solution to the climate crisis and the candidate who deserves his support.

Read Mr. Kirsch’s reasons here and think about whether Mr. Edwards is that candidate for you...