Farallon Capital

Tom Steyer: The jolly green banker

December 8, 2010: 12:07 PM ET

Banker and philanthropist Tom Steyer says the idea of business doing everything perfectly without government involvement is "ridiculous." That's why he's fighting to convince politicians and CEOs that going green isn't a sacrifice, it's an opportunity.

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer

Tom Steyer founded Farallon Capital Management and OneCalifornia Bank. He's also an environmentalist and philanthropist. He and his wife funded the TomKat Center for Sustainable Energy at Stanford University, devoted to researching sustainable energy, and the Steyer-Taylor Center for Energy Policy and Finance, at Stanford's Law School and Graduate School of Business.

This year, Steyer provided major financial backing to overturn California's Proposition 23. It would have suspended the state's 2006 Global Warming Act, designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions. He tells Fortune why businesses must drive the global shift to green energy and why Al Gore should invest in a calculator.

First, off, are the interests of businesses in conflict with environmentalism?

I don't see it as a fight. In fact, if you look at what happened around Prop 23, it was not a business vs. environmental fight in the way that you think of the cliché. It was split. There were chambers of commerce and very large corporations that were officially against it, and not a lot of people who were officially for it. Quite a few people were staying on the sidelines.

I think that it is inconceivable that we will redo our energy creation and distribution without the private sector being massively involved. The heavy lifting on this is going to be done by business.

How do you make that argument?

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