California billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer called energy and climate change “defining issues” of our time that need bipartisan solutions during remarks at a global warming conference last week.

Yet climate change was the "equivalent of something that was improper to talk about" during the 2012 national election, said Steyer, the founder and former managing director of Farallon Capital Management and the co-founder of Next Generation, a non-profit devoted to climate and childrens’ issues.

"We will never lead the world if we're scared to talk about it in the first place," said Steyer, one of the speakers at a climate change conference in Seattle. "We can't be afraid of facing the problem.”

The issue of climate change is important because it cuts across so many aspects of the economy, he said.

"[Climate change] touches on all the other issues we know like poverty and inequity," said Steyer.

According to Steyer, he and his family used to sit around the kitchen table and ask themselves what Americans are doing today that in 100 years people will think is nuts. He pointed out that many issues lose their significance over time.

"I think that in a hundred years the chance that people will be talking about the sequester is pretty low," he said. "But as my wife reminds me, it's really energy, food and water that are inextricably linked. If climate change is the problem, the pain will be expressed through food and water.”

To win at climate change, Steyer emphasized that the effort must be bipartisan, and include all ethnicities and communities as well as labor and business. And he alluded to the improper accounting that does not provide business with the proper incentives to behave responsibly.

"As a humble MBA let me say, if you get the accounting right, if you include all costs, just get out of the way and let American business do the rest, they will shock you with how effective they are once we get the climate right."

Steyer spoke at a gathering of about 1,000 supporters of Climate Solutions, a non-profit devoted to ending global warming.