Bill Gates and other billionaires open climate change investment fund
I’ve got good news and bad news for you. In the absence of any way for you to express an order preference to me, let’s go with the good news first, because happy news for the future of the planet has been pretty thin on the ground in recent years. Microsoft founder and tech’s richest man Bill Gates is heading an all-star investment fund looking to take climate change seriously.
The Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund (BEV) plans to invest heavily in commercialising technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions in electricity generation, transport, industry, agriculture and elsewhere. “Anything that leads to cheap, clean, reliable energy, we’re open-minded to,” explained Gates, chairman of the new group.
Alongside Gates, the BEV fund has a board of directors featuring Alibaba founder Jack Ma, chairman of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani, former hedge fund manager John D Arnold, SAP co-founder Hasso Plattner, as well as venture capitalists John Doerr and Vinod Khosla. If you tally up their cumulative net worth, it comes close to $170 billion. The fund’s 20 first investors include the likes of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Virgin’s Richard Branson and Bridgewater Associates’ Ray Dalio.
Return on investment in the energy sector – especially when you rule out business as usual – is a tough ask, but Gates is optimistic that his investors will get good returns in the long run: with both financial and environmental rewards. “People think you can just put $50 million in and wait two years and then you know what you got. In this energy space, that’s not true at all.
“It’s such a big market that the value if you’re really providing a big portion of the world’s energy, the value of that will be super, super big.”
…and the bad news
Financial return and a healthier planet. What’s not to like? Right, now you’re high on a temporary blast of good environmental news, here’s the bad. Ignoring the fact that one MIT study estimated that venture capitalists lost over half the $25 billion invested in clean energy tech between 2006 and 2011, we have a bigger problem.
That problem is the climate change denier heading to the White House. America is the second-biggest polluter on the planet, and make no mistake: having a climate change denier as commander in chief is a huge problem. Donald Trump has a long history of denying the science of climate change, promising to renegotiate the precarious Paris climate agreement while campaigning, and although he has since made some slightly more encouraging noises, they’re not loud enough to silence the deafening clang of putting someone who believes global warming is a myth in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Most recently, Trump has described himself as “open-minded” to the causes of climate change. “I’m still open-minded. Nobody really knows,” Trump told Fox News’ Chris Wallace. “Look, I’m somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows. It’s not something that’s so hard and fast.”
That sounds like he’s on the fence, but don’t believe it. Remember that those of us that accept climate change is real and based on human behaviour have a lot of work to do in this battle, while all that climate deniers need to “win” is delay action. By saying “the science isn’t really in yet,” they can seem reasonable, non-partisan and open-minded, while playing down the clock until it’s too late to respond. Note that George W Bush expressed similar sentiments when debating Al Gore before the 2000 election (“look, global warming needs to be taken very seriously, and I take it seriously. But science, there’s a lot – there’s differing opinions”.) His presidency was the previous low watermark for climate change inaction, but I suspect he’ll look positively enlightened compared to Trump.
For his part, Bill Gates is more optimistic than I am: “The dialogue with the new administration as it comes in about how they see energy research will be important,” he said. “The general idea that research is a good deal fortunately is not a partisan thing.”
I hope he’s right, but then it helps to strike an optimistic tone when trying to attract investors. And Trump has already scrapped NASA’s climate research budget as “politicised science”, so I wouldn’t bet the farm on the idea of research not being a partisan thing, if I were you.
Lead image: Gisela Guardino used under Creative Commons