Disrupting Climate Change

Charles Williams

How leaders of big tech companies are working with governments to slow carbon emissions and finance greening efforts.

If there’s one renewable resource America has in abundance, it’s Bill Gates’s goodwill. (To say nothing of his fortune.) At the Paris climate talks, Gates led a global Who’s Who of socially conscious billionaires (28 in total, including Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Virgin’s Richard Branson, and Alibaba’s Jack Ma) in forming the Breakthrough Energy Coalition to finance clean energy research. 

Sure, “Tech Moguls Unite Against Climate Change” sounds like yet another version of Silicon Valley’s fantasy of “making the world a better place.” After all, disrupting global warming is as much a political problem as a technological challenge—abandoning old energy systems is just as hard as developing new ones. Which is why the coalition is working hand in hand with Mission Innovation, a group of 20 countries—led by the U.S.—that have vowed to double their clean energy R&D budgets to identify promising green technologies. Members of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition would then assume the financial risks (and possible rewards) of funding and commercializing those projects. 

Governments and tech billionaires make for strange bedfellows these days, engaged as they are in battles over privacy and tax avoidance. But such private-public partnerships may be key to meeting the Paris agreement’s target of limiting the rise in global temperatures to less than 2 degrees Celsius. It’s a chance to make the world a measurably better, or at least cooler, place.