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Betting a billion on clean energy

Bill Gates and other billionaires are launching a climate change fund because we need an “energy miracle”

President-elect Donald Trump says he will end energy regulations, and he’s reportedly already targeting government employees who have worked on climate change. But that isn’t fazing the business community.

Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Alibaba chief Jack Ma, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, and a long list of other deep-pocketed corporate luminaries have announced plans to form a $1 billion investment fund specializing in clean technology. The fund — Breakthrough Energy Ventures — is set to last 20 years, and will focus on energy-producing technologies that don’t emit any greenhouse gases.

The fund was born out of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a Gates-led multibillion-dollar initiative launched last year to mobilize global business and government leaders on climate change. It includes a number of left-leaning figures who have been targeted by Donald Trump directly (investor George Soros) and foreign business leaders who have worked with Trump (SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son).

Although Trump has all but declared war on clean-energy advocates, many business community leaders remain committed to the technology and caution that moving slowly would cede American leadership on clean energy technologies. And that’s not just because they think preventing the environment from crumbling is a good idea — they also think it’s good business.

Economic analysts think wind, solar, and other alternative energies will continue doing well under President Trump, because they are quickly becoming cheaper than fossil fuels. This would mean that they don’t need as much in government subsidies to be competitive, subsidies that the cleantech sector probably won’t get under Trump and a Republican-controlled Congress.

But Gates and others behind this new cleantech fund are focused not just on conventional solar- and wind-type projects but also on so-called “breakthrough innovations.” In their 2016 annual letter to the public, published this past February, Bill and Melinda Gates said they were renewing their focus on climate change, because “we need an energy miracle.”

“Every day we are releasing more and more CO2 into our atmosphere and making our climate change problem even worse,” the Gateses said. “We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas — even ones that might sound a little crazy — if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century.”

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