Close Search
Opinion  |  PhilanthropyIndividual giving

Billionaires taking action on climate change are part of a long tradition

28 October 2021 at 8:07 am
Wealthy philanthropists throughout history have been prepared to help, writes David Tuffley from Griffith University.

Contributor | 28 October 2021 at 8:07 am


Billionaires taking action on climate change are part of a long tradition
28 October 2021 at 8:07 am

Wealthy philanthropists throughout history have been prepared to help, writes David Tuffley from Griffith University.

If governments won’t act quickly enough on climate change, who will?

Enter the new breed of (mostly young) billionaire philanthropists. Their goal is to use their influence and money to push the boundaries of science and technology for society’s benefit.

One example is Mike Cannon-Brookes, billionaire co-founder of software developer Atlassian and his partner Annie Cannon-Brookes who this month pledged $1.5 billion to invest in climate projects by 2030.

$1 billion will be in financial investments and $500 million in philanthropic and advocacy work, with the aim of keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees. He wants other executives to follow suit.

In the US the world’s largest funds manager Blackrock has injected funds into billionaire Bill Gates’ Breakthrough Energy, which is using philanthropic money to accelerate investments in new technologies.

Breakthrough has reportedly secured US$1 billion in investments from Microsoft, General Motors, American Airlines, Boston Consulting Group, Bank of America and ArcelorMittal.

In India, in Denmark, in Australia

In India, its richest citizen Mukesh Ambani has pledged to take his energy giant net-zero by 2035, an undertaking he will fulfil by switching to renewable sources and converting carbon dioxide emissions into useful products and chemicals.

Australia’s Andrew Forrest has established Fortescue Future Industries as part of Fortescue Metals with a mandate to invest billions in Green Hydrogen projects in Queensland and NSW and to make the mining group carbon-neutral by 2040.

Elsewhere a Danish sceptic on carbon pricing Bjørn Lomborg has made a case for innovation in energy research as the way to limit carbon emissions, citing a parallel from the 1860’s when whales were hunted to near extinction for oil that was used to light homes.

He says the solution was not to tax whales, it was the invention of kerosene that undercut the cost of whale oil.

What’s happening isn’t new

In 1919 businessman Raymond Orteig offered US$25,000 for the first person to fly non-stop from New York to Paris.

The prize was won by an unknown 25-year-old US Army Reserve officer, Charles Lindberg, spurring enormous advances in aviation.

Today, the X Prize Foundation and the Musk Foundation are offering a US$100 million X Prize for Carbon Removal funded by billionaire Elon Musk.

The prize will go to the team from anywhere on the planet who can invent a machine that extracts carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or oceans at gigatonne-scale.

Previous X Prizes have been awarded for the application of artificial intelligence to global issues, turning carbon dioxide into useful products, developing cheaper methods of mass testing for COVID, and creating water from thin air.

Horses for courses

There is a sound argument that important pledges and projects should be the responsibility of governments rather than individuals.

Billionaires often get where they are by acting on self-interest, so it isn’t reasonable to expect them to act in the interest of the entire public.

On the other hand, some problems are too important and time sensitive to leave in the hands of governments that can’t act with agility.

If an individual loses their money, it’s their loss. If the government loses the money, it’s the taxpayer’s loss. So governments have to be cautious.

It’s probably not a matter of one or the other. Governments shouldn’t abandon their responsibility to act in the public interest. On the other hand, wealthy philanthropists throughout history have been prepared to help.

The Conversation

About the author: David Tuffley is a senior lecturer in applied ethics and cybersecurity at Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

PB Careers
Get your biweekly dose of news, opinion and analysis to keep you up to date with what’s happening and why it matters for you, sent every Tuesday and Thursday morning.

Got a story to share?

Got a news tip or article idea for Pro Bono News? Or perhaps you would like to write an article and join a growing community of sector leaders sharing their thoughts and analysis with Pro Bono News readers? Get in touch at or download our contributor guidelines.
Most Viewed


Webinar Value Packs

Get more stories like this


Your email address will not be published.


Labor promises to double giving, answering Philanthropy Australia’s call

Danielle Kutchel

Monday, 11th April 2022 at 1:56 pm

Bringing Vance’s vision to life


Tuesday, 28th September 2021 at 7:00 am

Peter Singer vows to donate million dollar philosophy prize

Luke Michael

Monday, 13th September 2021 at 5:08 pm

Australian women play a significant role in philanthropic decisions

Nikki Stefanoff

Saturday, 12th June 2021 at 8:00 am

pba inverse logo
Subscribe Twitter Facebook