That is also where things get hard, even compared to climate politics. There is no easy answer, and I won’t pretend to have them—beyond also involving activists, NGOs, and social scientists, well beyond just lab scientists. Technologies aren’t operating in a policy vacuum, after all. The beauty of Bezos’s billions is that the money allows for quite a bit of experimentation, including the inevitable failures.

There are plenty of dangers along the way. One is to focus too much on one technology, or only one element in the long chain from idea to market. There is similar danger in distorting the overall climate policy and technology landscape with one person’s preferences. Imagine a (crazed) billionaire spending $1 billion on deploying solar geoengineering now. Serious research to the tune of $10 million or perhaps $20 million per year is more than justified. Even “just” $100 million could tilt advocacy much too quickly into one direction.

Similarly, Anand Giridharadas, author of Winners Take All, has some potent critiques pointing to many more problems every step along the way. For one, the lack of democratic accountability of individual’s philanthropy is a real issue. And yes, a further problem is the public subsidizing philanthropic giving via tax breaks, without any direct say in how the money is spent.

It takes a lot of effort to spend money wisely. One oft-overlooked inefficiency in philanthropic giving is how much effort it takes to attract funds. Many recipients vying for limited funds almost surely means that those recipients try to outspend each other. For some universities like Harvard, famed for their fundraising prowess, that means hundreds of staffers working on fundraising strategies and events. Most university presidents and deans, and leaders of NGOs, spend more time on fundraising than on anything else.

It should indeed cost some money to get money. But if nothing else, Bezos’s $10 billion, at once doubling current U.S. climate philanthropy, should take a huge burden off those vying for funds. That alone might make a large difference in the climate fight, where time is of the essence.

Bezos’s $10 billion alone cannot do it all. Nothing alone does. But despite all the very real limitations and problems, the one thing the climate movement needs to be able to do is take a win, and move on to the next level.

Gernot Wagner writes the Risky Climate column for Bloomberg Green. He teaches at New York University and is a co-author of Climate Shock. Follow him on Twitter: @GernotWagner. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

This article was provided by Bloomberg News.

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