Judging from statements made by President-elect Donald Trump's transition team, and the growing list of nominees for key jobs in his administration, the future of environmental science and clean energy research is looking shaky. The question is, even if America’s climate-friendly billionaires can fill the gap, should they?
Trump has his eyes on defanging the Environmental Protection Agency and scrapping the Clean Power Plan. It’s also been suggested that he might cut funding of NASA’s climate science research. Researchers have been backing up data amid fears that it might vanish. And if Rick Perry becomes the head of the Department of Energy, research into new energy solutions will not be led by concern for the climate.
All of which leaves some scientists wondering who might help them monitor humanity’s impact on the planet.
At the American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco on Thursday, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, said that private donors may foot the bill for funding climate science. According to Buzzfeed, McNutt says that she’s spoken with people who could raise billions of dollars to help the cause.
The news follows the announcement earlier this week of the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund, which commits $1 billion over the next 20 years to funding energy ideas considered to be too risky by regular venture capital firms. It’s bankrolled by over 20 billionaires, among them Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and Virgin’s Richard Branson.
The problem, of course, is that by offering to pay for climate science and energy research, billionaires may simply signal that private funding will suffice—a notion that Trump may be happy to buy into. That is not the case. The government plays a crucial role in funding basic research, and that must continue.
McNutt seems to be thinking along the same lines. While she may be attempting to line up potential funding sources, her message to them is, apparently, “hold off.” She says that she doesn’t want anyone to give Trump and Congress the excuse to cut funding for climate science.
Fortunately, most billionaires are probably quite good at holding their nerve. For the sake of maintaining the U.S. government’s investment in the planet, they might have to.
The gene-edited pig heart given to a dying patient was infected with a pig virus
The first transplant of a genetically-modified pig heart into a human may have ended prematurely because of a well-known—and avoidable—risk.
Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year discovering treatments to slow aging
The oil kingdom fears that its population is aging at an accelerated rate and hopes to test drugs to reverse the problem. First up might be the diabetes drug metformin.
Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI
One of the godfathers of deep learning pulls together old ideas to sketch out a fresh path for AI, but raises as many questions as he answers.
The dark secret behind those cute AI-generated animal images
Google Brain has revealed its own image-making AI, called Imagen. But don't expect to see anything that isn't wholesome.
Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review
Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.