How to Waste Millions on Climate Change

How to Waste Millions on Climate Change
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What's the best way to advance climate science and combat climate change? A plethora of options exist for the ambitious wealthy person who has $100,000,000 to burn.

Nine figures can buy you multiple world-class science labs and years of effort from top researchers. It can buy a stake in a private company pursuing engineering projects to directly counter the change. You could even build your own 50-100 Megawatt renewable energy plant, or spend the money on helping children in poverty.

Or, you could choose to spend it on political propaganda. That was the puzzling choice of billionaire Tom Steyer. Well, puzzling if you truly want to see advances in climate science or reasonable work to combat greenhouse gas emissions levels.

Given how incredibly political climate change has become, the last thing we need is more fighting -- political mudslinging is already destroying the real scientific debate. Science isn't accepted because it spends the most on ad campaigns. It's accepted by its empirical truth.

What could a person do with all that cash to make real progress?

A world-class research laboratory at a large University begins with a startup package of about $1 million, and perhaps a couple million more as it expands. It runs on an operating budget of hundreds of thousands per year. The founding researcher merits a salary of perhaps $100,000; a field-leader might receive $200,000. The salary of every other lab member adds to $100k to 500k.

Added up, starting one of the best labs in the world costs $1-3 million and costs less than $1 million per year to run. An industry-sponsored lab would probably require a slightly larger annual cost (scientists make more in the private sector). $100 million could buy many top quality research labs and provide sufficient operating capital to run them for years.

Climate engineering is another option. As David Keith explains, we could attempt to reflect much more of the incoming solar radiation back out into space. This mimics a natural process: the cooling of the earth after a massive volcanic eruption. Releasing an enormous number of small particles into the upper atmosphere would increase Earth's albedo, allowing less warming light to penetrate. Other potential methods include painting roofs white or finding ways to suck CO2 out of the air.

These projects are far from a sure thing. But a chance at some solution to global warming is better than throwing the money at something that doesn't even help.

Another direct approach is to buy into technologies that directly reduce carbon emissions. Solar power costs somewhere around $2.50-5 per watt installed, depending on many factors. $100 million could buy a 40 MW power plant to provide electricity to 65,000 homes. The ridiculous notion of buying 1600 Tesla electric cars may even be a better way to fight climate change.

The money could also be put to humanitarian uses. It could buy a full package of vaccines for 2.5 million African children, or insecticide-treated bed netting to combat mosquito-borne malaria for 20 million.

With so many useful scientific and humanitarian options to choose from, it's sad to see Tom Steyer throw away $100 million on political advertisements.

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