Looking into the funding of climate activists, and finding that Extinction Rebellion got £300,000 from Radiohead, and another few hundred thousand from the heiress to the Getty oil fortune, I started wondering if there wasn’t an eccentric billionaire somewhere willing to help keep us Cliscep contributors in the manner to which we’re accustomed. We’re climate activists after all, and willing to superglue ourselves to anyone for a few coppers. So I started a dilatory search for billionaire funders, (you never know your luck) and came across this article in Fortune from last June:
“Giant crypto exchange founder Sam Bankman-Fried promises to give away most of his $21 billion fortune.” 

FTX founder Sam Bankman-Fried has signed the Giving Pledge, a public commitment taken by the world’s richest people and families to give away the majority of their wealth to philanthropy either in their lifetimes or in their wills.

Here’s the Giving Pledge’s pledge

In August 2010, 40 of America’s wealthiest people made a commitment to give the majority of their wealth to address some of society’s most pressing problems. Created by Warren Buffett, Melinda and Bill Gates, the Giving Pledge came to life following a series of conversations with philanthropists about how they could set a new standard of generosity among the ultra-wealthy.

So  I started my exploration of Big Pledge with Sam Bankman-Fried and his crypto exchange FTX. With $21 billion to give away, surely climate would be on his agenda? And on the site of the FTX Foundation, sure enough, over a tasteful photo of trees, was this:

The FTX Foundation is a philanthropic collective that aims to find and support the most effective solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. We make grants and investments to improve global health, prevent pandemics, reduce animal suffering, protect the climate and improve humanity’s prospects of long-term survival and flourishing.

And :

FTX Climate supports high-impact efforts to fight climate change and its harmful effects on our planet. FTX is committed to ensuring its carbon neutrality. It also supports carbon removal efforts, climate policy research and advocacy efforts.

There’s a separate climate website with a headline “Realising a better future for all its inhabitants.” (All whose Inhabitants it doesn’t say.) And they list four “impactful solutions:”

  1. Meeting the claim that we will be carbon neutral this year
  2. Funding research that we believe can have an outsized impact
  3. Supporting carbon removal solutions to help accelerate their growth
  4. Devoting resources to special projects

Then follows “Our plans for the good of the world” which expand the above woolly statements of intention with yet more wool:

We are exploring other areas going forward .. we are excited to start searching for the most impactful things we can do .. we plan to explore unique opportunities that may not fit into our other categories ..

All a bit vague. Then finally on this site, after a nice photo of mountains and lakes, they announce the “Initiatives we support.” These are: 

GivingGreen.earth  Their slogans are: “Climate change is complex. Giving doesn’t have to be” and “We make high impact climate giving easier for everyone.” They have a passionate team of climate scientists whose one aim in life is to tell you who to give your money to. Nice.

(carbon) plan “Data and science for climate action. Improving the transparency and scientific integrity of climate solutions with open data and tools.” [What? Are you suggesting climate solutions lack transparency and scientific integrity? What kind of denier are you?]

gfi Good Food Institute. Policy: featured resource: American national competitiveness. Plant-based and cultivated meat offer clear solutions to major national and global challenges — the very issues governments exist to address. [Did I mention Sam Bankman Fried is vegan?]

And that’s it for the climate. 

So who are these green-minded millionaire philanthropists? Sam Bankman-Fried is the Founder of the FTX Foundation, Nick Beckstead is CEO, and the other members of the team are Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang and Nishad Singh.

Nick Beckstead is a professional humanitarian with a degree in moral philosophy, a founder of the Centre for Effective Altruism, and a research fellow at the Future of Humanity Institute, who previously spent seven years at Open Philanthropy.

That’s quite a CV. If Nick, Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa were going for a job heading a charity, Nick would surely win hands down.

Despite their insistence on the importance of climate in their philanthropic altruism going forward, I could only find one bit of actual research they were actually funding which related to actual climate:

Princeton University, Professor Adji Bousso Dieng : This regrant will fund their research agenda into robust generative models in the face of non-randomly missing data, targeting use cases in healthcare, materials science, and climate.  $250,000

Non-randomly missing data, eh? There’s been quite a lot of that in climate science I believe. A robust generative model sounds just the ticket for filling in the gaps. Bung another quarter of a million dollars to Professor Dieng.

..which is odd, because in this clip

Sam names global warming as the first of the problems he wants to tackle.

Oh, and here’s Caroline, who handles the 20 billion dollars at SBF’s investment arm:

I don’t know about you, but after forty seconds listening to this Thunberg lookalike (though she lacks Greta’s charm) I wouldn’t trust her with 50p to spend at the sweetshop, let alone $20 billion to invest in crypto currency.

Things have moved on since I started writing this post. According to ZeroHedge, the wonderfully named Sam Bankman is not so much Fried as toast. The day after the mid term elections, FTX filed for bankruptcy.

If [Sam Bankman-Fried] took $6 billion in client funds from FTX and secretly syphoned them to fund his “teenage investing wizards” at Alameda, he should go to prison for a long time.

And who are those “teenage investing wizards”? None other than Caroline, Gary and Nishad of the FTX philanthropic collective, together with seven others who, according to Coindesk, inhabit:

.. a luxury penthouse in the Bahamas … where 30-year-old Bankman-Fried is roommates with the inner circle who ran his now-struggling crypto exchange FTX and trading giant Alameda Research … All 10 are, or used to be, paired up in romantic relationships with each other. That includes Alameda CEO Caroline Ellison.. who, at times, has dated Bankman-Fried, according to people familiar with the matter… Wang, Singh and Ellison also comprise the board of Bankman-Fried’s FTX Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the company. Several housemates, including Bankman-Fried and Ellison, are active participants in effective altruism, a movement that “aims to find the best ways to help others,” possibly through philanthropy.

Or possibly through other means. Sam and FTX gave $50 million to the Democrat election campaign, and Sam has promised “up to a billion” for Biden’s campaign in 2024. That’s the President Biden who has handed $50 billion to the Ukraine government, which is reportedly heavily invested in… FTX .  

[Saturday 12th Nov] Since writing the above, it turns out that the day after been declared bankrupt, FTX was hacked, resulting in nearly a billion dollars disappearing.  

“All of the stakeholders would have a hard look at FTX  governance,” tweeted Bankman-Fried on Thursday. “I will not be around if I’m not wanted.”

Indeed, he won’t. A private jet was spotted yesterday leaving the Bahamas for Buenos Aires. With a billion or more missing from the accounts, Professor Dieng’s robust models in the face of non randomly missing data may come in handy. “The world’s most pressing problems,” like “protecting the climate” and “improving humanity’s prospects of long-term survival” may have to wait.

27 Comments

  1. Yes, Geoff, but does this mean there’s no money for Cliscep? At the risk of sounding like President Putin, surely we could qualify under the “special project” heading?

    Like

  2. Don’t worry Mark, there’s lots more billionaires on the Giving Pledge list. I’m just wondering what we could offer them in exchange for £250,000. Inside information on the Great Denier Conspiracy perhaps?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. There’ll be a lot more of these collapses yet. Digital currency is beyond absurd, at least if not backed by a central bank. There’s nothing there. It’s like tulip mania or the South Sea Bubble all over again.

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  4. I strongly disagree with that deduction from the FTX debacle Mark. Did the existence of Bernie Madoff mean that all investments with ‘conventional money’ were equally bad? I think Satoshi Nakamoto proposed something of great import in 2009. Mark Carney would I’m sure strongly agree with you though. Which doesn’t prove anything either way. Climate sceptics, and alarmists, disagree about other matters!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. ALAN
    Would I hide anything from Clisceppers? To you I’m an open book (slightly foxed.) The saucy bits I only learned yesterday from Twitter. The pyramid of pseudo green organisations I’d been slowly ploughing through for a couple of days.I’ve been preparing another episode on Dolly Parton & Jeff Bezos among others, and just today we learn that Bezos has given a hundred million to … Dolly Parton! The money swirls round and round in green circles but never seems to emerge in concrete projects. I suppose that’s the circular economy for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. RICHARD
    One day you’ll have to explain what bitcoin’s for. Since I don’t understand, I’m forced to accept your word, since it seems 97% of domain experts agree with you. It’s a bit humiliating.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Geoff my comment referred to your(our?) alleged knowledge of the great denier conspiracy (possibly followed by our knowledge of our immense hydrocarbon funding).

    Like

  8. I was going to put this a separate article but it might as well go here.

    Here’s Dolly Parton, from an article on the Associated press philanthropy page:
    https://apnews.com/article/entertainment-music-new-york-7cadef8beead4c236fee89c3922d69fb
    social media sleuths did piece together this week that the country superstar had been quietly paying for the band uniforms of many Tennessee high schools for years.. Oh, and it did eventually come out that Parton had donated $1 million for research that helped create the Moderna vaccine for COVID-19.
    “I don’t do it for attention,” she told The Associated Press … “But look! I’m getting a lot of attention by doing it.” “I just give from my heart,” she said. “I never know what I’m going to do or why I’m gonna do it. I just see a need and if I can fill it, then I will.”

    Thanks to Bezos we can expect to see some well dressed high school bands, and a few dozen more vaccines.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. “Sam Bankman-Fried and the credulity of the capitalist class
    The FTX founder is just the latest tech guru to fool the rich and powerful.”

    https://www.spiked-online.com/2022/11/14/sam-bankman-fried-and-the-credulity-of-the-capitalist-class/

    Worth a read.

    …SBF’s ideas about philanthropy and good causes chimed well with a financial elite that now believes it can calculate the ethical value of any given investment. So-called ESG (or environmental, social and governance) scores have become an ethical seal of approval for financial investors. BlackRock, one of the pioneers of ESG investing, is among the firms now being burned by FTX’s bankruptcy. Reportedly, FTX had a higher ‘leadership and governance’ score than the well-established Exxon oil company.

    The rise and fall of SBF is a reminder of how often the capitalist class can be swayed by image over substance. Millions or billions of dollars can change hands on the basis of the right vibes. Investors want to be seen to be at the cutting edge of tech, and to be making ethical and progressive choices…

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  10. I’m with Mark on this one! This is a purely instinctive assessment of what crypto is; I do not understand it and freely admit to that.

    What is “obvious” to this observer is that crypto has no inertia (perhaps because it has no intrinsic value). That any of us could have made a modest investment ten years ago and now be a millionaire thanks to Bitcoin’s stratospheric rise, has it seems led to widespread and gnawing envy of those who “got in at the ground floor.” The uncountable “new” bitcoins that are produced and dumped on the internet are simple expressions of this: punters want to buy a coin for a cent today that will be worth $20,000 in a decade. It won’t happen; that ship has sailed.

    Geoff, you do not have to look far to find numerous heavyweight sceptics of crypto. Are they right? Dunno.

    I see the Binance guy is now calling for more regulation, after starting the run on (his competitor) FTX that killed it. Nice guy.

    Like

  11. Bankman-Fried’s latest tweets spell out ‘What H A P P E N E D?’ This could be a reference to a passage in ‘A Tribute from Legal Studies to Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’, an article by Janet Halley that appeared in a 2010 edition of _Harvard Journal of Law & Gender_*.

    A lot of the most interesting young law teachers want to teach Family Law. To them, this is the single course in the law curriculum that concentrates attention on lived gender. To many of them, Eve, Judith Butler, Michael Warner, Leo Bersani, and other gradually aging eminences of queer theory are not pathbreaking comrades; they are canonical. This new cohort of Family Law teachers studied Eve’s work in undergraduate courses with the same degree of seriousness that they devoted to Hannah Arendt and Simone de Bouvoir. And when they came to Family Law they experienced a shock: how is it that Family Law as we know it cabins the dazzling, dizzying, thrillingly, dauntingly disparate forces of sexual and gendered life that they studied as undergrads into the idea of emotion as either selfish, grasping, dominating, and bad or altruistic, nurturing, subordinated, and good?

    Their reaction resembles that of four-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried, son of my beloved Stanford colleagues Barbara Fried and Joseph Bankman, when he and his mother ended an afternoon of animal love at the petting zoo with a quick run to the grocery store for dinner supplies. Oh the glorious petting zoo – llamas and chickens and ducks and goats and baby lambs! Then, on seeing the refrigerated, discretely packaged, jelly-pale display of “chicken,” Sam rightly asked – as young law scholars well-read in queer theory and confronted with the narrow range of emotional life currently admissible in Family Law are wont to do – “What happened?”

    SBF could saying that, just as the dazzling diversity of sexual and gendered life was cabined into cramped dichotomies when seen from a queer legal studies perspective, the collapse of FTX has penthoused the cuddly llama of effective altruism into a packet of chicken.

    Or perhaps he’s just wondering where his amphetamines went.

    ===
    *https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3256953

    Liked by 1 person

  12. VINNY
    Whatever his philosophical qualms about cuddly llamas and packeted chickens, he seems to have managed to solve the problem of reconciling opposites when it comes to amphetamines, since, although he adores them, he accepts the need for sleeping pills as well.
    I wonder if he acquired the talent for reconciling opposites from his lawyer parents? They were well-read in canonical queer theory of Family Law apparently, and therefore aware that there’s no difference between being selfish, grasping and dominating, and being altruistic, nurturing and good. Not when you’re worth 20 billion, anyway.

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  13. There is a world of difference between crypto and fiat currency (pounds, dollars, whatever). As we saw in the financial crisis in 2008/10 all the incredibly arrogant investment bankers and banks were bailed out by the central banks, bar one or two “examples” such as Lehmans. Behind the central banks stand the governments, and they can levy taxes to any level to ensure that the bail outs work. Remember Draghi “whatever it will take” and the markets believed him because he spoke with real backing.
    Crypto on the other hand has no such backing. It is only worth what the next man will pay for it. There has been a huge inflated bubble, blown up by the central banks, indeed they are hugely guilty. QE inflated the money supply by enormous amounts, and so that found its way, as it always does, into ever more speculative assets. This has happened so many times that one despairs of those in authority actually learning from the past. South Sea Bubble, tulip mania, Barings crisis 1896, 1920s inflation, the Barber boom 1972 (i actually lost my job over that one) and so on … ad infinitum.
    In this case various types, some genuine, some not, claimed to have found the “holy grail” of a stable store of value that did not depend on governments. But oh dear, when the liquidity disappears,as it is now doing with a vengeance as the Fed aggressively tightens, then suddenly the Emperor has no clothes. There is no central bank behind crypto, and no government with unlimited taxation powers.
    I strongly suspect this is not over yet, and many more people are going to learn a very hard lesson… and if you wonder I studied monetary economics many years ago at LSE, and much of this was obvious then, merely by studying all those events I listed above. Apologies for being boring…. and gloomy.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Geoff:

    RICHARD
    One day you’ll have to explain what bitcoin’s for. Since I don’t understand, I’m forced to accept your word, since it seems 97% of domain experts agree with you. It’s a bit humiliating.

    One day maybe. But today I take the liberty of pointing you to Peter Thiel and what he said at the Bitcoin 2022 Conference in April:

    He identifies the big enemy of all the good things BTC can bring as ESG. He’s not in the Mark Carney camp on either, in other words. And nor, I would say, are we 🙂

    I pointed to Bret Weinstein talking about this on my Bit Rot thread a few days later.

    I agree with whoever said above that it’s not 97% of domain experts who think like Thiel. There’s a wide spectrum of views. I’d actually call myself a BTC sceptic. But I do think crypto and the blockchain have some amazing mathematical foundations.

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  15. PS On Thiel’s views in October 2014 see PayPal Co-Founder Is Skeptical of Man-Made Global Warming for This Reason

    PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, often considered one of the most influential people in Silicon Valley, said Tuesday that he is skeptical of man-made global warming because many refuse to allow debate the subject.

    “Whenever you can’t have a debate, I often think that’s evidence that there’s a problem,” Thiel said on The Glenn Beck Program. “When people use the word ‘science,’ it’s often a tell, like in poker, that you’re bluffing. It’s like we have ‘social science’ and we have ‘political science,’ [but] we don’t call it ‘physical science’ or ‘chemical science.’ We just call them physics and chemistry because we know they’re right.”

    Thiel said no one will be upset if you ask questions about the periodic table, because it is actually science. But referring to man-made climate change as “science” tells you “that people are exaggerating and they’re bluffing a little bit,” Thiel said.

    Bret Weinstein’s brother Eric is one of Thiel’s closest friends and business partners but is less overtly climate sceptical. Good at mathematical physics though. People are free to disagree 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Geoff, the answer may well lie somewhere in this 2012 blogpost by the then-twenty-year-old Sam Bankman-Fried*:

    The Fetishization of the Old

    In about eighty years I will be dead, and in another eighty everyone who ever really knew me will be too. I will be at risk of being forgotten; everyone alive now will be, but most importantly for me, I will be. I would like to think that I will be remembered. We all would. And if we as a society spend so much time looking backward, so much time romanticizing those who died two hundred years ago, so much time replicating traditions born hundreds of years ago, then the future doesn’t look quite so divorced from the present. And the thought that your society and your town and your way of life and maybe even you might be remembered in two hundred years doesn’t seem quite so hopeless.

    It’s easy to get caught up in romanticization of the past and forget that it’s the reason that 46% of Americans don’t believe in evolution.

    I can’t work out what he meant in his fifth sentence. (Is there a missing ‘don’t’?) Or his sixth.

    But I think the main message of that post was probably that narcissists can live to be 100 if they take amphetamines in the morning, sleeping pills at night and liberties in between.

    There may be other, equally valid interpretations.

    ===
    *https://web.archive.org/web/20221113125947/http://measuringshadowsblog.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-fetishization-of-old.html

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Very interesting thread by Balaji Srinivasan

    Liked by 2 people

  18. VINNY BURGOO
    Thanks for digging that out. I read somewhere that Sam has never read a book and has said that any useful information can be got into a five paragraph blog article, so I was expecting the worst, but actually that doesn’t sound so stupid to me.

    I take it that like any 20 year old he’d never thought much about the past until now, and projecting his own non-existence into the future made him think about the present’s links to the past. To people who read books these are banalities, but he seems to draw the right conclusions: that among the good reasons to link the past to the present is that it helps you think about the future.
    In more recent interviews that I’ve seen, amphetamines had taken their toll, but here he seems like bright lad with a future. And he probably will be remembered in 200 years’ time, probably as a footnote in some 23rd century book on the madness of crowds.

    Like

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