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.
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:”
- Meeting the claim that we will be carbon neutral this year
- Funding research that we believe can have an outsized impact
- Supporting carbon removal solutions to help accelerate their growth
- 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.