What's Next for the Dream Team of Donors Behind the Latest Climate Alert?

We’ve heard several dire warnings about the effects of climate change, mostly from scientists and government agencies, and mostly yielding disappointing response. The latest report is a giant red alert for the sake of the country’s economy. Who better to send it than three mega-capitalists who are very concerned about climate change?

When Michael Bloomberg, Tom Steyer and Hank Paulson get into a room together, things are going to happen and people are going to pay attention. That, at least, is the idea behind Risky Business, a campaign they co-chair that is meant to send a strong message that global warming is far more than a political or environmental issue—it threatens to ravage the U.S. economy. 

You can explore the full report here, but it warns of more than a million homes and businesses sustaining flood damage, a suffering agricultural industry, and a huge blow to outdoor labor and tourism. The analysis was commissioned from the Rhodium Group, an economic research firm specializes in disruptive global trends. 

The thing about the Risky Business report that really drew attention was the coalition of voices behind it. The team involved in the report is made up of business leaders and former high-ranking federal officials, Democrats and Republicans, including three U.S. Treasury secretaries dating back to the Nixon administration.

The effect is the appearance of a united front across party lines, from a fact-based economic perspective that rises above the partisan rhetoric that has bogged down the debate.

But also notable, particularly from our perspective, is the dream team of philanthropists who initiated the report. 

The project is a joint partnership between Bloomberg Philathropies, TomKat Charitable Trust (Steyer's outfit), and the Paulson Institute, with additional funding for the report from the Skoll Global Threats Fund and the Rockefeller Family Fund.

The biggest name on that list is definitely Bloomberg. The former mayor has been increasingly involved in matters of climate and air pollution. For example, he was named a U.N. Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change earlier this year, following some high-profile gifts—$50 million to the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign, and $20 million to C40 Cities, a city-based effort for climate solutions.

The Risky Business initiative is further evidence that Bloomberg is in the climate change issue for the long haul. That's significant, given that he's still barely scratched the surface in giving away his fortune, which is now estimated at $34 billion. Bigger climate giving surely lies ahead for Bloomberg, but as we've written here, he's unlikely to create a big environmental program at Bloomberg Philanthropies that spreads lots of grants far and wide. Instead, Bloomberg's typical strategy is to make a few very big bets on top organizations. 

Then there’s Hank Paulson, former Treasury Secretary under George W. Bush, and the only member of the cabinet who was a public proponent of action on the issue. Paulson was also the CEO of Goldman Sachs, but he originally wanted to be a forest ranger. He and Wendy Paulson’s Bobolink Foundation is an active conservation funder, and he mostly focuses these days on his Paulson Institute, a think tank that promotes sustainable economic growth and clean environment.

Paulson is no billionaire, but he's rich enough to give at a growing level for years to come. One question is whether the Bobolink Foundation will eventually expand beyond conservation issues to fund climate work. 

The third co-chair is Tom Steyer, who is more on the liberal end of things than his partners in the endeavor, although he’s often painted as more to the left than he is in reality. Media reports frequently cast him as the liberal foil to the conservative Koch Brothers, although his political spending is much smaller. Steyer is retired from his hedge fund days at Farallon Capital, and now 100 percent devoted to fighting climate change. He’s opposed the Keystone pipeline, made news when he said he plans to put $100 million to making climate a key election issue ($50 million of his own money), and has devoted huge sums to clean energy research and climate disaster relief. 

Steyer is worth an estimated $1.6 billion, so he has plenty of money to sustain his streak of high-level giving, or to step things up. The clock is ticking, after all. Our bet is that Steyer's TomKat Charitabe Trust becomes a bigger, more professionalized outfit in the next few years that moves more money out the door. 

Read more IP coverage about the funders behind Risky Business here:

Michael Bloomberg

Thomas Steyer

The Bobolink Foundation: Grants for Animals and Wildlife

Skoll Foundation: Grants for Climate Change