Yet some question whether these philanthropic investments can make a difference when it comes to a planetary crisis.
“I don’t see how giving a billion dollars to a rich university is going to move the needle on this issue in a near-term time frame,” said David Callahan, author of “The Givers: Wealth, Power, and Philanthropy in a New Gilded Age.” “It’s nice that he’s parting with his money, but that billion dollars could be better spent trying to move this up on the scale of public opinion. Until the public sees this as a top tier issue, politicians are not going to act.”
Arun Majumdar, who was named as the school’s inaugural dean and has advised the Obama and Biden administrations on energy issues, said the school would provide context and analysis around climate change issues, but would stop short of advocacy. “We will not go into the political arena,” he said. “That’s a very slippery slope for us.”
Mr. Majumdar, who currently holds a chair at Stanford named for Jay Precourt, a businessman who made his name in the oil business, also said that the new school would work with and accept donations from fossil fuel companies.
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“Not all oil and gas industries are on board, but there are some who are who are under pressure to diversify, otherwise they will not survive,” Mr. Majumdar said. “Those that want to diversify and be part of the solutions, and they want to engage with us, we are open to that.”
Mr. Doerr said he was first inspired to address climate change in 2006, after he watched Al Gore’s film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” with his family. He said that, at dinner after the film, his daughter told him, “Your generation created this problem. You better fix it.” The next year, Mr. Gore joined Kleiner Perkins, Mr. Doerr’s venture capital firm.
In the years that followed, Kleiner Perkins made several major investments in clean energy companies and Mr. Doerr delivered a TED Talk titled “Salvation (and Profit) in Greentech.” But during the financial crisis of 2008, when the cost of natural gas plummeted due to fracking, many of those clean energy companies failed.