I heartily recommend this month’s Atlantic Monthly cover story, "It’s Not Charity" (via Yglesias). It’s mostly about Bill Clinton’s post-presidency adventures and the new model of philanthropy he’s trying to develop. Embedded within is a description of a fascinating climate program he’s been developing with Ira Magaziner. An excerpt:
The climate initiative, in typical Magaziner style, has many moving parts, including technical assistance to cities, networks for sharing best practices, software to measure progress, financial support, and a full-time foundation staff member assigned to each city. But the make-or-break component is a plan to re-equilibrate the market for energy conservation. “What we’re doing is jump-starting — accelerating — market forces,” Magaziner told me.
Cities own public buildings: offices, schools, police stations, hospitals, fire stations. They set codes for private buildings. They buy and run fleets of vehicles: buses, garbage trucks, police cars, ambulances. They handle water and waste. No city by itself can make a deep dent in carbon emissions or reorganize a global market, but together cities can pool their demand for leading-edge conservation technologies, such as LEDs for traffic lights, systems that capture and burn garbage dumps’ waste methane (a potent greenhouse gas), and alternative-fuel engines for city vehicles. Predictable demand would let suppliers scale up their operations, bringing prices down and creating footholds for technologies on the cusp of commercialization.
That would be step one. Step two, in Magaziner’s vision, is to channel a Niagara of private capital into the effort. Energy-saving technologies typically cost more up front but less over time. “So what we’re going to be doing is setting up a financing mechanism,” he told me. The foundation would help cities borrow in the securities markets against future energy savings. “The whole thing is bankable,” Magaziner said. “It’s a commercial proposition. This is not charity. The whole concept of this is that the market itself over some period of time is going to deploy all these energy-saving things. The problem is it will happen slowly and gradually.” The foundation hopes to reduce decades to years, and years to months.
Does this count as the “regulatory paradigm” or as public investment? Hard to say, but I know I like the sound of it. I suspect over time hybrid efforts like this will come to be more common and our customary categories — public vs. private, regulation vs. investment, market vs. gov’t — will do less and less explanatory work.