Bill Gates Backs Climate News Outlet 'Cipher'

The new online publication will focus on solutions to reach zero emissions by 2050.

Bill Gates

Getty Images

In his review of Bill Gates’ February 2021 book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” environmental activist Bill McKibben praised the billionaire and Microsoft co-founder for his “affection for his home planet,” but poor interpretation of “the deeper and more critical aspects of the global warming dilemma.”

“Power comes in many forms, from geothermal and nuclear to congressional and economic; it’s wonderful that Gates has decided to work hard on climate questions, but to be truly helpful he needs to resolve to be a better geek—he needs to really get down on his hands and knees and examine how that power works in all its messiness,” McKibben wrote for the NY Times. “Politics very much included.”

Whether or not Gates took McKibben’s words to heart is up for debate, but it’s clear he’s working on continuing to build on the mission of his book’s title. Later this month, Gates’ climate advocacy coalition Breakthrough Energy will launch Cipher, an online publication focused on the technology needed to eliminate greenhouse emissions by the middle of this century. 

“Cipher means zero," the site CipherNews states, “which we at Breakthrough find intriguing because our goal is simple, but hard—going from the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases we emit a year today to zero by 2050. Cipher also means code. We aim to decode complex topics and make them clear to people at all levels working to solve the climate crisis—and anyone who wants to be an informed, concerned citizen.”

Newsletter First, Full Website in 2022

Leading the editorial vision of Cipher is Amy Harder, a long-time energy and climate change journalist who, before joining Breakthrough Energy last February, previously reported for Axios and the Wall Street Journal. 

Harder will first author a weekly newsletter and video interview series, with plans to bring on a full staff and expand the website’s content by 2022. The first entry features an exclusive interview with U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm.

According to details shared with Axios, Cipher will cover green energy technologies like clean hydrogen and electricity storage, as well as topics such as how capitalism can “help or hinder the technologies needed to drastically reduce emissions.” Harder also emphasizes that, despite its close relationship with Breakthrough Energy, Cipher exists as a 100% independent news outlet. 

“Practically speaking, this means our editorial leadership will have final say over our journalism,” she writes. “We will stress transparency, including disclaimers when we cover topics, people, and companies that are in or connected to the Breakthrough Energy network. I anticipate disagreements and tension—internally and externally.”

For now, the site will also not include any ads or court sponsors for its content. "Consider Breakthrough Energy the driver—and Cipher the narrator," Harder adds. 

You can sign up for the Cipher newsletter here. The first issue is expected to launch on September 29th.