The Soros’s Billions Can Unite the Climate Fight
When investment magnate George Soros recently announced his plan to cede control of his philanthropic empire, his 37-year-old son Alex inherited a $25 billion war chest. Democrats cheered and Republicans sneered when the scion told the Wall Street Journal that he would be more political than his father in his leadership of familys Open Society Foundations, which for decades has funded causes from abortion rights to voting access and climate change. Theres no question that this young firebrand can wield enormous influence over American politics and advance world-saving endeavors. His father, after all, contributed to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, broke the Bank of England, committed hundreds of millions to fight racial inequality, and ranks at the top of the largest donors to Democratic campaigns. But the most effective path forward for the Soros heir would be to achieve his grand goals in a way that is less politically divisive, not more so. And he can start by focusing on a forgotten part of his fathers portfolio that will play a critical role in solving the climate crisis: agriculture. In the past two decades, George Soros invested in vast tracts of farmland worldwide, from a 70,000-acre soybean plantation in Louisiana to roughly half a million acres of cattle, grain, dairy and ethanol production throughout South America via Adecoagro SA, an Argentinian company in which Soros once owned a 23% stake. And Soros Fund Management, which oversees investments for the family and the foundation, has been a significant stakeholder in agriculture and food giants including Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., General Mills Inc. and Kellogg Co. But in recent years, the elder Soros reduced or sold many of these land ventures and stock holdings. Now agriculture is on the brink of a radical shift toward sustainable practices and climate-smart technologies, and Alex Soros has an opportunity to revive and redeem his fathers role in this industry. He can leverage his clout both as chairman of the Open Society Foundation and as an investment committee member at Soros Fund Management to help transform an industry that conservatives hold dear and that badly needs to be modernized. Shrewd investments in both large-scale agribusiness and community farms could help young Soros address the growing crises of hunger and poverty in the US, while also supporting development in agricultural states, which tend to vote Republican. Such a focus would help rural voters prosper and build bipartisan goodwill, which will be essential to the future of our democracy. Alex must also recognize that the single biggest threat of climate change is the collapse of food systems. And while agriculture is a major contributor to the climate crisis, it is poised to become one of the planets largest sources of carbon sequestration. The elder Soros has expressed growing concerns over climate change. He wrote this month in his Project Syndicate column that climate change, together with artificial intelligence and Russias Ukraine invasion, comprise a polycrisis that threatens the future of democracy. At the recent Munich Security Conference he told the audience of global leaders that our civilization is in danger of collapsing because of the inexorable advance of climate change. He went on to promote a strategy of cooling the Arctic using an unproven process known as marine cloud brightening that would deflect the suns rays and shield the melting ice. Before young Soros goes headlong down the inchoate path of geoengineering, he should consider more immediate solutions that are safer, proven and affordable many of them in agriculture. If managed wisely, the worlds farmland may be able to draw down as much CO2 as the total amount emitted from the transportation sector, or nearly as much as the global electricity industry. Georges successor can wield his considerable influence within the Biden administration and Congress to support climate-smart measures in the 2023 Farm Bill, pushing for tax credits for sustainable and smaller-scale farming and meat processing. He could advocate for bold immigration law reforms that will protect the legions of undocumented workers who tend American farms. The young billionaire can also seize high-tech investment opportunities that could help modernize farming: He could fund research and startups that are working on the development of next-level, climate-smart technologies such as drones, cellular agriculture and vertical farms. He should also back advanced gene-editing tools like Crispr that are producing new climate-resilient crop varietals, and new blue tech innovations such as recycled wastewater, desalination plants and hyper-efficient irrigation technologies that can help create a drought-proof water supply. Alex Soros has the chance to become a model for the other billionaires in the agriculture industry. About 30% of farmland in the US is owned by landlords who arent farmers, including Warren Buffett and Bill Gates. Gates is now the largest private farmland owner in the US with hundreds of thousands of acres that grow everything from corn and soybeans to carrots and potatoes. While Gates has done important work advancing sustainable agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia through his foundation, he has done little to model climate-smart strategies on his own land. Billionaire landowners are so far removed from the land itself and the workers who tend it, they dont have much incentive to value the planet over profit. If young Soros really wants to shake up politics, hell be guided by his fathers words; our democracy and our planet can no longer survive the problems stemming from negligence. Alex Soros could lead the way, with a strategy that unites rather than divides our nation. More From Bloomberg Opinion: Flying Tractors Are a Window on Farmings Future: Amanda Little A 36-Year-Old Treaty Is Slowing the Arctic Melt: David Fickling The New Agri-Giant Invading the U.S. Heartland: Javier Blas As China Gains in Ag Tech, the US Falls Behind: Adam Minter This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners. Amanda Little is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering agriculture and climate. She is a professor of journalism and science writing at Vanderbilt University and author of The Fate of Food: What Well Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com/opinion 2023 Bloomberg L.P.