Caltech wins record $750 million gift to tackle climate change

Donation comes from billionaire producers of plastic-bottled water

September 26, 2019
Caltech or California Institute of technology

The billionaire owners of a company that produces plastic-bottled water are donating $750 million (£600 million) to the California Institute of Technology for research involving environmental protection and climate change.

The donors, Stewart and Lynda Resnick, hope Caltech will use their gift – which they called the largest-ever for sustainability research, and the second-largest to any US academic institution – for work that includes the controversial idea of removing carbon from the atmosphere.

Caltech will use some of the money to build a new 75,000 square foot facility named the Resnick Sustainability Resource Center. It will also use the money for work in areas that include biofuels and decomposable plastics.

The Resnicks are owners of The Wonderful Company, with product lines that include Fiji Water, Pom Wonderful, Wonderful Pistachios and the flower delivery service Teleflora.

A leading academic advocate of greater efforts to combat climate change, Michael Mann of Penn State University, said he welcomed such gifts regardless of any complaints about the environmental record of the donors.

“I don’t think purity tests are particularly helpful in the battle to tackle climate change,” said Professor Mann, a professor of meteorology at Penn State. “We must work within the system to change the system.”

The Resnicks said they hope the research insights gained at Caltech will help their companies incorporate more environmentally sustainable technologies and practices.

Caltech already began such work a decade ago with a $30 million gift from the Resnicks and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation. Work with that money has included using sunlight to produce hydrogen and carbon-based fuels, Caltech said in announcing the new donation.

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