Bill Gates backs Cipher, a new online climate news source


    Bill Gates authored “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” and spoke to GeekWire about the book in February 2021. (Image from the GeekWire interview on Feb. 8, 2021)

    Bill Gates is backing a new online climate news publication called Cipher that is slated to start publishing on Sept. 29.

    The Cipher news site is being led by Seattle-based executive editor Amy Harder, who most recently covered climate issues in Washington, D.C., for Axios before taking a role at Gates’ Breakthrough Energy in February.

    Cipher’s stated mission “is to help accelerate the technological transformations required to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 through trustworthy and objective journalism.” The site’s name, which means zero, alludes to the global decarbonization goal. Cipher is described as a weekly newsletter and video series.

    Amy Harder, executive editor of Cipher. (LinkedIn Photo)

    While Gates remains engaged in global health — the primary focus of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation — he’s been putting increasing energy and resources into addressing the climate crisis. The Microsoft co-founder created Breakthrough Energy Ventures in 2015 to fund clean tech companies. He more recently expanded that effort into the Breakthrough Energy umbrella organization that includes a suite of investment, innovation and policy initiatives. Gates also published a climate-focused book earlier this year.

    The Cipher cite acknowledges the potential conflict of interest between its coverage and ventures being pursued by Breakthrough Energy at large. It notes that its own editorial leadership will have “final say over our journalism. We include disclaimers as needed when we cover topics, people and/or companies that are in or connected to the Breakthrough Energy network.”

    Cipher’s content will be available for free without ads, according to Axios. The product will be funded by Breakthrough Energy, with the possibility of someday enlisting sponsors to help cover events and newsletters.

    Cipher is joining a multitude of climate publications. That includes two other Seattle-based sources: Grist, an online climate news site that launched in 1999 and provides solutions-oriented coverage, and Volts, a newsletter and podcast created last year by former Vox and Grist reporter David Roberts. National outlets have in recent years been scaling up their climate reporting, with Bloomberg, for example, launching Bloomberg Green to focus on the economics of climate change and climate tech.

    Harder has covered environmental news for more than a decade. She was previously an energy reporter at The Wall Street Journal and National Journal. Her job at Breakthrough Energy marks her return to Washington state, where she graduated with a journalism degree from Western Washington University in Bellingham.