Why Bill Gates Is Optimistic About Combating Climate Change
Keeping global temperatures in check will mean transitioning to clean energy on an unprecedented scale – which is why we need to drive innovation at an unprecedented pace. That’s the argument Bill Gates makes in a recent interview with The Atlantic. “We need an energy miracle,” he says “But in science, miracles are happening all the time.”
There’s danger in assuming that climate change will be solved by someone in a garage somewhere. In our own research, we’ve identified “Techno-optimism” as a potential hurdle that can lull people into inaction. But Gates understands that ingenuity alone isn’t the answer – governments need to be involved as well. He advocates tripling government spending on R&D and funding the development of a broad range of solutions. Gates points out that when our country decided it was vital to fight cancer, the government boosted health research spending to around $30 billion a year, with phenomenal results. Climate change needs to be addressed with the same seriousness and urgency.
The private sector can play a role, too, by helping bring to market the most promising technologies that come out of the R&D. One way is for organizations to take the money they’ve divested from fossil fuels and reinvest in energy innovation.
By James Bennet, contributor to The Atlantic
Bill Gates has committed his fortune to moving the world beyond fossil fuels and mitigating climate change.
In his offices overlooking Lake Washington, just east of Seattle, Bill Gates grabbed a legal pad recently and began covering it in his left-handed scrawl. He scribbled arrows by each margin of the pad, both pointing inward. The arrow near the left margin, he said, represented how governments worldwide could stimulate ingenuity to combat climate change by dramatically increasing spending on research and development. “The push is the R&D,” he said, before indicating the arrow on the right. “The pull is the carbon tax.” Between the arrows he sketched boxes to represent areas, such as deployment of new technology, where, he argued, private investors should foot the bill. He has pledged to commit $2 billion himself.
“Yes, the government will be somewhat inept,” he said brusquely, swatting aside one objection as a trivial statement of the obvious. “But the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them.”
Gates is on a solo global lobbying campaign to press his species to accomplish something on a scale it has never attempted before. He wants human beings to invent their way out of the coming collision with planetary climate change, accelerating a transition to new forms of energy that might normally take a century or more. To head off a rise in average global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—the goal set by international agreement—Gates believes that by 2050, wealthy nations like China and the United States, the most prodigious belchers of greenhouse gases, must be adding no more carbon to the skies.
Image credit: Stephen Voss