“Representative democracy” has failed; the private sector is “inept”; and only bigger government – led by China and the US – has the power to save the world from climate change.
So says Bill Gates in a dogmatic but somewhat confused interview with The Atlantic in which he simultaneously pours scorn on green tech solutions but insists that more of them are needed – on a scale bigger than the Manhattan Project – if we are to deal successfully with a problem whose nature he admits may well have been exaggerated by environmentalists.
Confused? You should be:
Here are some of things we learn about the mysteries of Gates’s mind.
Gates has no patience for climate change deniers – Republican politicians in particular – but is far too grand to explain why they’re wrong.
He didn’t evince much patience for the argument that American politicians couldn’t agree even on whether climate change is real, much less on how to combat it. “If you’re not bringing math skills to the problem,” he said with a sort of amused asperity, “then representative democracy is a problem.”
Gates made his fortune in what used to be one of the least regulated sectors of the US economy. But still he has little faith in free markets as a driving force for innovation.
“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.”
He thinks the forthcoming UN climate talks in Paris are largely a waste of space because they’re just not going to be radical enough.
It’s good to have people making commitments. It’s really good. But if you really look at those commitments—which are not binding, but even if you say they will all be achieved—they fall dramatically short of the reductions required to reduce CO2 emissions enough to prevent a scenario where global temperatures rise 2 degrees Celsius. I mean, these commitments won’t even be a third of what you need.
Yes, you read that correctly. On the basis of no evidence he is prepared to venture in the interview, Bill Gates is agitating for the near total decarbonization of the world economy.
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.
Private enterprise cannot achieve this because there is no financial incentive to do so. (It appears not to have occurred to Gates that the reason there is no financial incentive because there is no genuine need and therefore no demand. If there had maybe he would have been a green tech billionaire rather than a software billionaire).
Well, there’s no fortune to be made.
Bill Gates is not totally stupid. He knows electric cars suck.
People think, Oh, well, I’ll just get an electric car. There are places where if you buy an electric car, you’re actually increasing CO2 emissions, because the electricity infrastructure is emitting more CO2 than you would have if you’d had a gasoline-powered car.
But he does, sort of, believe that government has access to a magic money tree and that it does something called ‘investment’ – which isn’t at all the same, oh no, as splurging taxpayers’ dollars on pointless crap like Solyndra.
Realistically, we may not get more than a doubling in government funding of energy R&D—but I would love to see a tripling, to $18 billion a year from the U.S. government to fund basic research alone. Now, as a percentage of the government budget, that’s not gigantic.
Bill Gates thinks that heavily-subsidized green tech like wind and solar has worked really well. Then he goes onto admit in virtually the same breath that, no actually, it hasn’t worked well at all. Go figure.
Wind has grown super-fast, on a very subsidized basis. Solar, off a smaller base, has been growing even faster—again on a highly subsidized basis. But it’s absolutely fair to say that even the modest R&D that’s been done, and the various deployment incentives that are there, have worked well. Now, unfortunately, solar photovoltaic is still not economical, but the biggest problem of all is this intermittency. That is, we need energy 24 hours a day. So, putting aside hydro—which unfortunately can’t grow much—the primary new zero-CO2 sources are intermittent. Now, nuclear is a non-CO2 source, but it’s had its own problems in terms of costs, big safety problems, making sure you can deal with the waste, making sure the plutonium isn’t used to make weapons. So my view is that the biggest problem for the two lead candidates is that storage looks to be so difficult. It’s kind of ironic: Germany, by installing so much rooftop solar, has it that both their coal plants and their rooftop solar are available in the summer, and the price of power during the day actually goes negative—they pay people to take it. Then at night the only source is the coal, and because the energy companies have to recover their capital costs, they either raise the price because they’re not getting any return for the day, or they slowly go bankrupt.
In fact, Bill Gates thinks that all those greenies bigging up solar are a bunch of liars.
They have this statement that the cost of solar photovoltaic is the same as hydrocarbon’s. And that’s one of those misleadingly meaningless statements. What they mean is that at noon in Arizona, the cost of that kilowatt-hour is the same as a hydrocarbon kilowatt-hour. But it doesn’t come at night, it doesn’t come after the sun hasn’t shone, so the fact that in that one moment you reach parity, so what? The reading public, when they see things like that, they underestimate how hard this thing is.
Bill Gates – did he make this clear? – thinks green tech is a crappy sector to invest in. That’s why he thinks it’s so important that Government steps in to force the private sector to invest in it. Because otherwise, obviously, it wouldn’t. Free markets: so totally overrated, aren’t they?
I think dozens and dozens of approaches should be funded at the R&D level, and then people like myself, who can afford to take big risks with start-up companies, should—because of climate change—be willing to put some number of billions into the spin-offs that will come out of that government-funded activity.You can’t expect that it will be like a digital thing. So you do have to bring a more patient investor, and even a lower return threshold, to this than to other things.
Bill Gates thinks the environmentalists could be talking nonsense
The heating levels have not tracked the climate models exactly, and the skeptics have had a heyday with that. It’s all within the error-bar range. To me, it’s pretty clear that there’s nothing that relieves this as a big problem. But when people act like we have this great certainty, they somewhat undermine the credibility. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this, but on both the good and the bad side.
By overclaiming, or even trying to ascribe current things more to climate change than to other effects, environmentalists lend weight to the skeptics.
But it’s certainly not going to stop Bill Gates talking nonsense, no sirree, about the necessity of taking radical steps to deal with this potentially non-existent problem.
That’s why….we need innovation that gives us energy that’s cheaper than today’s hydrocarbon energy, that has zero CO2 emissions, and that’s as reliable as today’s overall energy system. And when you put all those requirements together, we need an energy miracle. That may make it seem too daunting to people, but in science, miracles are happening all the time.
Bill Gates: wouldn’t have been so much better for all of us if he’d just bought up some remote island in the Pacific, hollowed out some volcano to build his secret base, and just worked on something relatively innocuous like plotting a war between China and the US guaranteed to result in mutual nuclear annihilation? This climate change nonsense of his is so much more dangerous…