Microsoft Wizard and richest man on this planet, Bill Gates—leader of the dominating philanthropy in the world—would probably be the last person anyone would believe would “bet the world” on miracles. Energy Miracles that is………. But, he did almost 6 years ago and doubled down recently—even though no miracle has been seen since the first big wager.
Photo: Remy Steinegger / Wikipedia
Nonetheless, insisting that the solution to fossil fuels’ induced climate chaos will be through unpredictable innovation and technological breakthroughs, Gates is betting on what has not been seen in this century as yet. In his November 2015 Atlantic interview, Gates “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.” He also indicated: “our best chance to vault over natural gas to a globally applicable, carbon-free source of energy is to drive innovation ‘at an unnaturally high pace.’”
One more quote could be added, this time from his February, 2010 TED talk: “...We actually have to drive at full speed and get a miracle in a pretty tight timeline.” Now, that particular Gates quote was almost 6 years ago and no miracles have been forthcoming; they are not even dimly seen in the distance. The miracle’s timing is important, because we have very limited time within which a miracle must appear.
Gates is undeniable very, very influential. Whether or not he is right to have us all wait for an energy miracle, many people will wait because Gates says so. The data supports that is what the US population is doing.
Gates is undeniable very, very influential. Whether or not he is right to have us all wait for an energy miracle, many people will wait because Gates says so. The data supports that is what the US population is doing……. Consider: “Most Americans accept that climate change is real, they just don’t care that much about it,” a mid-October AP poll explained. Doesn’t this make perfect sense…… When Gates says that techno-breakthroughs will save us and adds that the government, no matter how inept, will have to help, what role is there for the average person in our nation who understands we have a problem, but leaves the miracles to the miracle makers, the techno wizards? Gates’s approach to the climate crisis, along with Obama’s reassurances about climate and his leadership, echoes Big Green’s “don’t be worried, support Obama and the IPCC” approach to the climate. Both approaches are mistaken and misleading, as explained following.
The question of this essay is: “How comfortable do you feel about our chances, given Gates’ bets on miracles and government while the rest of us can just sit on our hands and wait for techno-miracles and human ingenuity??”
What Gates might say besides betting on miracles to fix the climate crisis
Let’s assume that Gates understands the urgency of the climate crisis. He may believe we have some additional time to deal with it because of the “coming” energy miracle he anticipates, but he knows the scope, scale and urgency. But the country and the culture does not know the extent of the crisis, nor how the future is being determined now by our carbon fuels use. Most Americans, including a vast majority in the climate movement itself, don’t know that an energy miracle is needed. Nor does the climate movement communicate the depth of the problem. Major factors of the Climate Crisis just are not known and not understood by average Americans, even those directly involved in the climate movement itself.
Just a few of many particulars:
- The CO2 we put in the atmosphere remains centuries later, continuing to warm the climate and oceans (there is especially a lag time for oceans to heat up). Even if we dramatically reduce our fossil fuels use, even far beyond what is planned for this Paris meeting, the heat cumulatively added to the planet by current CO2 levels will push temperatures even higher. It’s already baked in. For examples, We’re Kidding Ourselves on Global Warming 2°C Limit, and additionally, and more, and more, etc. Scientific articles on the Earth’s energy imbalance and the longevity of CO2 in the atmosphere abound.
- Global dimming is heat blocked because of fossil fuel particulates in the atmosphere. So, when we quit fossil fuels (as we will), then the climate will warm even more significantly. Thus, the carbon budget that we can burn is figured within the parameters of current economic and social uses. If we add global dimming with the oceans’ lag time, then we already have considerably over 2°C heat increase baked into our climate system. See David Spratt’s 2015 Recount report.
- The current carbon consumption pathways do not consider the “slow-feedbacks” that will happen because of several factors. Recount, along with Jim Hansen and others’ latest papers on ice-loss, albedo lost, and sea-level rise (Earth’s Most Famous Climate Scientist Issues Bombshell Sea Level Warning), mean that we can’t wait for techno-breakthroughs and that we must reject carbon fuels now.
- The extent and degree of risk we are currently taking with only a 2/3 chance of staying within the 2°C heat limit is not understood. For example, we would not board a plane with a 10% chance it would crash. If we need to stay within the 2°C limit, with a 90% probability because it’s important, then we have no carbon left to burn. So, all of the nation’s promises to keep temperatures within the 2°C limit are disingenuous. Few understand that we are already over the risk limit if we mean genuinely to limit temperatures to 2°C.
- Current fossil fuels reductions pledges are far from what is needed to meet criteria of keeping climate below disaster levels, even with the best case outcomes achieved. And (note to Bill Gates) energy miracles are already built into those pledge pathways!!!Some call the “miracles represented by the IPCC Pathways, fantasy technologies. Negative emissions, built into the IPCC models, (no surprise) mean that energy miracles are needed beyond and separate from Gates’s miracles. And these miracles have been needed for decades, and have allowed the “clean-coal bait and switch.”
Just these five bullet points detail many parts of the climate crisis that are not known or understood, even by participants in the climate movement itself.
Mr. Gates, Sir….wouldn’t it be prudent to hedge your Energy Miracle bet by pushing education of the public??
Let’s believe Bill Gates is a hard-nosed realist, even with his bet on Energy Miracles. Based on that assumption, wouldn’t it be prudent, even necessary, to spend some philanthropic education funds on educating the American public on the specifics of climate reality. There are “oh so many” reasons!!!
Consider a few:
- The climate “misconceptions” resulting in misleading articles—even those by climate journalists and science reporters. Given the risks of complete self-destruction that continued fossil fuels usage represents, wouldn’t it be prudent for Philanthropy to spend, say, $10,000/key journalist in our , so that journalists present reliable and valid articles related to climate and energy?
- Since “inept government” will need to help, according to Gates, and that same government will need to make collective decisions, like energy policies, taxes and laws, wouldn’t it be hedging the “Energy Miracle” bets for Philanthropy to spend $10/person to educate the public,, it pushes the government to make good decisions based on energy reality, not leaving the “hidden” truth of energy reality determining our future?
- If the truth about our energy/climate situation is obscure and unknown by the public, couldn’t Gates hire great climate communicators, perhaps Mike Mann to lead a team that canvasses climate reality truth across our nation. Gates would not need to hire the scientists clearly identified with Democrats, like Hansen—or climate leaders who are expressly on the left—like Bill McKibben, but great scientists who are great communicators who could both develop and present curriculum that is up-to-date, valid, reliable and understandable. Wouldn’t it be worthwhile for Philanthropy to spend $10/person in our country so that our collective understanding of the climate crisis enables a cultural conversation? No such climate conversation across our country is possible at this time………. Isn’t that a tragedy?
- Wouldn’t a massive education campaign to inform the US public—conveying what is needed to keep the climate in the “safe” range—help move things in the public arena? Meaning, if people learn what they need to do, then paralysis, projection, denial, and rationalization become more difficult, right? Particularly when the information could be part of a cultural conversation, if that information was clear enough and broadcast all across our various media. If this sounds like a suggestion for “Big Philanthropy” and The Giving Pledge, groups of wealthy people led by and initiated by Bill Gates, well………….. Why not???
A massive education campaign, aimed at the grassroots, led to the last major national legislation for ecology and the environment last century. Knowledgeable people fanned out across our nation and informed people about a massive scale problem that resulted in the largest ecological restoration then on our Earth. That kind of approach could be done again. Isn’t it needed? Isn’t it needed desperately? Isn’t it a perfect job for Philanthropy: to educate us, the US on the largest crisis we have faced?
Mr. Gates, please hedge your Energy and Climate bets. Please do more than wish for, even investing in Energy Miracles. Please educate us all on what needs to be done, since what needs to be done must be done now. We don’t have time to wait.
 Gates explains in the lead-in to the interview that the (now in 2015) Government will need to help, see the link.
 See particularly the “Negative Emissions” discussion on page 7 of: "The Three Salient Global Mitigation Pathways
Assessed in Light of the IPCC Carbon Budgets." Another short piece on whether “negative emissions” are realistic: "Representation Concentration Pathways."
 “Bait and switch” strategies from Big Coal have been pandemic, frequently related to the “still fantasy” technology of carbon capture and sequestration.