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Bill Gates: too dangerous to hear?

David Lewis's picture
  • Member since 2018
  • 353 items added with 41,376 views
  • Aug 29, 2010

gates mitBill Gates is in the news right now, because of an interview he granted to MIT’s Technology Review.

In his TED speech this year, and in this latest interview, Gates calls for increased federal government energy R&D spending.  Everyone seems to get that.  People tend to miss everything else he says though.  Richard Rosen is published in the NY Times saying Gates’ views are “very dangerous for people to hear”

Its getting weird out there. 

In his speech at this year’s TED, Gates was careful to say he meant ramp up the energy R&D  in addition to whatever else is going on:  

“in places like Copenhagen, they shouldn’t JUST discuss the CO2.  They should discuss this innovation agenda, and you’d be stunned at the ridiculously low levels of spending on these innovative approaches.”

He emphased at TED that a price on carbon was required:  “”We do need the market incentives, CO2 tax, cap and trade, something that gets the price signal out there“. 

Now that Senate inaction has caused international talks to stall, Gates, like most, is talking what to do now.  Gates thinks maybe its possible to enact a small tax, coupled with the already enacted EPA power to regulate.  He’s talking the politics of what’s possible. 

In this recent Technology Review interview he said:  “Let’s just take the electric sector. If you imposed a 2 percent tax, you’d get the money for the R&D. And then you just take all the carbon-emitting plants, you look at their lifetime, and you say on a certain date this one has to be shut down, and when a new one is put in place, it has to be low-CO2-emitting”  

This is “tax and regulation“.  Shutting down coal plants before utilities want to shut them down and requiring the replacements to be low carbon amounts to a price on carbon.  

Like any method of putting a price on carbon, it would tend to cause the massive investment in currently existing technologies many who criticize Gates say he is not calling for.  The key is how many plants get shut down and when.  If there isn’t political will to put in cap and trade, one might well ask, why would there be political will to do it this way – but to say Gates is arguing for R&D only and against anything else seems ridiculous. 

Eg:  The entire yearly electricity output of all the solar PV in Germany that was built up in the last ten years with massive subsidies costing more than 40 billion Euros is about the same order of magnitude  as the yearly output of one big coal fired electric plant.  Requiring replacement of even one coal plant before its time with low carbon sources, therefore, means massive new investment in low carbon technology.  And the electricity sector is just the sector he used as an example. 

Gates was clear that he means a price on carbon in this latest interview:   “What we owe the developing world is this:  We’re willing to pay high prices for energy plants above coal and drive prices down the curve so by the time they need to buy them they don’t have to pay the high prices”.  

CAUTION: before looking at these next charts, keep in mind that because they put the Gates plan into visual format, they could be very dangerous to see.  Don’t read this at home. 

Here’s my perspective on what part of the the Gates’ plan, i.e. the “beef up the R&D” part, is:



<— Today

Gates’ plan ——>





Gates explains why he thinks government has to do more: “capitalism systematically underfunds innovation because the innovators can’t capture the full benefits… that’s why governments do fund R&D”. 

I’m with Gates.  You think you get long term security with that military research, and its nice to have health, but this energy thing is getting out of hand.  I’d switch the emphasis:  Energy $80 billion, military $14 billion.  The US would probably still have the highest military research budget in the world, and I could be proud of what the US was doing in a way I haven’t been for a long time.  Don’t listen to me.  Listen to Gates.  All he says is boost energy a bit, relatively speaking. 

People don’t seem to be hearing arrghwhat Gates is saying.

Some people, such as the Breakthrough Institute, write as if this “beef up R&D” is all he’s saying, as if Gates believes a price on carbon in some form is not required.  (In a post here at The Energy Collective Jesse Jenkins wrote “Gates… argues that carbon pricing can never drive the dramatic innovation required…”) 

Revkin at Dot Earth seems to agree:  “Gates… [says] a… cap and credit trading system… would have to raise energy costs far beyond what would be politically tenable to generate a similar scale of transformational activity” 

Then there’s Joe Romm.  Romm writes “Gates keeps diminishing the value of aggressive action now, which is just plain suicidal”.  Romm referred to his idea of part of what Gates is saying as “bat guano“. 

Revkin is doing a series on reactions to Gates, (The Word from Dot Earth:   “I’m going to keep this thread rolling under the tag “energy quest).   Revkin’s first roll:  Richard Rosen, who writes that not only does Gates not know what he’s talking about on energy, but Gates’ views are “very dangerous for people to hear”.   Yow. 

Take another look at those charts up there.  Read the quotes from Gates again.  Follow the links and read the entire transcripts.  This is “dangerous for people to hear”? 

Maybe people have lost all perspective on Gates.  One Windows crash too many, they slip over the edge, and they can never say anything good about Gates again. 


It seems Bill is extending his philanthropic work which has focused on humanitarian causes such as seeking a cure for malaria.  He says he started thinking about climate change because of his concern about the poor, who he refers to as the “two billion”, who many think will be in the most trouble as climate disruption sets in.

Some say he is influenced by the example of Rockefeller.  Part of the Rockefeller Foundation philosophy has been to focus on “those global problems that are ignored by governments and other organizations” (ref: Wikipedia).  In this light, and given his background, Gates’ emphasis on fostering innovative R&D and on what many activists feel is the very long term seems an obvious thing for him to do. 

What I like about what I’m seeing in Gates’ approach is this eye he has on the long term.  Activists see politicians who say they think  long term do nothing now and think anyone talking long term is just blowing hot air.  Gates talks differently than most of those types.  This focus on how  to get to zero emissions distinguishes his thought and perhaps makes him hard to understand.  His judgement of strategy and tactics: will this allow civilization to get to zero, and will the “two billion” will be able to pay?

He’s putting his money on nuclear.  He isn’t saying its the only way.  He identified CCS, nuclear, solar, wind, and energy storage as technologies that could potentially evolve to do the job.  The highest level scientific organizations in the world unanimously say the same. 

Bill argues that anything less isn’t going to be good enough in this way:   “is that what we have in mind:  to delay Armageddon for three years?” 

Joe Schiewe's picture
Joe Schiewe on Nov 30, 2015

 “Revkin’s first roll:  Richard Rosen, who writes that not only does Gates not know what he’s talking about on energy, but Gates’ views are “very dangerous for people to hear”.   Yow. ”  


It sounds as if the lead people in at least some of the green environmentalist organizations are afraid of letting the general population think for themselves.  Perhaps they feel that that if people don’t only listen to their perspective – their funding will dry up.  

David Lewis's picture
Thank David for the Post!
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