How Bill Gates wants to tackle climate change
by Ben Bullard
Bill Gates – one of the super-wealthy entrepreneurs whose iconic cultural status transcends the thing that made him famous in the first place – believes that representative democracy has failed America – and that it’s failing all of planet Earth.
Gates’ far-ranging interview for the November issue of The Atlantic found the Microsoft mogul with no shortage of opinions on climate change: that it is, in his estimation, a grave problem; and that the free market offers no incentive for today’s innovators to solve it.
Governments will have to provide the research money needed to reverse anthropogenic global warming, said Gates, because the private sector – comprised of polluters, regulation cheats and short-term money-chasers – can’t be relied upon to do the job.
“Yes, the government will be somewhat inept,” he explained. “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 serious about this – he’s backing a worldwide research and development initiative with $2 billion of his own fortune – and there’s no room for debating the problem. Like President Obama, Gates believes the time for debating the existence, the extent, and the policy imperatives of global warming all are a matter of settled science.
“When I sat down to hear his case a few weeks ago, 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,” author James Bennet wrote. “‘If you’re not bringing math skills to the problem,’ he [Gates] said with a sort of amused asperity, ‘then representative democracy is a problem.'”
Gates, among the first generation of computing pioneers – people whom the free market rewarded because they strove to create or to meet a demand there – doesn’t believe markets are up to the task of seeing, and addressing, a need for renewable “green” energy. But a carbon tax will at least keep “bad” energy sources in check.
Well, there’s no fortune to be made [in the renewable energy private market]. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems, like “Okay, what do you do with coal ash?” and “How do you guarantee something is safe?” Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.
And for energy as a whole, the incentive to invest is quite limited, because unlike digital products—where you get very rapid adoption and so, within the period that your trade secret stays secret or your patent gives you a 20-year exclusive, you can reap incredible returns—almost everything that’s been invented in energy was invented more than 20 years before it got scaled usage. So if you go back to various energy innovators, actually, they didn’t do that well financially. The rewards to society of these energy advances — not much of that is captured by the individual innovator, because it’s a very conservative market. So the R&D amount in energy is surprisingly low compared with medicine or digital stuff, where both the government spending and the private-sector spending is huge.
When pressed about the evangelical nature of the environmental movement, Gates recognized that zeal and politics make for a toxic “green policy” message.
“[W]hen people act like we have this great certainty [about how global warming affects the Earth], they somewhat undermine the credibility. There’s a lot of uncertainty in this, but on both the good and the bad side,” he said.
“By overclaiming, or even trying to ascribe current things more to climate change than to other effects, environmentalists lend weight to the skeptics.”
What makes a wealthy philanthropist take a dim view of the economic processes that helped him become wealthy? That’s too complex a question to answer on anything but a case-by-case basis. But we suspect that Greg Gutfeld is onto something when he notes the contrast between successful liberals’ personal habits – which are almost uniformly conservative – and their social agendas, which are state-centric and regressive.
“[I]f liberals applied their no-score, no-winner, no-loser belief systems to their hobbies or professions, they would fail miserably,” he states. “Success relies on absolute truths, on supply and demand, on work and reward, on competition, and on achievement – not group identity.”
For liberals, guilt seems to follow behind affluence. And when affluent liberals wield sufficient power and influence, as Gates does, they have no difficulty asking those of pedestrian wealth to offload it for the sake of collectivist, save-the-world schemes.
Gates’ global warming dream – a dream he believes in to the tune of $2 billion – is pinning its hope of success on the top-down, group-identity approach.