Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has taken a keen interest in energy since he stepped down from the software company he used to lead, and in the annual letter he co-writes with his wife Melinda for their philanthropic foundation, he highlights the need for an energy technology breakthrough:
…[We] need an energy miracle.
When I say “miracle,” I don’t mean something that’s impossible. I’ve seen miracles happen before. The personal computer. The Internet. The polio vaccine. None of them happened by chance. They are the result of research and development and the human capacity to innovate. […]
Governments have a big role to play in sparking new advances, as they have for other scientific research. U.S. government funding was behind breakthrough cancer treatments and the moon landing. If you’re reading this online, you have the government to thank for that too. Research paid for by the U.S. government helped create the Internet. […]
I’m so optimistic about the world’s ability to make a miracle happen that I’m willing to make a prediction. Within the next 15 years—and especially if young people get involved—I expect the world will discover a clean energy breakthrough that will save our planet and power our world.
Bill Gates gets it: the relentless pessimism over humanity’s future on this planet ignores humanity’s ability to innovate and solve problems. His point that government money has an important role to play in funding these solutions is well taken, too. The modern green movement would rather see taxpayer money funneled into the subsidization of current-generation renewables, but there’s a huge opportunity cost to that approach: that money would be far better spent researching and developing the kind of “energy miracle” Gates describes above that would be able to oust more polluting energy sources on its own merit.
Gates isn’t just sitting back and letting public money do all the work, either. Just two months ago he unveiled the Breakthrough Energy Initiative on the outskirts of the Paris climate conference—a plan that pairs wealthy private citizens with governments to boost R&D investment. He’s also been heavily involved in financing new nuclear technologies, some of the most promising green solutions humanity has at hand.
Bill Gates is a smart man, and he has smart ideas about our collective energy future. The modern environmental movement suffers from a lack of intelligent leadership, and it could certainly do a lot worse than taking its cues from Gates.