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Future Power
Bill Gates Is a Smarter Brand of Green

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.

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  • DennisP

    It hard to find public figures who have much worthwhile to say about energy, or much else for that matter. Yet, in this interview Bill Gates is very well spoken, without an agenda it seems, other than what’s best for all of us on this earth – especially the poorest of the poor. Of course his is smart, but more than that he actually seems to be displaying some wisdom and a deep compassion. He’s such a surprise at this stage of his life, considering his young adult life when he started Microsoft and was a first class jerk in every way imaginable. That’s the miracle that I see in this interview with him.

  • Jim__L

    Yes, technological miracles happen. But they depend on unknown unknowns. Maybe there’s a :”clean energy” breakthrough in the cards near the top of the deck, maybe there’s not.

    That’s the thing about the market — it has lots of irons in the fire, and is designed to reinforce whichever of them looks most promising — ideology or no ideology.

  • Anthony

    Bill Gates carefully and optimistically explores our (world) energy possibilities and innovations thereto in hour interview on Charlie Rose (February 22, 2016). Interview is worth viewing for any interested in energy technology breakthrough probabilities.

  • Fat_Man

    OMG. There will be a Miracle, a Moon Shoot, a War on Cancer. Blah, Blah. Blah.

    Really? I hope your realize this is blue smoke and mirrors. There will be no miracles, the laws of physics forbid them. The sun will continue to set every day. The wind will continue to be inconstant. The electromotive series won’t change. The only energy technologies with much headroom for development are nuclear, and they are anathema to the Democrat party which is still in the thrall of the Soviet anti-nuclear dezinformatsiya campaign.

    OTOH, I am inclined not to worry. I deny global warming, so I am not concerned with using fossil fuels. Further, fossil fuel supplies in North America, are sufficient to render us impervious to the ongoing self destruction of Muslim Civilization. If we can get socialist governments in Venezuela, California, and New York to allow free acess to their energy reserves we could maintain our economy on the basis of fossil fuels for the foreseeable future.

  • ljgude

    I want to separate conventional nuclear from fusion. Fusion has the potential to transform energy production the way Gates is talking about. But it remains elusive and may never deliver, though I doubt that. I think the non tokamak technologies may produce a breakthrough – the one I follow is Bussard’s Polywell fusion, but there are others with promise – real or otherwise.

  • Blackbeard

    Yes, Bill Gates has a very reasonable take on the problem. And so does the Google team that spent eight years trying to engineer a complete switch to renewables for Google and then, last year, announced publicly that it couldn’t be done. And what has been the Green reaction to this common sense? Complete rejection. And what has been the political reaction? Full speed ahead towards our wonderful green future!

  • FriendlyGoat

    Sounds like Mr. Gates is hoping for fusion without mentioning the word fusion.

    • Jacksonian_Libertarian

      Gates is interested in Thorium reactors. Thorium is much more common than U235 (cheap fuel), can’t be used to create weapons grade material, and can’t create a China Syndrome melt down.

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