Bill Gates, best known for co-founding one of the defining companies of our era, Microsoft, and also for his and Melinda Gates’ extensive work in philanthropy for fighting global poverty, has a new, bold plan. He wants to break the world’s carbon addiction.
Together with many other big names in tech industries, including Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma (CEO of Alibaba), and others, Gates has launched a group called the Breakthrough Energy Coalition. The aim, if not the means, is simple: invest in technology that produces energy without reliance on carbon fuels. Though the group is clearly focused on the goal because of its great importance, they are also not shy about the fact that this is a for-profit endeavor.
Saving the world, it seems, may well be a lucrative task. Nevertheless, a reliance on traditional market forces has not brought us the energy revolution we so desperately need. We need a new approach. The coalition’s front page explains why:
The existing system of basic research, clean energy investment, regulatory frameworks, and subsidies fails to sufficiently mobilize investment in truly transformative energy solutions for the future. We can’t wait for the system to change through normal cycles.
Finding new reliable sources of clean energy is no cheap task, and success in any given project is not guaranteed. There is high risk and upfront costs for anyone who would want to invest in new energy technology, which at least partially explains why we remain so dependent on fossil fuels.
What we need, as Gates points out, is large groups of investors who are committed to pursuing worthwhile projects into the medium and long term; we need people who aren’t just looking to make a quick buck. The Breakthrough Energy coalition will serve this role, and fill the funding gap that other investors have left. This might mean taking on risky projects and, for a while, seeing a lot of failure. Yet, Gates is confident that eventually the investments will pay off, and if the innovations are successful, the potential gains are incalculable.
In a video on the front page of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition site, Gates makes an impassioned point that this is not just about maintaining our own way of life in wealthy countries. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, ideally, could serve to lift up impoverished communities from around the globe. How will they do this? First, by providing cleaner and cheaper energy, many people will finally be able to obtain many of the privileges a lot of us take for granted, like convenient transportation, fertilizer, or electricity. This could dramatically improve the lives of poor nations and raise standards of living around the world to unprecedented levels. Second, since climate change is predicted to cause the most harm to the world’s poorest peoples, a mitigation of climate change’s effects would significantly lessen the burden that wealthy countries have foisted upon the planet.
The coalition is partnering with 19 countries including the United States, the UK, China, Australia, India, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil in a project called “Mission Innovation.” The project was launched at the Paris climate summit, and aims to double the amount of government funding going into new energy technologies. One of the central principles of this approach is a promise to share information among the countries who have signed on to the mission, so that research and new developments can be shared across borders.
As Gates points out, government spending on research and development has historically been key to major technological shifts. Gates expressed the urgency he feels–and that which world governments should feel–in a comment to The Washington Post. “Historically, it takes more than 50 years before you have a substantial shift in energy generation, but we need to do it more quickly,” he said. “We need to move faster than the energy sector ever has.”
Source: www.care2.com, Cody Fenwick
Photo: Department for International Development (Russell Watkins).