The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private foundation, aims to help billions of people in developing countries. The goal of its Global Development Program is “increase opportunities for people in developing countries to overcome hunger and poverty.” Their Global Health Program “harnesses advances in science and technology to save lives in poor countries.”
I have been critical of their strategy before (see “Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?“). And Bill Gates’ annual letter this year does nothing to increase confidence.
There is no mention of global warming or climate change at all. Indeed, the discussion of agriculture contains this rather naively Panglossian statement:
The near-term rise in food prices and the long-term increased demand for food will create opportunities for small farmers even in the poorest countries.
The near-term rise in food prices is pretty much an unmitigated disaster for the developing world — hence the food riots that inevitably accompany record-setting food prices (see my series on food insecurity). It’s hardly to be touted as an “opportunity.”
The Gates Foundation is certainly to be commended for doing more than almost anyone else to help address hunger in the near term and improve crop yields in the medium term. But that entire effort is doomed to fail if the nations of the world don’t make greenhouse gas mitigation as big a priority as food production and poverty reduction.
Using a “middle of the road” greenhouse gas emissions scenario, a study in Science found that for the more than 5 billion people who will be living in the tropics and subtropics by 2100, growing-season temperatures “will exceed the most extreme seasonal temperatures recorded from 1900 to 2006.” The authors conclude: “Half of world’s population could face climate-driven food crisis by 2100.” And the authors don’t even consider the potentially more devastating impact from more extreme drought and Dust-Bowlification (See NCAR analysis warns we risk multiple, devastating global droughts by mid-century even on moderate emissions path) “” let alone the combination of heat stress and water stress together. Much like the NCAAR analysis, a study led by NOAA scientists found that large parts of Southeast Asia, eastern South America, western Australia, Southern Africa and northern Africa would see rainfall reductions “comparable to those of the Dust Bowl era.” Worse, unlike the Dust Bowl, which lasted a decade or two, this climate change would be “largely irreversible for 1,000 years after emissions stop.”
A study led by MIT economists found that “the median poor country’s income will be about 50 percent lower than it would be had there been no climate change.” And that was based on a 3-degree C warming by 2100, perhaps half the warming we are currently on track to reach.
And don’t expect rich countries to come to the rescue. In 2100, we’ll be dealing with the same catastrophes, as well as with over a billion environmental refugees fleeing flooded and uninhabitable lands.
I’m not saying Gates needs to make climate change his sole focus or even his primary focus. But to ignore it entirely is ridiculous. In an earlier letter from Bill and Melinda (that I can’t find on their website, but you can read here), they make Pollyanna, Pangloss and Paula Abdul seem like Henry Kissinger, Mr. Spock and Dr. House:
We’re so hopeful about the potential for rapid progress that we’ve decided the foundation will spend all its money in the next 100 years. In this century, our world has the opportunity to fulfill the great human promise that all lives have equal value.
Now you tell me what are the chances that the developing world won’t need as much if not considerably more help in 2100 than they do today if folks like Bill Gates (and the President) stay largely silent on the problem and don’t devote adequate efforts to moving the world in the direction of sharp greenhouse gas cuts?
- Bill Gates disses energy efficiency, renewables, and near-term climate action while embracing the magical thinking of Bjorn Lomborg (and George Bush)
- Bill Gates is wrong about “energy miracles”
- Bill Gates backs grossly misleading ad on clean energy R&D
- Error-riddled ‘Superfreakonomics’, Part 2: Who else have Nathan Myhrvold and the Groupthinkers at Intellectual Ventures duped and confused? Would you believe Bill Gates and Warren Buffett?
- Gates and Buffett to invest in tar sands and spawn more two-headed fish?