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Pro-geoengineering Bill Gates disses efficiency, “cute” solar, deployment — still doesn’t know how he got rich

By Joe Romm on May 5, 2011 at 7:32 pm

"Pro-geoengineering Bill Gates disses efficiency, “cute” solar, deployment — still doesn’t know how he got rich"


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On why he invests so much in nuke R&D: “The good news about nuclear is that there has hardly been any innovation.”

Is there any super-rich tech geek who knows less about WTF he is talking about than Bill Gates?  Bizarrely, he keeps dissing technology deployment as a source of innovation, even though that’s how he innovated and got rich (see below).

Even more bizarrely, Gates loves nuclear power because … wait for it … there’s been no innovation.  He just said at the Wired business conference:

The good news about nuclear is that there has hardly been any innovation. The room to do things differently is quite dramatic”

Seriously.  That must hold the record for trying to make lemonade out of lemons. It is certainly possible to believe that the lack of innovation in nuclear power is due to, oh, I don’t know, businesses simply sleeping on the job for the past 30 years.

Or perhaps there is another reason, as a 2010 paper argued (see Does nuclear power have a negative learning curve? ‘Forgetting by doing’? Real escalation in reactor investment costs):  “It may be more productive to start asking whether these trends are not intrinsic to the very nature of the technology itself: large-scale, lumpy, and requiring a formidable ability to manage complexity in both construction and operation.”

But it isn’t enough for Gates to tout his big brilliant bet on nukes — “In recent years [Gates] has invested hundreds of millions in nuclear energy start-ups” – or for him to bet big on geo-engineering.  No, he has to attack energy efficiency and solar PV:

Can we, by increasing efficiency [technologies], deal with our climate problem?” he asked. “The answer there is basically no, because the climate problem requires more than 90 percent reduction of C02 emitted, and no amount of efficiency improvement is enough.”

Gates loves to bash efficiency (see here), but who ever said it would solve the problem by itself?  It’s sad to see him once again psuh the straw man argument that somehow because any one technology can’t solve the problem, it somehow deserves to be singled out for criticism.

There is certainly no realistic possibility that nuclear power could even be half of the answer. It would be incredible if it were ultimately, say 1/4 of the answer (about 3 out of the 12-14 wedges needed in the full global warming solution).  Even one-wedge of nuclear wouldn’t be easy (see here).

In fact, as experts like Saul Griffith have shown, without aggressive efficiency and conservation and dematerialization, it is implausible we can solve the climate problem.  The International Energy Agency [IEA] report takes a similar view (see here).

Efficiency can play a huge role — at far lower cost than nuclear (see McKinsey must-read: U.S. can meet entire 2020 emissions target with efficiency and cogeneration while lowering the nation’s energy bill $700 billion!).

What’s doubly absurd is that Gates understands we need a 90% reduction in CO2 — although he doesn’t give the time frame and in other venues he seems to lack urgency (see Annual Letter from Bill Gates silent on climate change).

In any case, we ‘only’ need a 50% reduction globally by 2050 (and 90% by 2100) to stabilize at around 450 ppm.  We do need more like 90% by 2050 to get to 350 ppm.

But if you want to get that kind of reduction, then you must have aggressive deployment.  In releasing its 2009 Energy Outloook, the IEA’s executive director said, “The message is simple and stark: if the world continues on the basis of today’s energy and climate policies, the consequences of climate change will be severe.”  They explain, “we need to act urgently and now. Every year of delay adds an extra USD 500 billion to the investment needed between 2010 and 2030 in the energy sector”.

But in Gates-land, those costs don’t matter because in direct contradiction to every major independent analysis, Gates thinks we simply have nothing to deploy:

The solutions that work in the rich world don’t even come close to solving the [energy] problem.  If you’re interested in cuteness, the stuff [solar panels] in the home is the place to go. If you’re interested in solving the world’s energy problems, it’s things like big [solar projects] in the desert.”

Well, I’m as big a booster of big concentrated solar thermal power in the desert as anyone, but large-scale deployment of those cute home solar panels has been bringing down the cost sharply and is likely to achieve unsubsidized grid parity in many places within the decade [see here and here].  This is simply an ignorant statement by Gates.

And speaking of ignorant statements, here’s more from Gates:

Over 90 percent of subsidies are on deploying technology and not on R&D. You can buy as much old technology as you want, but you won’t get breakthroughs which only come out of basic research.

It is absurd to claim that breakthroughs come only out of basic research.  I ran (and co-ran) DOE’s billion-dollar Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in the mid-1990s.  We didn’t do much basic research — DOE’s Office of Energy Research did — but we achieved what people would call “breakthroughs” though most of those would be far better described as major advances in innovation.  As I’ve pointed out many times, genuine game-changing breakthroughs are rare (see “The breakthrough technology illusion“).

The R&D-centric strategy raises this question:  What are the chances that multiple (4 to 8+) carbon-free technologies that do not exist today can each deliver the equivalent of 350 Gigawatts baseload power (~2.8 billion Megawatt-hours a year) and/or 160 billion gallons of gasoline cost-effectively by 2050? [Note -- that is about half of a stabilization wedge.] For the record, the U.S. consumed about 3.7 billion MW-hrs in 2005 and about 140 billion gallons of motor gasoline.

Put that way, the answer to the question is painfully obvious: “two chances “” slim and none.”


After Gates put out his first piece dissing energy efficiency and action, I wrote a critical analysis.  A couple of technologists wrote to point out how hypocritical Gates was to push innovation-through-big-government-R&D, given that he has long been touting innovation-through-deployment for his own industry.

As recently as two (!) years ago in a Carnegie Mellon speech, Gates argued:

But Paul Allen and I thought, okay, we’ll do software. We’ll build a platform, and encourage other people to write software. Now, there was an assumption there that we could get millions of machines out, because, after all, if you want to make it economic to spend tens of millions developing software, and sell it for $100 or so, you’ve really got to get that base out there.

But because we made that bet, and we got that going, it became a virtuous cycle. That is, as more machines would sell, it created the market for a broader range of software, and that further drove the market for the machines, and in fact that volume allowed the price of the machine to come down. And that’s why from 1975 onward, that personal computer market actually not only became significant, it actually become the center of the entire computer industry.

The large machines we use today, and the big server farms, or corporate data servers, these are all based on the Windows PC architecture which, because of its volume, has come down in price, and improved in performance very, very dramatically. And so we have a large software industry.


One technologist (who wants to remain anonymous) wrote:

The man built his career on shipping “what we have now” and then improving it, using programmers paid out of the revenues gained from shipping not-quite-yet-ready product.  Not once cent of Big Government R&D Breakthrough Command Economy directly flowed to Microsoft.  To be fair, big government R&D did lead to things like the integrated circuit and the Internet, both of which had something to do with enabling Bill’s fortune.  His business strategy for his entire life was antithetical to the Lomborg nonsense “don’t do anything until the Big Research Lab In The Sky Makes It Perfect.”

We simply don’t have the time to wait for Gates’ multiple “Energy Miracles,” and Gates simply hasn’t proposed the best strategy to achieve his wish “” dramatic improvement in performance and a sharp drop in price.

The time to act “” to deploy “” is now.


How do we achieve rapid cost reduction in low-carbon technologies, as Gates suggests he wants?

A major 2000 report by the International Energy Agency, Experience Curves for Energy Technology Policy has a whole bunch of experience curves for various energy technologies. Let me quote some key passages:

Wind power is an example of a technology which relies on technical components that have reached maturity in other technological fields”¦. Experience curves for the total process of producing electricity from wind are considerably steeper than for wind turbines. Such experience curves reflect the learning in choosing sites for wind power, tailoring the turbines to the site, maintenance, power management, etc, which all are new activities.

Or consider PV:

The experience curve shows the investment necessary to make a technology, such as PV, competitive, but it does not forecast when the technology will break-even. The time of break-even depends on deployment rates, which the decision-maker can influence through policy. With historical annual growth rates of 15%, photovoltaic modules will reach break-even point around the year 2025. Doubling the rate of growth will move the break-even point 10 years ahead to 2015.

Investments will be needed for the ride down the experience curve, that is for the learning efforts which will bring prices to the break-even point. An indicator for the resources required for learning is the difference between actual price and break-even price, i.e., the additional costs for the technology compared with the cost of the same service from technologies which the market presently considers cost-efficient. We will refer to these additional costs as learning investments, which means that they are investments in learning to make the technology cost-efficient, after which they will be recovered as the technology continues to improve.

Here is a key conclusion:

“¦ for major technologies such as photovoltaics, wind power, biomass, or heat pumps, resources provided through the market dominate the learning investments. Government deployment programmes may still be needed to stimulate these investments. The government expenditures for these programmes will be included in the learning investments.

Obviously government R&D, and especially first-of-a-kind demonstration programs, are critical before the technology can be introduced to the marketplace on a large scale “” and I’m glad Obama had doubled spending in this area. But, we “expect learning investments to become the dominant resource for later stages in technology development, where the objectives are to overcome cost barriers and make the technology commercial.”

We are really in a race to get technologies into the learning curve phase: “The experience effect leads to a competition between technologies to take advantage of opportunities for learning provided by the market. To exploit the opportunity, the emerging and still too expensive technology also has to compete for learning investments.”

In short, you need to get from first demonstration to commercial introduction as quickly as possible to be able to then take advantage of the learning curve before your competition does. Again, that’s why if you want mass deployment of the technology by 2050, we are mostly stuck with what we have today or very soon will have. Some breakthrough TILT in the year 2025 will find it exceedingly difficult to compete with technologies like CSP or wind that have had decades of such learning.

And that is why the analogy of a massive government Apollo program or Manhattan project is so flawed. Those programs were to create unique non-commercial products for a specialized customer with an unlimited budget. Throwing money at the problem was an obvious approach. To save a livable climate we need to create mass-market commercial products for lots of different customers who have limited budgets. That requires a completely different strategy.

The vast majority “” if not all “” of the wedge-sized solutions for 2050 will come from technologies that are now commercial or very soon will be. And federal policy must be designed with that understanding in mind. The IEA report concluded:

A general message to policy makers comes from the basic philosophy of the experience curve. Learning requires continuous action, and future opportunities are therefore strongly coupled to present activities. If we want cost-efficient, CO2-mitigation technologies available during the first decades of the new century, these technologies must be given the opportunity to learn in the current marketplace. Deferring decisions on deployment will risk lock-out of these technologies, i.e., lack of opportunities to learn will foreclose these options making them unavailable to the energy system.“¦

Deployment, deployment, deployment, R&D, deployment, deployment, deployment.

Sadly for U.S. competitiveness, if we don’t deploy, others will, especially China, and whatever modest amount of R&D the anti-federal-investment conservatives let us do will merely result in manufacturing success down the line in countries that have a robust domestic market.

h/t Treehugger

Related Post:

Paul Gilding on The Great Disruption

Video: Extreme weather in the United States

60 Responses to Pro-geoengineering Bill Gates disses efficiency, “cute” solar, deployment — still doesn’t know how he got rich

  1. Alas, just because someone was wildly successful in one area doesn’t make him likely to be successful in another area outside his expertise.

    Typo alert: it’s Saul Griffith, not Griffiths.

  2. LucAstro says:

    Clearly, BG does not make a good case for R&D. I would suggest that R&D should target small projects, albeit a great number of them, rather than mega-projects. Great innovations are often born small, like us.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Gates may have picked up on the buzz for thorium nuclear reactors as an alternative to coal (or uranium) for high MW load electricity demand.

    It’s worth further investigation, anyway.

    Though I already hate the mining that would come with it.

  4. denim says:

    Nuclear waste. Not in Gates’s backyard! Breaking online reactors by earthquakes is the current news. But what about the ten thousand year window for breaking the burial gravesites for the nuclear wastes? I say keep the nuclear reaction and reaction wastes 93 million miles away. That would be the sun.

  5. john atcheson says:

    Bill Gates is tied with Ronald Reagan for the all time winner “It’s better to be lucky than right” award.

    His software was and is inferior, and if he hadn’t won a suit for ripping off apple’s system of icons, he’d be a software salesman at Best Buy — and many legal experts believe he shouldn’t have won that suit.

    He should have as much credibility as Joe the Plumber on this issue.

  6. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has invested heavily – billions in coal and other carbon fuel energy companies. These are parasitic investments, not transformative.

    In the Battleground of Ideas it is time for Bill and Melinda to recognize, accept and speak out about global warming.

    Get some climatologists on staff to layout models and scenarios to apply political pressure, demand mitigation and plan investments that affect the future climate

    Years ago I criticized you, too much of it still stands

  7. Leif says:

    I am installing Solar PV sufficient for my total yearly consumption plus a bit for the grid and should be on line by mid summer. I live in the Pacific NW, however in a rain shadow which improves efficiency. I am 70 years old and do not expect to see a total return on investment within my life time. On the other hand I expect to see ~ 9% RoI for at least 10 years. I have a cash cow in my yard not in a Wall Street grab bag. Efficiency in my lifestyle allows me to make this a modest investment as my home consumption is ~1/3 the US average.
    All components made in the USA. Most in my state.

    In your face Bill Gates. (Mac user also.)

  8. Joy Hughes says:

    I managed to cut my carbon emissions over 60% in one year – smaller house, smaller car, and some “cute” solar panels. Perhaps Bill Gates should also move to a smaller house.

  9. Mike Roddy says:

    Every thought in Bill Gates’ head is entwined with his investment portfolio. Those who listen to him because he is wealthy- and presumably wise- have been led astray. Gates is not credible on any subject, except for how to acquire wealth.

  10. Robert In New Orleans says:

    Blue Screen of Death Vs. Global Warming

    Sounds like a bad wrestling match

  11. Adrian says:

    Should we really have to listen to a man who has invested in the tar sands and Monsanto, who decries such good ideas as agroecology in order to tout solving the food crises with (surprise!) gmo seeds and inorganic farming methods? So he can further enrich himself while helping make poor farmers dependent on large corporations (and thus poorer)? The man is dangerous, or rather his money makes him dangerous.

  12. sault says:

    Mr. Gates may be a little short-sighted, but it isn’t very constructive to paint him as evil.

    [JR: Who is painting him as evil?]

    He’s a nerd, just like George Lucas and all the others that enjoyed epic successes due to advances in technology. When these people encounter a problem, they either solve it themselves or hand it off to their engineers and expect a sophisticated techno-fix. Efficiency is boring to them since it’s all caulking and triple-glazed windows…and don’t even get started on conservation and dematerialization!!!

    The main problem is Mr. Gates’ point of view. He expects technology to solve every problem. He invests in GMO crops and “advanced” nuclear reactors because they are new and exciting technology. He abhors solar PV and wind power because those have been around for decades and if they were soooo great, why haven’t they solved the climate crisis and provided everybody with clean energy by now? Finally, his time horizons and expectations are clouded by the speed with which he was able to develop and deploy software in the past.

    This all adds up to a distorted worldview and an insistence on sophisticated technological fixes to the world’s problems.

  13. Adrian says:


    Having a narrow, dare I say, uneducated point of view is not in and of itself evil. We all know people, I’m sure, who have similar mindsets to Gates’, and no harm done.

    However, when said point of view has the power to throw its weight around, it becomes a more serious issue.

    What would be the constructive response?

  14. Chris Winter says:

    I’m only speculating here, but I would assume that Bill Gates and Paul Allen (his MS co-founder) are still on speaking terms. One possible approach would be to get Mr. Allen interested in funding some small demonstration projects, and, if they succeed, talking them up to Mr. Gates.

    Mr. Allen has a new memoir out; this should hold some clues on whether any of the above makes sense.

  15. Anderlan says:

    Gates favors Nuclear over renewables because he loves complicated monstrosities (Windows) and doesn’t believe the collections of clean, independent components (Unix) are worth anything. Take his money and don’t let him make any architectural decisions. He won in the marketplace by exploiting its failures and it’s not at all certain the world would have been worse without him.

  16. Dr.A.Jagadeesh says:

    Well Mr.Bill Gates Energy and IT are poles apart. The nuclear Energy you talk about has both social and political implications besides technological. Wind Energy,Solar (CSP),Biomass are all advancing and will be there to supplement conventional power and as things stand Nuclear is far behind.

    In 2008 energy supply by power source was oil 33.5%, coal 26.8%, gas 20.8% (fossil 81%), renewable (hydro, solar, wind, geothermal power and biofuels) 12.9%, nuclear 5.8% and other 4%. Oil was the most popular energy fuel. Oil and coal combined represented over 60% of the world energy supply in 2008.

    Put the RENEWABLES to WORK: To get inexhaustible,pollution-free Energy which cannot be misused.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert
    E-mail: anumakonda.jagadeesh@gmail.com

  17. Prokaryotes says:

    What do you expect from someone who bought his fortune?

    The “Microsoft Disk Operating System” or MS-DOS was based on QDOS, the “Quick and Dirty Operating System” written by Tim Paterson of Seattle Computer Products, for their prototype Intel 8086 based computer.

    QDOS was based on Gary Kildall’s CP/M, Paterson had bought a CP/M manual and used it as the basis to write his operating system in six weeks, QDOS was different enough from CP/M to be considered legal.

    Microsoft bought the rights to QDOS for $50,000, keeping the IBM deal a secret from Seattle Computer Products.

    Gates then talked IBM into letting Microsoft retain the rights, to market MS DOS separate from the IBM PC project, Gates proceeded to make a fortune from the licensing of MS-DOS.

    In 1981, Tim Paterson quit Seattle Computer Products and found employment at Microsoft. http://inventors.about.com/library/weekly/aa033099.htm

    And Tim Paterson about climate change:”Climate change

    In June 2007 he authored a general interest article in the Financial Post (part of the National Post) predicting general climatic cooling as the sun enters Solar cycle 25 about 2018. He based his prediction on the close correlation between solar and climate cycles in his high resolution analysis of late Holocene cores deposited under anoxic conditions within deep Western Canadian fjords.[1] Solar cycle 25 will be as weak as solar cycles in the early 19th century during a very cold phase of the Little Ice Age. At this time drought and short growing seasons would have made present day agricultural practices used in areas like the grain growing region of western Canada impossible. In a June 2007 presentation to the annual meeting of the Ontario Agri Business Association in Huntsville, Ontario he stated that “climatic cooling associated with Solar Cycle 25 should be of concern to the Canadian agricultural sector. During any climatic warming agricultural methods used to the south can be immediately adapted. However, cooling such as may occur beginning about 2018 would be an agricultural and national disaster as no one is farming north of us.”

    A similar approach based on generic geochemical data and astrophysical deliberations was published by Jan Veizer and Nir J. Shaviv in GSA Today,[2] describing a reduced (capped) influence of carbon dioxide to Climate Change and attributing a more significant influence to cosmic rays. While the mechanism seems not yet to be fully understood, the empirical data showed a suitable fit. The results, not the thesis are in line with the minimal level of the consented temperature predictions of the IPCC.”

    So what do you expect here from 2 people who just copy ideas?

  18. MosesZD says:

    Bill Gates… The man didn’t want to buy DOS, but finally gave in… The man who said the ’286 was the greatest chip ever and made so many bad design decisions because of his ’286 love that DOS was crap far longer than it needed to be… Bill Gates, the man who thought the Internet would never catch on…

    I could go on…

    In the end though, while he’s rich, Gates proves luck has as much, or more, to do with wealth than skill. He bought DOS because the man who wrote it didn’t want to deal with IBM. IBM couldn’t buy DOS due to the DOJ Consent Decree for monopolistic and anti-competitive practices regarding computers and software they were operating.

    Had IBM not been in that situation… Or had the man who wrote DOS decided to deal with IBM… Gates would be some middle-manager making bad decisions for some other company and not the richest man in the world…

  19. Joan Savage says:

    Investors are undoubtedly interested in how to get dominance in the “unclaimed” energy niche markets that would supply high surge demands and big base-loads in a post-carbon world. But time’s a wastin’ for something to emerge.

    Gates keeps hinting at nuclear technology such as the “traveling wave reactor technology,” which others have speculated is related to the “tiny” thorium reactors.

    Where is the energy coming from in the dim light of winter or in low wind locations? What happens when someone turns on an arc smelter? A heatwave in a large city? And if the population moves to where the water is, that congests the energy needs. The smart-grid proponents haven’t rolled out an answer.

    Perhaps Mr. Gates may feel he several years to work on product development, instead of sharing the urgency expressed at CP. Yes, it would be a good time to get in touch with him and his fellow investors.

  20. Joan Savage says:

    Is anyone else besides me chronically uncomfortable with nuclear technology, simply because it requires a sort of a priesthood of specialists to be cultivated for decades to centuries? That would be true even with thorium. I suppose our other energy technologies, including solar PV and wind turbines, have the some of the same. None of them has the simplicity of an adobe fireplace and some sticks.

  21. Wayne Kernochan says:

    I am extremely rarely accused of being Pollyannaish, but having worked in and followed the computer industry as an analyst for 35-odd years, I do think there’s an alternate and more hopeful way to interpret Bill’s remarks.

    Strictly speaking, Bill does not disagree that efficiency helps, and that solar helps, and he doesn’t (apparently) say that nuclear is the main answer, nor geo-engineering. To understand the context, you have to refer to his new approach to “philanthropy”, which I believe is at least an advance over the old style. According to articles in Business Week and the like, he views his billions as insufficient to make a true impact in any one large area, much less a wide array of issues. Therefore, he tries to identify areas where a concentrated approach can supplement government and UN efforts. Thus, his focus on ending particular diseases in medicine, and in evidence-based approaches to education. I view it as possible that he is taking the same approach here, if naively: focus on areas unfocused on, and try to target specifically. The key point here is that he has shown a willingness to adapt his foundation’s approach based on feedback from places like the UN.

    I think that, much as I have bashed Microsoft myself over the years, many in the computer industry fail to appreciate the ways in which his original approach to solution development did have merit, and did result in useful stuff, and how the same approach might eventually be of use here. Microsoft Office originally won because Microsoft Word had a fundamentally simple GUI design. Microsoft was known for having a terrible first rev, passable second rev, and getting the third rev better than its competitors. Microsoft won the desktop wars vs. Apple because its platform was kludgy but wide open to developers — a point that all except open source folks, including Apple before iPhone, failed to get. The application here is that Gates keeps bashing his head against a problem, revising his approach if it fails, and accepting the evidence to some degree, and it seems possible from his remarks that he’s open to feedback from folks like the UN.

    Finally, I wonder if his going where others aren’t really does have bad effects, since the money wasted would be wasted anyway — as you say, R&D in places like solar has less impact, and I really doubt if he has the clout to speed up deployment as you suggest. Of course, if he really is doubling down on fossil fuels as you say, I take it all back :)

  22. catman306 says:

    Mr. Gates, why don’t you put your researchers to work finding ways to scavenge waste heat from electrical plants, both fossil fuel and nuclear, and turn it into electricity. Add on solar panels can convert heat into useable electrical power. While the efficiency rates are not great, it is ‘waste heat’, wasted fuel turned to wasted heat, so getting any useable power from it will be a gain for us all, the utility, the rate payers and the environment. Research might increase the efficiency of infrared solar cells.

    America’s survival depends on efficiency.

  23. These captains of industry were regarded as conquerers of their markets.

    That model does not work anymore.

    Bill may not know that we are in the end game stages. The post-modern capitalist leader should either work to save his market or stand accused of rampage and plunder.

    Ignorance is a poor excuse. Bill should be getting good information. But maybe he is not.

  24. Yalies would claim that a Harvard education is highly overrated, but perhaps Mr. G could have benefited from it nevertheless.

  25. Vic says:

    Plenty of room for innovation here…

    Japan Atomic Power Co., the utility firm that operates the Tsuruga nuclear plant on the Sea of Japan coast, acknowledged “technical difficulties” at the Unit 2 reactor and confirmed a possible leak of radioactive iodine and xenon gas from the reactor’s nuclear fuel rods into the coolant system.



    Russia has launched an urgent rescue mission after one of its atom-powered icebreakers developed a nuclear leak in the frozen seas of the Arctic and was forced to abandon its mission.


  26. Considering the more than 2 decades worth of software bloat produced at Redmond, it’s not surprising that Gates is skeptical of efficiency.

  27. William P says:

    Gates is right. Nuclear is the ONLY hope of getting off fossil fuel which is killing our planet, and eventually all of us. I love solar and wind power and live on it on my sailboat 6 mo. per year. But it can never provide the kind of power demanded by our modern living.

    Bashing nuclear is what Big Oil does behind the curtain. They know nuclear is the best answer for this planet.

    With all the waste problems, they amount to very little compared to ending all life on earth – something the vast majority of climate scientists see coming – as it almost happened in end-Permian times 300 million years ago.

    Not a single person has died to my knowledge from the Japan accident. Compare that with millions dying each year from air pollution from coal and other fossil fuel burning.

    Can we get real before it is way too late?

    Read James Hansen’s (NASA) “Storms of my Grandchildren” and UK James Lovelock’s “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” to get the real facts from top scientists.

  28. David Johnson says:

    How tragic that Gates, after pouring billions into improved health in developing countries, now enables inaction on climate, which will almost certainly result in massive agriculture failure, flight and famine in the very regions he has tried to help. He’s saving millions of children from disease, only to condemn them to starvation.

  29. Vic says:

    “The room to do things differently is quite dramatic”

    Betcha that’s what these guys were thinking too… 


  30. moze says:

    “Though I already hate the mining that would come with it.”

    well, solar panels are made from minerals that need to be mined, and plastics that are made from crude oil which need to be drilled.

  31. Lewis C says:

    Given that our host Joe includes geo-engineering in both its Carbon Recovery and Albedo Restoration forms in the updated version of “The full global warming solution,” it seems a bit off for the excreable Gates to be criticized by commenters for his support of this demonstrably necessary component of strategy.

    [JR: No. I include non-destructive geo-engineering as part of aggressive mitigation strategy. Gates focuses on the destructive kind and sees it as an excuse for delay.]

    Surely there are numerous more valid reasons for criticizing that monopolistic meglomaniac ? How about his failure to outbid Koch Bros for US Congress-whores’ services ? Or his failure to buy a news channel to expose the corrupt funding of denialism ? Or his failure to fund the RD&D of city-scale Wave Energy to offset the pollution his bloated software manifests ?



  32. Roger says:

    Better be nice to guys like Gates: I just attended an excellent talk by Ralph Nader in which he made a good case, based on his new book, for how “only the super-rich can save us.” They’ve got the money to do it; they’ve just got to get educated, motivated and self-organized to do so.

    I’ve just started the book…”a fictional vision that could become a new reality.” Among the key figures are Warren Buffet, Bill Cosby, Barry Diller, Phil Donahue, Paul Newman, Yoko Ono, Ross Perot and Ted Turner.

    As might be expected, Nader has solid insights on, and somewhat harsh words concerning our two major political parties, for the new corporate personhood, and for the relative lack of engagement of today’s citizens.

  33. Colorado Bob says:

    Remember, Bill Gates chose a paper clip to help you.

  34. Colorado Bob says:

    Bill was born on 3rd base, & he thinks he hit a homer.

  35. Richard Brenne says:

    If you took all the world’s billionaires and laid them end to end. . .that would be a good start. I’m thinking maybe in the tar sands they’ve all invested in.

  36. Joan Savage says:

    mose (#28)

    Name any high tech version of sustainability and it has a mineral component, for sure.

    Consider the mining that might come with thorium in particular. It’s not as polluting as uranium, so that is a plus.

    Thorium is dispersed widely in the earth’s crust, very few places have anything resembling a vein of thorium. Prudent mining operations in Norway have stockpiled the thorium that came as a byproduct of other extractions. Otherwise it is both “everywhere” and “nowhere in particular” and that could lead to a lot of surface disruption. Not a plus.

  37. Bruce Post says:

    (I think I lost my previous post; let me try again. Apologies if this is a repeat.)

    Slavoj Ziztek, in his book “Violence”, hones in on those super-capitalists who use, abuse, and manipulate the system to amass their billions of dollars and then become super-philanthropists we gushedly admire. Bill Gates and George Soros are two of his targets. He observes how “the ruthless pursuit of profit is counteracted by charity.” And, then, he gives us this take-away line: “Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.”

  38. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Gates has gotten a good serve from the contributors-thoroughly merited I would say. He is, in my opinion, one of those types that market capitalism spawns, and, as Adrian #11 says, Gates per se is not so very dangerous or malign, but his money certainly makes him so. Yet another argument for radical economic democracy and equality, which can only be achieved through massive wealth redistribution. Any ideas how to achieve it?

  39. John McCormick says:

    RE # 25

    WilliamP, I am a big fan but I have to make one criticism of your comment:

    “Bashing nuclear is what Big Oil does behind the curtain”

    Big oil provides fuel to power our mobile fleet. Nuclear provides electricity that has no market in the mobile fleet.

    It is a chronic mistake most people make. Anything that makes kilowatts is -today- useless for getting us down the highway.

    Wind, solar or nuclear do not power the near billion cars and trucks traveling the globe.

    There is nothing sillier than politicians (some of whom should know better) saying that wind and solar can make the US more energy independent. Its apple and rocks.

    John McCormick

  40. catman306 says:

    @ Roger: Here’s a recent Democracy Now video with Ralph Nader speaking about the nuclear industry.


  41. kermit says:

    John McCormick@38 – I’m not sure what you’re talking about. Electric cars work just fine. We have passed peak oil; we have used up more than half of the oil in this planet. BP has arranged to drill for oil off the Australian coast at a depth three times deeper than the Gulf; They’re crushing sandstone and shale in Canada to get a thick tar from which they can extract oil suitable for producing gasoline and diesel; the growing middles classes in India, China, and Brazil want their cars also. Gas is not going to get cheaper; it is going to rapidly get more expensive.

    Are you suggesting that we drive our gas-powered energy hogs until the gas is truly unaffordable? It will not be easier at that point to switch to electric vehicles. Transitioning now, using various economic incentives, will be cheaper in the long run. An electric fleet doesn’t care whether the juice generated is from nuclear, wind, hydro, solar, or squirrels in cages. Going electric will detach our automobile culture from issues of generating the power, allowing various solutions.

    And why wouldn’t going electric provide the US with energy independence? It would free us from pressure to start wars in the Near East, as well as loosening the hold that Big Oil has on us.

    We don’t have a choice – we are going to run out of oil(1), and soon. Ignoring the problem will not make it easier to deal with.

    (1) That is, it will be too expensive to use for routine vehicle use. Also for farm machinery. And fertilizer. And asphalt for roads. And plastics for solar panels, computers. medical equipment, and big screen TVs.

  42. Roddy Campbell says:

    Joe, you say ” ……. cute home solar panels has been bringing down the cost sharply and is likely to achieve unsubsidized grid parity in many places within the decade.” – a statement which you would usually link to a citation or one of your previous posts – I wasn’t aware that solar was anywhere close to unsubsidised parity (hence the huge FiTs in Europe) – can you point me where to look?

    [JR: Here is one. And here.]

  43. Roddy Campbell says:

    kermit – LPG is more likely, proven technology. Electric cars – there’s a $8,000 grant in the UK at the moment, here’s the sales effect: http://www.thegreencarwebsite.co.uk/blog/index.php/2011/05/03/plug-in-car-grants-sell-500-electric-cars/

  44. catman306 says:

    Efficiency is the opposite of consumerism.

    Consumerism is the opposite of efficiency.

    Since Microsoft has always been a consumer driven company, it’s easy to see Gates disdain for efficiency which seems to go against his core values.

  45. Lewis C says:

    Joe – you are quite right – I should have been more specific – Gates warrants intense criticism not for his support of geoengineering per se, but for supporting the long term deployment of sulphate aerosols and for doing so as a means to offset continued fossil fuel usage.



  46. Captain Cornwall says:

    Please, everybody – politicians, pro-nuke idiots, idiots with their stupid strawman “solar and wind” won’t power us alone – read, study, meditate on the words of kermit (#40) over and over and over and over again until you squeeze all the other illogical excrement out of your brains.

    We need to mandate, by law, outlawing the use and production and import of all gas-powered vehicles NOW, while the transition is possible, saving precious oil for uses (pharmaceuticals, whatever) for which NO OTHER MATERIAL IS POSSIBLE, and NOT simply burn it to push vehicles down the road. This CAN be done, powered by solar and wind, and NOT nuclear.

    But, we have to act right NOW.

    And, that, in particular, means never ever voting for a Republican or a Democrat ever again. It means voting for Green Party candidates at EVERY level.

    I have NO pity and NO sympathy for those millions of americans who will starve to death in the future in their homes when they had the chance to vote for true patriotic Americans like Ralph Nader or Green Party but didn’t, because of some other crap filling up their skulls.

  47. Bill Woods says:

    Joan Savage (#35): Consider the mining that might come with thorium in particular. It’s not as polluting as uranium, so that is a plus.

    Currently, rare-earth miners are having to pay to dispose of the associated thorium (in the US, anyway). Even if demand increases, at about 1 tonne of thorium per gigawatt-year of electricity, even mining low-grade ore won’t make a real dent in the landscape.

  48. Mike # 22 says:

    I’m with Kermit and C. Cornwall.

    We’ve got the batteries, the cars are easy. No pity for the people too smug to ditch the fossil fuel machines.

    Bill should hire Amory, and give him a billion dollar budget.

    Kermit and Cornwall, if you haven’t already looked at this: http://www.motortrend.com/future/concept_vehicles/1101_volkswagen_xl1_concept_look/index.html

  49. John McCormick says:

    RE #45

    Captain Cornwall, come back to earth.

    John McCormick

  50. Mike # 22 says:

    John McCormick, rather than make the ridiculous comment that Captain Cornwall is not on earth, perhaps you can instead attempt to support another of your ridiculous comments, to wit:

    “Anything that makes kilowatts is -today- useless for getting us down the highway.”

    There is a long and growing list of transportation which uses kilowatts. The only obstacle I can see to rapid deployment of this technology is ignorance.

  51. Lewis C says:

    Mike#22 -
    “The only obstacle I can see to rapid deployment of this technology is ignorance.”

    How about the growing impovershment of Americans ? And its acceleration as PO starts to bite during this decade ? There is such a thing as ‘JTFL’ (hint: the reverse of “Just In Time”).

    I note that China, where practical deployment of technologies that will remain viable in the coming decades is far more advanced than in most western nations, there is a near total absence of electric passenger vehicles.

    What China clearly sees as viable, to the extent of deploying one for roughly each ten people so far, is various forms of electric bikes.
    The savings in oil imports of this policy must be very substantial indeed, while the future savings in continued coal-fired electricity that the alternative 120 million electric cars would require may well be critical to China’s efforts at de-carbonization.

    So how poor will Americans have to get before they decide to put the equivalent 31 million electric bikes on the road ?



  52. Chris Winter says:

    Roger wrote (#30): “Better be nice to guys like Gates: I just attended an excellent talk by Ralph Nader in which he made a good case, based on his new book, for how “only the super-rich can save us.” They’ve got the money to do it; they’ve just got to get educated, motivated and self-organized to do so.”

    I’m looking forward to reading that book. Let’s hope he does a better job than the late Michael Crichton did with State of Fear.

  53. Chris Winter says:

    William P wrote (#25): “Read James Hansen’s (NASA) “Storms of my Grandchildren” and UK James Lovelock’s “The Vanishing Face of Gaia” to get the real facts from top scientists.”

    I haven’t had the chance to read Lovelock’s book as yet. But Dr. Hansen advocates “Gen IV” nuclear plant designs. (As do I.) The kicker is that these still need a lot of development: At least three years’ worth, if the people who were working on the IFR/AFR at Argonne are to be believed.

    And that’s just for proof-of-concept. Then comes commercial deployment. It all makes nuclear a late starter.

  54. Mike # 22 says:


    If they can afford a gas car, then they will be able to buy the electric version. Prices converge after scale up of the product, see DOE Freedom Car. A cheaper route is the retrofit envisioned by CalCars; retrofit kits for popular models are a no brainer, and from some simple calculations, could be a very profitable industry.

    Not everyone can afford a car. But most can. I note that in the US per capita GDP is about 40,000. I don’t really buy into the whole declining wealth concept, because I see that people’s net quality of life continues to increase. My glass is half full. In other words, the payment for the cable and the 4G network would about cover an economy EV lease. Choices.

    heh, some of the electric bikes people are building are pretty extreme, delivering over 10 kw (to a dynamometer). The electric bicycle experimenters along with electric model aircraft builders are really pushing the limits of what the new (retail sales began 2006) Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries are capable of. In the process, they are validating that these batteries are extremely tough, non-explosive, capable of ridiculous power to weight ratios, and cycle life unknown, but better than several thousand. These batteries are perfect for an EV, far better than what is in the Mini E, (a car which I drove one afternoon, and then charged up with renewable energy), and actually perfect for a whole range of fossil fuel replacement applications. The internal resistance is so low, they can be charged at high rates. The range issue on larger vehicles can be compensated for with small quick charges, add some supercapacitors, see the Chinese bus trials.

    I’ve been working on some electric bikes myself the past three years, but I am thinking that for most people the sweet spot will be a maxi scooter.

    All these people who dismiss the available technology, what I am wondering is whether they have no actual experience with it, because once you driven something like the Mini E, or the Vectrix, you won’t want to go back.


  55. Jim says:

    JR, rejected comments will appear elsewhere.

  56. William P says:

    Chris Winter; fifty-two above sets up Gen IV reactors as a straw man to knock down all nuke power production.

    France seems to be perking right along, cutting their carbon emissions with earlier generations of plants.

    To me, that is the key point – reduce carbon emissions while providing the power our modern life style demands.

    Gen IV will come along. Let’s make power with what we have in light of the dire carbon emission emergency.

    Chris – read James Lovelock. To me he is THE premier earth scientist. He is a member of the Royal Society and brilliant inventor of many devices including the one that properly analyzed the ozone hole and suggested the solution.

    Read Lovelock’s books: The Vanishing Face of Gaia and The Revenge of Gaia – both recent.

  57. Mebantiza says:

    I think the people that say Rich does not equal smart have basically nailed BG to a tee. I have listened to a lot of comments he makes and many of them are dubious at best or outright frauds at worst. But what I find revealing about him is, like a lot of people in this day and age, and certainly by our corporate elites, he likes to work on the symptoms of problems, not the the problems themselves. And why not? It has made him hugely wealthy so why not stick with a proven model. His software is a prime example of this mentality, when shown flaws in his softare, MS response has always been the same, make it larger, more complex and resource intensive than the previous versions-repeat.

    His foundation is exactly the same, he loves to run around buying mosquito nets and treating diseases in africa. Not seeming to understand his efforts, as well meaning as he might think they are, treat symptoms of a much larger set of issues that he seems to lack the intelligence to recognize or even articulate. This is why he constantly denigrates solar PV and conservation etc. He simply cannot grasp the idea that over-consumption, energy waste etc are at the root of our current dilemna. Thus to his limited imagination, the only way to ‘fix’ the energy problem is to treat the ‘symptom’ (increased energy demand), is to build even more complex, dangerous and expensive technologies. IOW, he would do for global civilization, what he did for every problem his products@ MS created. Make a newer version, more expensive and complex than the last. Repeat ad-infinitum.

  58. Yep, Roger #32 as you mention Ralph Nader – Yes Gates is one of the captains of industry – which is why he should lead others in this issue. Do you think David H Koch is planning to join in this campaign?

    Moving large corporations is a form of geo-engineering .. and it is just as much an impossible long shot as anything else. Business will get on board, but it may be too late.

  59. tiferet says:

    This is the guy who has yet to figure out that if he sold his office suite and OS at a price most people who want to use it could easily afford (and stopped selling castrated ‘starter’ and ‘home’ versions) he could make just as much profit as he currently does and the staff who are currently busy trying to think up ways to punish pirates could be doing useful things.