Bill Gates disses energy efficiency, renewables, and near-term climate action while embracing the magical thinking of Bjorn Lomborg (and George Bush)

Coincidentally, Gates is funding geoengineering research

Billionaires say the darndest things! The above screen shot of a nonsensical Bill Gates piece dissing energy efficiency came from his website, The Gates Notes, which turned into a HuffPost piece, and then Yahoo News.

Yes, even the very rich are very confused about energy efficiency, renewable energy, climate policy, and global warming — mainly because they keep bad company (see “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?”):

  • The Gates’ Foundation mostly ignores global warming (see here)
  • Warren Buffett are so wrong “” and outspoken “” about cap and trade (see here)
  • Gates and Buffett visited the Athabasca tar sands “” the biggest global warming crime ever “” to satisfy “their own curiosity” but also “with investment in mind” (see here).

Now Gates has launched an amazing series of myth-filled missives and misfires this month, many of which channel Bjorn Lomborg (aka the Danish delayer) in their disdain of near-term climate action and embrace of, yes, geo-engineering. If you have the stomach for a rambling discourse mostly dissing renewable energy, clearly inspired by the uber-confused Myhrvold, start with his “Podcast Series: Energy and Climate Change” here.

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You’ll learn that wind power is competitive only because of subsidies — nary a mention of the massive subsidies for nuclear, a Gates favorite, or fossil fuels, let alone the devastating climate impacts of continued use of fossil fuels. In his discussion of renewables, you’ll learn that “solar is the cutest of all these things” — yes, “cutest.”

You’ll learn “the biggest issue that is often missed is the storage issue.” Apparently absent Gates’ genius, none of us have ever thought about the issue of storage. Gates seems unaware of the major advances occurring in storage (see “The Holy Grail of clean energy economy is in sight: Affordable storage for wind and solar”), which is probably why he worries about it so much, saying that the biggest problem is the “seven-day periods with no sun” and “seven-day periods with no wind,” which lead him to ask, “In the 1% case are people willing to freeze to death”? Yes, apparently 1% of the time the country is without any wind or sun for 7 straight days. Seriously, listen to the podcast (this is at the end of the first one).

Oh, but nuclear is great — “it’s as good as renewable.”

Now apparently someone told Gates that attacking insulation (!!!) looked stupid, because a few days later someone rewrote the above headline, adding a “just” after “not” at his website and HuffPost — though he missed here. But even the rewritten piece is laughable:

However all the talk about renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade tends to obscure the specific things that need to be done.

And this is the richest guy in the world???

Memo to Gates: Renewable portfolios, efficiency, and cap and trade are many of the specific things that need to be done.

His very next sentence is:

To achieve the kinds of innovations that will be required I think a distributed system of R&D with economic rewards for innovators and strong government encouragement is the key.

Did I mention this guy has, like tens of billions of dollars?

Memo to Gates: Cap and trade provides a direct economic reward for innovators. It is the strongest possible government encouragement.

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The only conclusion is that Gates doesn’t actually want to have any market-based policies that stimulate deployment of technology — policies that have succeeded in multiple states and countries. He just wants a straight government handout for research. Now I’ve been one of the biggest supporters of more clean energy R&D for two decades now, but R&D by itself has no chance whatsoever of getting us anywhere near stabilization at 4°F warming, let alone 3. It is magical thinking — see “The breakthrough technology illusion,” which also explains how policies to drive deployment are probably more important for driving clean energy innovation than R&D.

Moreover, if it wasn’t clear two weeks ago, it should be pretty damn clear now that the federal government isn’t just going to print money to fund R&D. You need cap and trade to fund anywhere near the kind of money we need for genuine innovation (see “The only way to win the clean energy race is to pass the clean energy bill”).

Gates ends by pushing this nonsensical straw man argument:

No amount of insulation will get us there; only innovating our way to what is essentially zero carbon energy technology will do it. If we focus on just efficiency to the exclusion of innovation, or imagine that we can worry about efficiency first and worry about energy innovation later, we won’t get there.

The world is distracted from what counts on this issue in a big way.

Huh?

I don’t think there is a single person on the planet who has ever suggested focusing on efficiency to the exclusion of innovation. It’s just a nutty assertion. You need to do both simultaneously. Here’s what serious people believe — see Tony Blair, Climate Group, and CAP call for strong technology deployment policy driven by a carbon price, innovative financing, and serious technology standards.

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Ironically, there are lots of people who push an “innovation only” strategy (see Bush follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”). You should worry when your climate and energy strategy starts to sound Bj¸rn Lomborg and Newt Gingrich, and even OPEC.

In fact, Gates seems to be a Lomborg disciple. He embraces Lomborg’s strategy of not agressively acting on emissions reductions strategies now. And he promotes “innovation” as the answer. But he also pushes the false-choice argument that has made Lomborg a darling of the do-nothing crowd, as in this Reuters story from Sunday:

Bill Gates, the world’s richest man and a leading philanthropist, said on Sunday spending by rich countries aimed at combating climate change in developing nations could mean a dangerous cut in aid for health issues.

Gates, the Microsoft Corp co-founder whose $34 billion foundation is fighting malaria, AIDS, tuberculosis and other diseases in developing countries, expressed concern about the amount of spending pledged at December’s Copenhagen global climate meeting.

Gates apparently has been Bjorn again (see “Lomborg’s main argument has collapsed” and “The Bjorn Irrelevancy: Duke dean disses Danish delayer”):

“I am concerned that some of this money will come from reducing other categories of foreign aid, especially health,” Gates wrote in a letter, released late on Sunday, describing the work of his foundation….According to Forbes magazine, Gates was the richest man in the world in 2009 with an estimated fortune of $40 billion.

Memo to friggin’ Bill Gates: That’s why we want the damn cap-and-trade system you just dissed — so polluters in rich countries help pay for the cost of clean energy development in the poor countries that you supposedly care about so much (see “Gates Foundation strategy raises key question: Can the problems of the developing world be solved by ignoring global warming?”)

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Gates says he agrees that we must cut CO2 emissions 80% by 2050, but then he disses or dismisses every single major strategy needed to get us on the path for stabilization now. Why?

Well, Science magazine dropped this bombshell today, “Bill Gates Funding Geoengineering Research,” which perhaps illuminates everything Gates has said and done:

Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has been supporting a wide array of research on geoengineering since 2007, ScienceInsider has learned. The world’s richest man has provided at least $4.5 million of his own money over 3 years for the study of methods that could alter the stratosphere to reflect solar energy, techniques to filter carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, and brighten ocean clouds. But Gates’s money has not funded any field experiments involving the techniques, according to Ken Caldeira of the Carnegie Institution for Science in Palo Alto, California….

Recipients of the funding include Armand Neukermans, an inventor based in Silicon Valley who is working with colleagues to design spray systems for the marine clouds, and students and scientists working for Keith and Caldeira. Funding has also helped support scientific meetings in geoengineering in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Edinburgh, Scotland, and aeronautics research related to altering the stratosphere….

Gates has shown interest in geoengineering research before. He is an investor in Intellectual Ventures, a Seattle, Washington-area firm that pursues inventions and has applied for patents on techniques to geoengineer the stratosphere. Along with officials from that organization, Gates applied for a patent in 2008 to sap hurricanes of their strength by mixing surface and deep ocean water.

What’s his ultimate goal? Gates “views geoengineering as a way to buy time but it’s not a solution to the problem” of climate change, says spokesperson John Pinette. “Bill views this as an important avenue for research””among many others, including new forms of clean energy.”

“Buy time”? How can something that doesn’t even exist in any form whatsoever — proven geo-engineering solutions — buy time for anything? Again, this is completely backwards.

It is aggressive deployment of energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies that “buy time” for whatever future technologies we develop. Caldeira himself has made crystal clear that he “doesn’t believe geoengineering can work without cutting emissions.” Even geoengineering advocate Tom Wigley is only defending “a complementary combined mitigation/geoengineering scenario, an overshoot concentration pathway where atmospheric carbon dioxide reaches 530 ppm before falling back to 450 ppm, coupled with low-intensity geoengineering,” with the goal of stabilizing global temperature rise at 2°C, in case we can’t stabilize at 450 ppm.

Well, stabilizing at 530 ppm requires doing a massive amount of mitigation, including energy efficiency, starting now “” only 2 or 3 fewer wedges than what is needed for 450 (see “How the world can (and will) stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm: The full global warming solution”).

How can such a rich and successful businessman get it so wrong? Remember, “Nathan Myhrvold founded Intellectual Ventures after retiring from his position as chief strategist and chief technology officer of Microsoft Corporation.” Remember, too, that Gates told the Superfreakonomics guys, “”I don’t know anyone I would say is smarter than Nathan.” Well, Gates was certainly right that he knows less than Nathan. Of course, you may recall that one researcher said of Myhrvold:

What is happening is I have to conclude that anything Myhrvold says has to be assumed to be false until proven otherwise, and by unquestioningly accepting his assumptions, anything Drubner and Levitt say may need to be taken the same way.

I think the same can be said of Gates on the subject of energy and climate, now that he has done the full Lomborg (see Caldeira calls the geo-engineering vision of Lomborg’s Climate Consensus “a dystopic world out of a science fiction story”).