Bill Gates: Climate Change Greatest Threat to Human Health

Microsoft founder and world’s richest philanthropist Bill Gates spoke about energy and climate change last Friday at a TED (Technology-Environment-Design) conference in Long Beach, California.  Gates has come under fire in the past for working to help the world’s poor without taking seriously current and future climate change effects.  For example, at last year’s TED conference Gates focused on insect-borne diseases, particularly malaria, which he presented as the world’s #1 problem without mentioning climate change.  This despite the fact that a changing climate will cause the spread of insect-borne diseases.

This changed on Friday. Gates told his audience that the deadline for the world to cut all of its carbon emissions is 2050. Gates reminded his listeners that climate change will cause poverty and famine that will disproportionately affect the world’s poorest people. The world’s number one problem is dirty energy, Gates asserted, and the burning of fossil fuels that drives climate change. About the science of climate change Gates said:

“Now the exact amount of how you map from a certain increase in CO2 to what temperature will be and where the positive feedbacks are, there’s some uncertainty there — but not very much.  And there’s certainly uncertainty about how bad the effects will be, but they will be extremely bad.

Gates went on to say that:

The formula is a very straightforward one. More carbon dioxide equals temperature increase equals negative effects like collapsed ecosystems. We have to get to zero.

Gates asserted that what the world needs is an “energy miracle”, and said that he is investing in high tech that could turn spent fuel rods into clean energy. The Huffington Post reported:

The world’s energy portfolio should not include coal or natural gas, he said, and must include carbon capture and storage technology as well as nuclear, wind and both solar photovoltaics and solar thermal power.

Not everyone who is concerned about climate change agrees with Gates’ proffered solutions.  Indeed, Gates told his audience that he would be sending them Al Gore’s latest book, Our Choice, which focuses on already available solutions to the climate crisis.  In his introduction, Gore writes:

It is now abundantly clear that we have at our fingertips all of the tools we need to solve the climate crisis. The only missing ingredient is collective will.

Despite disagreement on his view of solutions, Gates’ contribution is still a welcome, and high-profile, addition to this debate.  For an interesting discussion check out “Bill Gates is Wrong about ‘Energy Miracles’ ” on Climate Progress.