Bill Gates is betting personal billions on investing in clean energy. And now the world’s richest man is putting his mouth where his money is.
He devoted his half of the annual letter from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — a yearly barometer of his philanthropic focus, either in terms of how or where he’s deploying money and attention — to climate change. More specifically, the need for a clean, renewable energy source.
“I’m amazed how little we spend there compared with defense research, medical research,” Gates tells Forbes.
Especially when the stakes are so big. Gates directed this year’s letter toward high school students, complete with personal details including his early affinity for Superman comic books, his bad grades in middle school and his love of Cocoa Puffs cereal. (Melinda Gates, who focused the second half of the letter on gender equality, prefers Wheat Chex). He punctuates his letter with a simple mathematical equation he concocted that underscores the need for what he calls an “energy miracle”.
P x S x E x C = CO2 (carbon dioxide output).
It’s a neat little formula because it drives home the point: that for all the Paris climate talks and more affordable Teslas, environmental incrementalism is somewhat pointless. In the equation, P = population; S = services used by people; E= the energy needed to power those services; and C equals the carbon dioxide created by that energy. Population is of course trending ever-higher, as are the services people demand, especially in the developing world which has barely scratched the surface in terms of cars and air conditioning and other modern basics. Those two factors swamp progress in energy efficiency. Gates points out that scientists are calling for an 80 percent drop in carbon emissions by 2050 (and a total end by 2100) to stave off the most dramatic effects of climate change, yet even with more efficiency, the growth in population and services means that emissions will instead jump by 50%.
Math 101: the only way to get to zero carbon dioxide output is to drop one of those inputs to zero. Since eliminating any carbon byproduct of energy is preferable to a complete human die-off or a stone age suite of services, that’s the only path. Shaving at the margins simply won’t get the job done; only a moonshot solution that provides unlimited clean energy will stave off environmental (and thus, economic) catastrophe.