At this year’s TED conference, Bill Gates issued a clarion call for “energy miracles” that will bring global carbon emissions down to zero. Gates’ philanthropic focus has been on education, vaccines and malaria but, in his 2010 TED speech, he said that his one wish for the next fifty years is not to pick the next President nor to discover a silver bullet vaccine–it is the global deployment of zero-emissions energy technology at half the current price.
Reflect for a moment on how earth-shattering (or, should I say, “earth-saving”) Gates’ epiphany could be: Here’s one of the wealthiest and most influential individuals on the planet asserting what we climate freaks have been trying to communicate for the past decade–that if we want to have a life-sustaining planet, we can and must get to zero. And when Bill Gates talks, people with money listen.
Gates begins the talk with a simple math equation even I was able to understand: Global CO2 levels = # of people on the planet x services people use (eg. electricity, food) x energy required per service x CO2 per unit of energy. As you might recall from 4th grade, if the product of an equation is zero, at least one of the factors being multiplied must be zero. Of all the factors, the only one that could conceivably be reduced to zero is the amount of CO2 per unit of energy. To do so will require major advances in the scale and reliability of five energy technologies–solar PV, solar thermal, wind, nuclear and carbon capture. Gates believes we must work intensively on all five fronts by investing heavily in research & development and creating market incentives to move away from fossil fuels.
We couldn’t agree more (with respect to the first three energy technologies on Gates’ list). Dubious and unsafe technologies aside, we applaud Gates for embracing the gravity of our energy predicament and using his platform to inspire innovation.