Why Bill Gates’ Math Error About Climate Change Matters

CREDIT: AP Photo/John Peterson

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates plays table tennis against prodigy Ariel Hsing, unseen, along with Berkshire Hathaway Chairman and CEO Warren Buffett, unseen, outside the Borsheims jewelry store, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, in Omaha, Neb., Sunday, May 1, 2016.

by Joe Romm May 2, 2016 8:00 am

Bill Gates keeps saying confused and confusing things about climate policy and clean energy.

Gates has positioned himself as a major player and spokesman in this arena with his “Breakthrough Energy Coalition,” a $2 billion effort he is spearheading to research and develop breakthrough “energy miracles.” That means his confused — and often simply wrong — pronouncements could have serious consequences in the public debate and are worth exploring in detail.

Gates’ latest bizarre position, as one media headline explained, is to dismiss a carbon tax — “Bill Gates: Carbon tax not right for the US.”

This is based on an extended interview that Gates did with the magazine Technology Review (TR), which may be his most revealing set of comments to date. When TR naturally asked about Gates whether a price on carbon is needed “to help create a business rationale for investing more in clean technologies?” and “Do you favor a clean, transparent tax?” he replied:

Some countries will do a pure carbon tax, and there’s a certain beauty to doing it that way, but the consensus that I think people will reach here in the U.S. will be to focus more on supply side.

Significantly, Gates explains, “The supply side is about funding basic government research, and then creating startup companies with that research.” For Gates, carbon prices and clean energy tax credits are “demand side” policies because they increase the demand for clean energy, whereas supply side policies in theory increase the supply of clean energy technologies available.

What Gates is saying is that he believes the consensus that Americans will reach is to focus policy more on funding basic research and creating startup companies than on policies to boost demand — what are typically called deployment programs. This is just a restatement of Gates’ view that existing technology is not up to the job and that we need a bunch of energy miracles. That view has no basis in fact (as I’ve explained at length here and here), which is why there is zero chance American policy will focus more on energy miracles than energy deployment.

As I discussed in debunking the recent similarly confused Foreign Affairs piece, we have dawdled for so long on serious climate action that we must rapidly slash CO2 emissions, which requires over 100 times more money be spent on deployment (demand) than R&D into breakthrough technologies (supply). A carbon tax would be a big help in achieving rapid CO2 cuts.

…(read more).

Global Climate Change
Environment Ethics
Environment Justice

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