The choice of Bill Gates as the keynoter for this year’s Climate Solutions fundraising breakfast is an interesting one. Climate change and clean energy aren’t grant areas for The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, although there’s certainly some overlap when it comes to helping small farmers in underdeveloped countries be successful as their weather patterns change — without wrecking more havoc on the land. Microsoft as a company isn’t making the same types of investment Google is when it comes to clean tech or big energy-saving initiatives. But Gates is an investor in new energy and an avid student of … well, everything. He’s known for having an insatiable intellect.
He’s also a very effective draw to sell out the “Northwest at a Crossroads” breakfast Tuesday morning and a good lightening rod for ongoing discussion. Some of us in attendance tweeted during or right after the event. Grist.org taped the interview of Gates conducted by Climate Solutions Board of Directors Co-President and former Microsoftie Jabe Blumenthal. They also conducted an online noon chat with Climate Solutions Policy Director KC Golden, available at the same site.
It was fun to check out the online chatter about the event, having been there and heard the interview live. Most everyone used the #climatesolution hashtag to make tracking easier on Twitter.
Grist posted the interview and chat to its Facebook page. Tuesday, The Seattle Times and Seattle P-I both carried an AP article was headlined: Gates: Clean energy won’t be focus of foundation. KPLU’s Tom Paulson’s article titled Bill Gates says key to beating climate change is energy innovation. Is it?, which really was about asking that question. It referred to but didn’t include Gates’ equation of CO2 = P x S x E x C to explain what has to happen to change CO2 levels. Carbon dioxide levels equal the number of people on the planet times the level of services those people use times the energy those services require times the carbon they produce. “If you want the thing on the left to be almost zero,” he said, “you have to reduce something on the right.” That something, in Gates’ view, had to be carbon output, because we weren’t going to see big reductions from efficiency. Instead, he said we have to invest and pilot over the next two decades and deploy innovations faster than we ever have before. His goal is cheap energy that’s CO2 free seems a bit lofty of a goal to me, but it’d certainly be lovely if it could be discovered.
The most frequently tweeted Gates comment, from my rudimentary analysis, was “If we can get energy improved, it’s deeply empowering.” My favorite came just after that when Gates commented that pricing carbon and funding R&D should already be in place. But “these parts of it get messy and even disturbing, like to do facts matter?”
I think they should. I think we need to make R&D investments as a country. If we refuse to put a price on carbon, I’m not sure how we spark the innovation we need. And I figure efficiencies certainly will help, even if they won’t alone solve this problem, and we should do them. I found KC Golden’s comments more inspiring, liked the comment from Dean Allen of McKinistry that we shouldn’t rely on a silver bullet or wait for superman to save us more than any of Gates’ remarks, and didn’t walk away with the energy I felt after hearing Rocky Mountain Institute’s Amory Lovins speak last month, but I grateful to someone as prominent as Bill Gates for taking a stand on the need for investment that addresses climate change. So thanks, Mr. Gates. And thanks Climate Solutions. And thanks to the millions of people worldwide making sure the answer to a HuffPostGreen blog piece written by Peter Neill of World Ocean Observatory asking “Remember Climate Change?” can be answered: Yes! We remember. We know it’s real. And we’re willing to change and invest to deal with it.