Bill Gates at TED 2010: Climate and Energy


Image: Screen capture of TED video

"Innovating to Zero"

Bill Gates made a big impression at the TED conference (Technology, Entertainment, Design) last year. Everybody still talks about the mosquitoes that he released in the crowd (though they weren't actually carrying the parasite that causes malaria). This year, he had two new topics to talk about: Climate and energy. Check out the video below.The video is a little under 28 minutes long, so make sure you have some free time before starting it:

Is Bill Gates Wrong?

Our friends at Grist have a piece titled "Why Bill Gates is wrong", and when I first read that title I expected them to disagree with everything Bill Gates had to say. But what I got from the piece is mostly things that Bill Gates could (should?) have added to his presentation, not things that he should have subtracted.

I agree with Bill Gates that we need much more R&D; and basic science, even if it can sometimes be hard to say exactly how it will help ("If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn't be called research, would it?" said Albert Einstein). Maybe new stronger and lighter materials will make cars, planes and ships radically more energy efficient and allow us to build much bigger wind turbines. If we bring down the cost of sending materials to space, we can switch to space-based solar and get truly clean baseload power. Thorium has great promise, but it requires more R&D; (see this post on the LFTR for more detail). Enhanced geothermal will also requires a lot of investment in R&D; (it's not as easy as you might think). And what we don't know about nature could fill a few cubic light-years, so who knows what other great things we might discover doing basic science. It might take decades to pay off, but the sooner we start investing in the research, the sooner it will happen (and of course in the meantime we should do everything we can with what we currently have).

But I also agree with David Roberts that we need "innovation" not only in technology, but also in all aspects of society, and that we shouldn't be creating a false dichotomy between technological innovation and other kinds of green pursuits (though I doubt Bill Gates would disagree with us there).

It might be true that Gates is a bit too narrowly focused, but others can work in areas that he isn't pursuing. One person can't do it all, and I'm sure glad that he's using his money for this rather than buying ever bigger yachts and mansions.


Image: Screen capture of TED video

Via TED
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Tags: Alternative Energy