Bill Gates, the world’s former richest man, and well-known philanthropist, recently stated that the planet is rapidly deteriorating and that climate change will have devastating consequences for future generations.
Gates has always felt a responsibility to return his riches to society in ways that benefit the greatest number of people. However, he only recently began seeing the world through a new lens—when his oldest daughter Jennifer and her husband, Nayel Nassar, informed him that he would become a grandfather in 2023.
“Simply typing that phrase, ‘I’ll become a grandfather next year,’ makes me emotional,” Gates writes. “And the thought gives a new dimension to my work. When I think about the world my grandchild will be born into; I’m more inspired than ever to help everyone’s children and grandchildren have a chance to survive and thrive.”
Gates devoted 12 pages to his blog detailing the work the Gates Foundation has been doing for world hunger, preparing for pandemics, and fighting AIDS and polio.
Gates also talks about his efforts to combat climate change, which include charitable work through the Gates Foundation and Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
The biggest concern that Gates discusses in his letter is that the current generation’s leadership will determine how climate change will impact future generations.
“I can sum up the challenge in two sentences: Getting to zero will be the hardest thing humans have ever done,” Gates writes. “We need to revolutionize the entire physical economy—how we make things, move around, produce electricity, grow food, and stay warm and cool—in less than three decades.”
Inflation is rising globally, and economic growth is weakening. Moreover, extreme weather is becoming increasingly frequent due to climate change. In addition, the COVID-19 pandemic killed millions and greatly handicapped already impoverished people.
The Gates Foundation supports projects to assist poor-country smallholder farmers in growing more food, increasing their earnings, and adapting to climate change.
“It starts from the idea that the poorest are suffering the most from climate change, but businesses don’t have a natural incentive to make tools that help them,” Gates writes.
“A seed company can earn profits from, say, a new type of tomato that’s a nicer shade of red and doesn’t bruise easily, but it has no incentive to make better strains of cassava that (a) survive floods and droughts, and (b) are cheap enough for the world’s low-income farmers,” Gates writes.
“The foundation’s role is to ensure that the poorest benefit from the same innovative skills that benefit richer countries.”
Gates’ work on the climate is not entirely selfless and charitable. For example, breakthrough Energy Ventures invests in early-stage enterprises that are looking to launch and grow operations aimed at various decarbonizing sectors of the economy.
Even with his immense wealth, Gates believes it is unrealistic to decarbonize every industry worldwide.
“Philanthropy alone can’t eliminate greenhouse gases. Only markets and governments can achieve that kind of pace and scale,” Gates said. “Any profits Gates makes on investments he makes in Breakthrough Energy Companies will go back into climate work or the philanthropic foundation,” he said.
“Companies need to be profitable so they can grow, keep running, and prove that there’s a market for their products,” Gates writes. “The profit incentive will attract other innovators, creating competition that will drive down the prices of zero-emissions inventions and have a meaningful impact on emissions from buildings.”
Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that greenhouse gas emissions are still surging. “Unfortunately, on near-term goals, we’re falling short. Between 2021 and 2022, global emissions actually rose from 51 billion tons of carbon equivalents to 52 billion tons,” Gates writes.
Investment in decarbonization technologies is one area where Gates sees opportunity amid rising catastrophic climate change. “We’re much further along than I would have predicted a few years ago on getting companies to invest in zero-carbon breakthroughs,” Gates writes.
Since the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, public funding for climate research and development has increased by a third. In addition, according to Gates, this year’s newly adopted regulations in the US will help move the country’s energy infrastructure away from fossil fuels by $500 billion.
”Private money is also going into climate technologies at a good clip. Venture capital firms have put $70 billion in clean energy startups in the past two years,” Gates writes.