LOS ANGELES – So today Bill Gates and a bevy of billionaires pledged their financial support to fund deeper research on climate change. This is a noble gesture and sorely needed…but also perhaps more than a day late and many dollars short.
Lord knows I and many other climate change pundits are thrilled that Mr. Gates and his tech mogul colleagues have taken the initiative to use the Paris climate change talks as a rallying point to announce this potentially ground-breaking research. Gates’s examples of a new type of battery that will one-up lithium ion; a revolutionary solar paint that can make almost any surface a solar panel; and a new process that makes fuel directly from sunlight are all potentially game changers that can save and/or produce huge amounts of electricity and reduce carbon emissions overnight –if and when they come to fruition in the commercial marketplace. Gates makes no false promises, as he clearly indicates these and other big ideas that the billionaire bankrolls will be used to fund could take 10 years, if not longer, to reach the marketplace in a viable commercial package.
To me, here is the real significance of this announcement: in previous years, you have heard the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announce initiatives to address shortcomings in education, disease-fighting and other basic necessities in the developing world. Now, he has personally stepped up and without saying exactly this, endorsed what most of us green folks have been saying for years – if we don’t get a handle on the climate change issue and quickly, all the other noble philanthropic initiatives could be moot. As in, we only have one planet, and if we don’t save it, then why bother with all the rest of the do-gooding?
So to all of us who are enlightened and have been for some years, please take a moment to be pleased with this announcement and the public recognition by the world’s tech business leaders that climate change is no laughing matter. Talk this up on social media to your circles of influence including friends, family and business colleagues. The idea of business and government joining together to really get serious about climate change is great news and should be treated as such.
Also noteworthy is that while these donations to the cause will be in the form of investments, as in, there could be a sizable return if even one of them hits, they are really more like philanthropy because of the uncertain nature of the results and the very long horizon before a return would be recognized.
Remember the Sean Parker character in “Social Network,” ably played by Justin Timberlake? Think of the epic luncheon he has with Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg). Parker challenges Zuckerberg to aim high, to shoot for the moon, to want to change the world, “not just build a chain of yogurt stores.” That is what Bill Gates has done here…he has challenged his tech titan friends to lay out some serious do re mi that can be used to incentivize and motivate the world’s top scientists to devote themselves to helping to solve the energy equation. By doing so, there will undoubtedly be some major innovations that emerge. The question is when…?
In the meantime, here’s hoping that this is not just a highlight day that quickly is forgotten. Past climate change conferences have been mostly unproductive. Let us all keep the faith that this time, the bizarre weather patterns and the damage they have inflicted…the rising sea levels and threats to sea life and islanders that have already been manifested…the carbon pollution that is killing thousands every year…is enough of a clear and present danger to focus the true money and power in this world on addressing climate change before it is truly too late.