Socialist Worker

Bill Gates won’t save us from climate disaster

In a new book, Bill Gates claims competition is the solution to climate crises. Sophie Squire says he shouldn’t be trusted

Issue No. 2743

Bill Gates backs nuclear power in his new book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Bill Gates backs nuclear power in his new book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster


Bill Gates’ new book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is a billionaire’s agenda for managing the climate catastrophe.

Gates begins by saying countries have to get carbon emissions down to net zero.

He calculates that 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases need to be removed from the atmosphere every year to maintain our survival on the planet.

To get to net zero he makes it clear that—like every billionaire—he will work within the system to get to this point.

The problem with this is that this system—capitalism—has already led us to the brink of climate catastrophe.

It cannot be shaped to save the planet.

As the book progresses, Gates focuses on how it could be possible to transform major industries green, using the examples of transportation, agriculture and energy.

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These chapters are filled with details about innovations in climate and green technology as well as heavy doses of wisdom from Gates himself.

He manages to flag up all the projects he invests in and encourages other corporations to take a risk and invest in them too.

Yet these ventures include a number of projects even he says are not guaranteed to work. Gates explores the possibilities of direct air capture, a ridiculously expensive process that harvests carbon dioxide from the air.

He also mentions geoengineering, which tries to deliberately manipulate the world’s environmental processes.

This is another expensive venture that relies on technology, some of which hasn’t been proven to work yet. 

These new technologies are decades away from being able to produce results. They don’t address the desperate immediacy of the climate crisis.

Gates favours technologies that—if successful—will have very short term effects rather than technologies that are more long lasting. He’s looking for quick solutions, even if they’re not guaranteed to work.

And while the book champions new technologies he’s less interested in ones that have been around for a while. In one passage Gates complains that solar power isn’t efficient enough and that wind power takes up “too much land”.

In 2019 Gates even said government subsidies should be directed away from wind and solar and should go to “something new”.

Potential

Wind, solar and tidal power are existing ­technologies that have the potential, if they are applied correctly, to produce enough energy for all of us.

Technological progress in both the wind and solar industry has meant that they are now much cheaper to run and more widely available.

One problem for the billionaires is that these industries are not guaranteed to make them much profit.

Wind and solar are often heavily regulated by governments. And the revenue private firms make in both industries has fallen over the years.

Even if energy companies do invest in renewables, they are not likely to abandon the fossil fuels industry that they have billions of dollars tied up in.

While dismissing wind and solar, there is one type of energy that Gates really puts his weight behind and that’s nuclear energy.

Many of those who joined the climate movement have come to the conclusion that the only way to stop catastrophic climate change is to dismantle the system that created it. This books tries to offer a counter argument to this radicalism

It just so happens that Gates is the founder of nuclear innovation company TerraPower. He falsely assures the reader that nuclear energy can be made safe through innovation.

The book doesn’t quite say that technology that will save us from climate crisis. But it stresses “innovations” as the main solution time and time again.

Yet the advancement of technology alone can’t provide an answer to the climate crisis.

The problem isn’t technology itself—it’s the way that capitalists such as Gates use it.

Gates argues that competition between rival capitalists could drive the innovation of new climate technology. But actually it is what limits it.

He says that governments must “mind the investment gap,” and wishes that there was more competition in the energy market.

He encourages corporations to “take more risks” when investing in climate research and adds that they should be rewarded for taking these risks.

But more capitalist competition is also not the solution to the climate crisis.

Profit

In a system run for profit, capitalists compete to outdo one another. If they don’t compete they will be overtaken by their competitors. 

This has meant that bosses not only increasingly exploit workers more but they also exploit the natural resources this planet has to offer.

They only look for profits in the short term, never solutions in the long term.

This has led to deforestation, loss of animal habitats and global warming.

More competition in, for example, the renewable energy industry will only add to an already chaotic system that normal people get absolutely no say in.

For renewables to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels the industry must be prized away from the big business and put under public ownership.

But of course, you can’t expect a billionaire like Gates to come to this conclusion.

One of the main functions of this book is to deflect the blame for the chaos of the system away from Gates and big corporations and centre them as the solution.

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Despite all the noise that Gates makes about the environment he still has not completely cut himself off from the fossil fuel industry. 

He has publicly said he completely divested from fossil fuels at the end of 2019. This is not completely true. 

Public fillings of the Gates Foundation showed that more than £71 million was still invested in oil and gas companies at the end of 2019. These companies include Exxon Mobil, Chevron Corp and BP.

He also owns 19 percent of Signature Aviation which is the world’s largest operator of private jets.

The contradiction between how Gates would like to be perceived—as a philanthropist turning his efforts to avoid climate catastrophe—and what he does in practice is obvious.

One thing this book does show is how conversations about the climate have shifted in the past two decades.

In the past giant corporations like—oil giant Shell—simply denied that climate change existed.

Now one of the richest men in the world has written a book about fighting it.

Companies have made shifts to appear greener because of how public opinion has changed.

Many of those who joined the climate movement have come to the conclusion that the only way to stop catastrophic climate change is to dismantle the system that created it.

This books tries to offer a counter argument to this radicalism.

It says the solutions to the climate crisis can be found in the free market, with maybe some help from politicians and world leaders.

But Gates is wrong. The climate crisis will only be solved if we wrestle control of the system away from the ruling class who led us there in the first place.


Why do the media love rich people?

Formler Labour prime minister Gordon Brown (right) gave Bill Gates (left) book a glowing review. They are pictured here at the billionaires World Economic Forum in Davos, 2006

Formler Labour prime minister Gordon Brown (right) gave Bill Gates' (left) book a glowing review. They are pictured here at the billionaires' World Economic Forum in Davos, 2006


Gates’ book has had some positive treatment in the press. The media often presents him as the friendly billionaire who graciously gave us Microsoft technology and contributes large sums of money to charity.

Now he wants to pose as an inspirational figurehead gifting his wealth and wisdom to the fight against the climate and coronavirus crises.

But the favourable view of Gates in some sections of the media is surely helped by the massive donations he hands out to them.

Last year the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave over £2 million to the Guardian newspaper. In fact, over the last nine years, the foundation has given grants of over £6 million to different sections of the Guardian Media Group.

It comes as no surprise then that the Guardian published a glowing review of Gates’ new book written by former prime minister Gordon Brown last week.

The foundation also gave the BBC’s Media Action programme £1,455,485 and the French newspaper Le Monde £1,521,292 in 2019.

This information isn’t even hidden away—a simple search on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation website list of donations throws up the figures.

Gates’ foundation even funded a report into what influence donors have over what journalists write.

Happily for him it found, “There is little evidence that funders insist on having an editorial review.”  

Now Gates wants support for his agenda on how to tackle climate change and large sections of the media are prepared to help him in return for his cash.

From the articles you read about Gates, it would be easy to come to the conclusion that billionaires are good for society.

That their innovation and charity work benefits people.

In reality, the charity work done by billionaires has very little to do with helping people and everything to do with making profit.


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