Climate Change Mitigation – Today’s Conventional Wisdom

In a recent post on gatesnotes.com, Bill Gates set forth what is today’s conventional wisdom with regard to climate change mitigation within the scientific and engineering communities.  The document is concise and exceedingly well written.  It captures in a single paragraph the crisis currently facing humanity,

Scientists generally agree that preventing the worst effects of climate change requires limiting the temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius, and that doing so requires the biggest emitters to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050 and all countries to essentially eliminate them by the end of the century. Unfortunately, while we can make progress with today’s tools, they cannot get us to an 80 percent reduction, much less 100 percent. To work at scale, current wind and solar technologies need backup energy sources—which means fossil fuels—for windless days, long periods of cloudy weather, and nighttime. “

The very next paragraph sets forth his “solution” to the problem, namely a fervent appeal for greater “innovation”,

“These are solvable problems. If we create the right environment for innovation, we can accelerate the pace of progress, develop and deploy new solutions, and eventually provide everyone with reliable, affordable energy that is carbon free. We can avoid the worst climate-change scenarios while also lifting people out of poverty, growing food more efficiently, and saving lives by reducing pollution.”

He then goes on to outline three steps that need to be taken:

  1. Create incentives for innovation (primarily increased government spending on research);
  2. Develop markets that help get to zero (namely, put a price on carbon emissions);
  3. Treat poor countries fairly.

The document ends with what is essentially a statement of his personal “belief” that “innovation“ is the solution to all problems facing humanity,

In my view, innovation is essential to human progress. Some people would say that it is the lens I use to look at every problem, and I have to admit that there is some truth to that. But I believe it is justified by history. In my lifetime innovation has helped eradicate one deadly disease (smallpox) and put us on the brink of a second (polio). We have cut the fraction of children who die every year by a factor of four. Digital technology has revolutionized the way people live. We can create a zero-carbon future too, if we commit to it.


Our Perspective:  We simply do not believe that the breathtaking progress made in medicine and digital technology during the past 50 years is a valid predictor of future progress in the development of new zero-carbon energy sources and massive energy storage.  Can we really afford to wait to see what miraculous progress will be wrought by increased spending on research and innovation?