Skip to content

♻️ "Innovation, Not Trees. How Bill Gates Plans to Save the Planet"

Sway - A New York Times Podcast

Photo by Carl Heyerdahl / Unsplash

Table of Contents

Host: Kara Swisher
Guest: Bill Gates
Category: Biz & Tech | ♻️ Sustainability

Podcast’s Essential Bites:

[2:04] “I got interested in climate because as I was flying around Africa for the foundation work after the year 2000 I was seeing […] no electricity and wondering, how do we electrify all of Africa? And I understood, OK there’s a constraint now that we have to have zero emissions. So I started meeting with professors and talking about it. And by 2010, I’d seen that innovation was going to be key. So I gave a Ted Talk in 2010 on climate. […]. I put a little over $2 billion into this. If one of these companies succeeds, that just gives me more money to put into climate. I have another $2 billion that I’ll be putting over the next five years. I created TerraPower, Breakthrough Energy. So in a way, to summarize this last 15 years, we have to accelerate the innovation and work on every one of the emission categories.”

[8:27] “[I]n the United States you could argue that people should use less. Sadly, in a way, just cutting something in half doesn’t get it to zero. And if you take the world as a whole, many places deserve basic heating, cooling, lights at night, basic transport. So the world as a whole will not use less electricity. We won’t use less steel. It would help, and it’d be good, for the rich world to use a bit less. But the path to zero involves generating electricity with no emissions. And then, at that point, assuming you can build up the scale, having reduced the units used is not what gets you to that magic number.”

[9:45] “[I]f you were just trying to reduce by like 20 percent and say, “OK we can’t travel as much and eat as much, our homes, our cars have to be smaller,” you could get to 20 percent. So 20 percent could be done without breakthrough innovation. Sadly, that doesn’t help in a meaningful way. […] [O]nly through innovation will you cover all those sources of emissions. The green premium today across all sectors is over $5 trillion a year. And the world just can’t brute force fund that. If we reduce the green premiums by 95 percent, then you get to $250 billion a year. And that actually you could imagine the rich countries subsidizing that for the poorer countries. So that even where there’s still emissions, you’re not holding them back. Because after all, they’re suffering the greatest consequence and they did the least to cause the problem. So on a global level, this is the number one environmental justice problem.”

[12:06] “The cost of renewables has come down amazingly. And so the big problem with them is they’re often very distant from where you need to use the electricity. And with electricity, reliability is super important. And so if there’s a cold front over the Midwest and all that wind and solar shut down, people still want heat in their house. And so either you need some source of power that’s green and available all the time, like nuclear, or you need an incredible miracle in terms of storage of electricity at levels […] a hundred times what we can achieve right now.”

[12:56] “[T]he only reason I got involved in nuclear is because of climate. And if we get a storage miracle of some type, then we won’t have to worry about nuclear power. But there’s a very good chance we won’t have that storage miracle. And so keeping nuclear fission where the […] per molecule energy generation is a million times better than burning hydrocarbons. If we can get the safety, convince people of the safety and improve the economics, then it could be a huge contributor to the reliability and, therefore, to a solution for climate change. Now we have to start over because today’s reactors are way too expensive. And they have high pressure, so their safety systems are very complex. So it takes a whole new generation of nuclear reactor.”

[15:06] “[H]ere’s two kinds of carbon capture. You can go to a place like a coal plant or natural gas plant or cement plant and take the flue, the exhaust gases going up a chimney, and try to pull the CO2 out of that. The concentration there is about 15 percent. Or you can go into the atmosphere, where it’s currently 410 parts per million and pull it out there. The beauty of the second approach is that you could put your capture plant anywhere, particularly somewhere where it’s easy to liquefy it and put it into a geological formation to stay out of the atmosphere. And so the direct air capture is the one where you just grab it from the air. And then sort of carbon capture at a plant is the other approach. Both of those are super expensive today.”

[22:22] “[W]hat’s stunning is that up until 2015, rich countries had not increased their energy R&D budgets. And so together with some other leaders, we got that on to the Paris agenda. There was a commitment to double in five years. Now some countries including the U.S. didn’t achieve that. […] We should spend the same amount of R&D on climate that we spend on health. […] [T]he demand policies, […] — which are either tax credit or buy green — the government is absolutely critical there. […] Because, no, innovation alone isn’t going to do the job here. […] [W]e need government partners.”

[39:32] “The U.S. is the country where climate is particularly partisan. And so if young people, including young Republicans, are saying that they care about climate, there ought to be some of the parts of this plan, […] R&D, smart regulations that become bipartisan. Without that, the U.S. could be on such a start-and-stop thing that the kind of massive capital investments in new electricity plants and industrial plants that we need, business won’t see the certainty over these decades to go and make those trillions of dollars of investments. And so we have to think about being bipartisan here. We have people in one party who think this is easy to solve. We have to help educate them on that. We have some people who think it’s not important. We have to educate on that. So I’m hopeful that we get a constancy, like a lot of the key elements of U.S. foreign policy have allowed us to be such a strong presence in the world up until the last four years.”

Rating: 🍎🍎🍎🍎

🎙️ Full Episode: Apple | Spotify
🕰️ 42 min | 🗓️ 02/15/2021
✅ Time saved: 38 min