Excerpts of Bill Gates speech at TED TALKS in 2010 reveals why he invested billions in vaccines, political takeover, health, energy and environment.
If you gave me only one wish for the next 50 years — I could pick who’s president, I could pick a vaccine, which is something I love, or I could pick that this thing that’s half the cost with no CO2 gets invented — this is the wish I would pick. This is the one with the greatest impact. If we don’t get this wish, the division between the people who think short term and long term will be terrible, between the US and China, between poor countries and rich, and most of all, the lives of those two billion will be far worse.
First, we’ve got population. The world today has 6.8 billion people. That’s headed up to about nine billion. Now, if we do a really great job on new vaccines, health care, reproductive health services, we could lower that by, perhaps, 10 or 15 percent. But there, we see an increase of about 1.3.
These breakthroughs, we need to move those at full speed, and we can measure that in terms of companies, pilot projects, regulatory things that have been changed. There’s a lot of great books that have been written about this. The Al Gore book, “Our Choice,” and the David MacKay book, “Sustainable Energy Without the Hot Air.” They really go through it and create a framework that this can be discussed broadly, because we need broad backing for this. There’s a lot that has to come together.
Now, we put out a lot of carbon dioxide every year — over 26 billion tons. For each America, it’s about 20 tons. For people in poor countries, it’s less than one ton. It’s an average of about five tons for everyone on the planet. And somehow, we have to make changes that will bring that down to zero. It’s been constantly going up. It’s only various economic changes that have even flattened it at all, so we have to go from rapidly rising to falling, and falling all the way to zero.
CO2 is warming the planet, and the equation on CO2 is actually a very straightforward one. If you sum up the CO2 that gets emitted, that leads to a temperature increase, and that temperature increase leads to some very negative effects: the effects on the weather; perhaps worse, the indirect effects, in that the natural ecosystems can’t adjust to these rapid changes, and so you get ecosystem collapses.
The second factor is the services we use. This encompasses everything: the food we eat, clothing, TV, heating. These are very good things. Getting rid of poverty means providing these services to almost everyone on the planet. And it’s a great thing for this number to go up. In the rich world, perhaps the top one billion, we probably could cut back and use less, but every year, this number, on average, is going to go up, and so, overall, that will more than double the services delivered per person.
Now, efficiency, “E,” the energy for each service — here, finally we have some good news. We have something that’s not going up. Through various inventions and new ways of doing lighting, through different types of cars, different ways of building buildings — there are a lot of services where you can bring the energy for that service down quite substantially. Some individual services even bring it down by 90 percent.
There are other services, like how we make fertilizer, or how we do air transport, where the rooms for improvement are far, far less. And so overall, if we’re optimistic, we may get a reduction of a factor of three to even, perhaps, a factor of six. But for these first three factors now, we’ve gone from 26 billion to, at best, maybe 13 billion tons, and that just won’t cut it.
So let’s look at this fourth factor — this is going to be a key one — and this is the amount of CO2 put out per each unit of energy. So the question is: Can you actually get that to zero? If you burn coal, no. If you burn natural gas, no. Almost every way we make electricity today, except for the emerging renewables and nuclear, puts out CO2. And so, what we’re going to have to do at a global scale, is create a new system. So we need energy miracles.
The last three of the five, I’ve grouped together. These are what people often refer to as the renewable sources. And they actually — although it’s great they don’t require fuel — they have some disadvantages. One is that the density of energy gathered in these technologies is dramatically less than a power plant. This is energy farming, so you’re talking about many square miles, thousands of times more area than you think of as a normal energy plant. Also, these are intermittent sources.
The sun doesn’t shine all day, it doesn’t shine every day, and likewise, the wind doesn’t blow all the time. And so, if you depend on these sources, you have to have some way of getting the energy during those time periods that it’s not available. So we’ve got big cost challenges here. We have transmission challenges; for example, say this energy source is outside your country, you not only need the technology, but you have to deal with the risk of the energy coming from elsewhere.