The green sounds so future — and so close.
California’s banning the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035, but don’t worry: You’ll have a Tesla charging at home, powered by renewables like solar and wind. And, if corporations don’t want to change over to renewable energy quickly enough, banks can always tank their ESG score and force them to. Won’t it be wonderful?
You’d think Bill Gates — the billionaire former Microsoft CEO and current climate-change scold — would agree. After all, the man just authored a book called “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” so you’d think all this would be like a soft purr of a wind turbine to his ears.
However, while Gates is a scold, he’s also a realist — and, at a 2018 conference, he put green energy utopians in the hot seat.
Gates, speaking at Stanford University’s Global Energy Forum, was asked by session chairman Arun Majumdar about the promise of non-nuclear, non-carbon energy.
“A lot of people are very optimistic, as you know, with wind and solar, the renewables cost coming down, the battery costs are coming down,” Majumdar said. “Do you think that’s enough?”
A mockingly dismissive Gates said no — and gave a reason why it wouldn’t work.
The planet’s major cities alone consume more energy than alternatives to fossil fuels can currently produce.
“That is so disappointing,” Gates said. “I mean, really … Here’s Tokyo, 27 million people. You have three days of a cyclone basically every year,” meaning the city would be deprived of solar or wind power.
“It’s 22 gigawatts rate over three days,” Gates said. “You know, tell me what battery solution is going to sit there and provide that power?”
Furthermore, he said pricing energy so that individuals use less of it wasn’t going to work, either.
“You know, a hundred dollars per kilowatt hour — that’s nothing,” he said. “That doesn’t solve the reliability problem — and remember, electricity is 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”
Gates also expressed frustration at bankers who think they can accelerate the changeover to renewable energy by choking off money to companies that emit too much carbon.
“I was at this conference in New York … all these financial guys got on stage and said, ‘oh, we’re going to rate companies in terms of their CO2 output,'” Gates recalled.
“‘We’re gonna say, this company puts out a lot of CO2, and financial markets are magical and all of a sudden, the CO2 will stop being emitted.’ And I was like, OK, how do you make steel?”
“Do you guys on Wall Street, do you have something in your desks that make steel? Where’s the fertilizer? Cement? Plastic?” he continued, briefly sounding like the kind of Republican liberals loathe.
“Where’s it going to come from? You know, do planes fly through the sky because of some number you put on a spreadsheet? So, the madness of this so-called ‘finance is the solution’ — I just don’t get that. There is no substitute for how the industrial economy runs today.”
Of course, finance still thinks it can make this happen. Hence the wonderful world of ESG — or environmental, social and governance scoring — which can determine a company’s access to capital.
Even with that, it’s still not enough, with some Democrats on Capitol Hill demanding banks stop investing in new oil and gas products almost immediately. When one CEO said this would be “the road to hell for America,” Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib lost it:
Rep. @RashidaTlaib challenges bank CEOs to agree to stop funding fossil fuels, is rejected by every single one
Jamie Dimon: “That would be the road to Hell for America” pic.twitter.com/U7yr6AbtyF
— Tom Elliott (@tomselliott) September 21, 2022
Say what you will about Gates, a definite climate scold, but he occasionally lives in reality. According to Fortune, Gates said during a Bloomberg “Zero” podcast on Thursday that expectations people would “utterly change their lifestyle because of concerns about climate” are “unrealistic.”
“You can have a cultural revolution where you’re trying to throw everything up, you can create a North Korean–type situation where the state’s in control,” Gates said.
“Other than immense central authority to have people just obey, I think the collective action problem is just completely not solvable.”
Instead, he said that “not that many people are prepared to be worse off because of climate requirements.”
Those are bedrock realities the Democrats haven’t been able to resolve.
In political terms they might calculate it’s worth the risk. Many might think voters won’t throw them out of power once forced energy austerity is put into place because there are enough upper-middle-class Tesla buyers to keep them in office.
Others might think they can enact enough difficult-to-undo policies before the polity catches on.
But in practical terms, it’s different. When even Bill Gates knows this is all unworkable, it’s time for a rethink — unless, of course, they want to start taking crash-course lessons from the prison guards of Pyongyang.
CORRECTION, Oct. 3, 2022: An earlier version of this article included an incorrect reference to the type of vehicles banned in California by 2035. The order applies to gas-powered vehicles.
Truth and Accuracy
We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.