OK, Microsoft founder and tech billionaire Bill Gates didn’t come to the conclusion in the second part of the headline. But, in an extraordinary recent interview in The Atlantic he came close when admitting that the private sector could not solve climate change and that radical government-led action was required.
The private sector can’t do it because there is no money to be made, or at least not enough money.
“There’s no fortune to be made. Even if you have a new energy source that costs the same as today’s and emits no CO2, it will be uncertain compared with what’s tried-and-true and already operating at unbelievable scale and has gotten through all the regulatory problems,” Gates said. “Without a substantial carbon tax, there’s no incentive for innovators or plant buyers to switch.”
He argued that the government needs to lead the process to tackle climate change effectively. More significantly he argued that the state was the best organisation to do so because the private sector was “in general inept.”
“Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area,” Gates said. “The private sector is, in general, inept.”
“When I first got into this I thought, ‘How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget?’ And I was worried: ‘Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that?’” Gates told The Atlantic. “But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these ‘Centers of Excellence.’ They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do.”
The state had demonstrated its capacity and effectiveness in earlier technological advances, including computing and the internet Gates explained:
“In the case of the digital technologies, the path back to government R&D is a bit more complex, because nowadays most of the R&D has moved to the private sector. But the original Internet comes from the government, the original chip-foundry stuff comes from the government—and even today there’s some government money taking on some of the more advanced things and making sure the universities have the knowledge base that maintains that lead. So I’d say the overall record for the United States on government R&D is very, very good.”
Gates thinks that if the government invests enough money on a mutiple of technological possibilities the solutions can be found. In his view, private enterprises like his would then apply those technologies because the profit would be guaranteed.
I wonder why we need to take all the risk and then hand all the benefit over to a billionaire class to further enrich their power and control. It makes much more sense to me if publicly accountable and democratically controlled institution does the whole job.