Monday, Mar 9, 2009 04:55 EDT
The heat is on Bill Gates
By Joseph Romm
"A big challenge in achieving this goal [of tripling incomes] is that climate change will be making weather conditions more extreme -- triggering both droughts and floods -- in the tropical areas where most of the poor live. The negative effects will fall almost entirely on the poor, even though they did not cause the problem. I hope that the increased public interest in reducing climate change will also increase the political will to provide aid that will help the poor mitigate its negative effects. It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the much greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them."
If they haven't already, they should read "Design to Win: Philanthropy's Role in the Fight Against Global Warming," funded by six foundations whose work was overseen by leading scientists and energy technologists. The report details clean energy strategies for China and India, and how to implement market-based solutions to preserve tropical forests in Africa, Asia and South America.
Since the Gates Foundation has seen the benefits of making U.S. investments in education, the options for action are almost limitless. One leading foundation, which works in the area of international development, on issues similar to those of the Gates Foundation, is contemplating a major effort to help develop a consensus-based process to speed the transition to a smart green grid in the United States.
Gates does not have to enter the messy political realm to make a major contribution. As a technology junkie who has built his foundation around technological fixes, he could champion transformational clean technologies, like concentrated solar thermal power (CSP), what I have called the "technology that will save humanity." A small piece of the north African desert could provide that continent (and Europe) with all of its electricity, sustainably, forever. Indeed, one of the big advantages of CSP is that it operates best in deserts. Employed near coasts, CSP can simultaneously provide clean power and desalinated water, another critical component for developing countries in a climate-changing world.
Even devoting a mere 15 percent of his current grant-making to clean energy strategies, a $500 million annual investment, would make Gates the leading grant-maker in this area. His leadership would focus the global climate effort on sustainable development for the poorest. And it would underscore the commitment that he and his wife have to spend out all the foundation's money by 2100. Which is just when the world's poor will need it most if we don't act now to preserve a livable climate.