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« The COP ritual | Main | Greens fade to grey »
Monday
Nov302015

Bill Gates and the strings he attaches

I seem to detect something of a theme emerging ahead of the Paris conference, namely the idea of technological solutions to climate change. There has been something of a buzz on Twitter in recent days, and today comes an announcement that a bunch of eco-minded billionaires are calling for a big spending spree on energy technologies. The group is headed by Bill Gates and they are offering up some of their own money, but with strings attached:

Led by Gates, about 20 private business leaders have signed on to the initiative, making their pledges conditional on governments also pledging more money, said a former U.S. government official who is familiar with the plan.

This is rather odd. If the planet is under threat, and these guys have money burning a hole in their pockets, surely spending it on tech fixes is the right thing to do regardless of what the government does? Why does it only become the right thing to do if much poorer people, who may have different and more immediate priorities, are forced to contribute too?

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Reader Comments (48)

Surely if the tech fixes are going to be so good, these guys would rake it in by self-investing.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterTheBigYinJames

There are two issues here so it is reasonable to seek two sources of funding.

Issue A) The Technology. Bill Gates and co are offering to deal with that. They are techies. It's what they do.
Issue B) The Impact. The world needs saving from AGW only if the impact is high. The Techies are asking, "Is this the World's priority?" Let the people of the world (via their Governments) answer that question.

After all, if the Impact of AGW is not high then the required technology already exists - it's called coal.
And that technology is proven to be able to raise the Third World out of poverty.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

Complaining for the sake of complaining.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:11 AM | Unregistered CommenterAila

They already know that the "renewables" bubble has popped - they are looking to get in on the next one.
By investing early, they not only gain points as good guys, they get to sell before the peak and make a nice profit.
As per Douglas Adams in HHGTTG "Everyone gets rich and no-one is really poor - well, no-one worth speaking about, anyway."

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterKneel

If it's a good idea, then private money will be invested. By definition, anything that is left for the Government (using our money) to be investing in is a bad idea. Think all those failed solar companies, CCS, etc.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:13 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

This is just eco-PR babble to garner a headline or two. There's nothing new in wealthy investors backing R & D into new tech' - that's normal and to be welcomed. If they discover a way of storing electricity at a viable cost then that's actually great news but in any event it's likely years away from being viable at a national level.

Bottom line: we need reliable energy systems that can drive developed nations here and now, hence why 'renewables' are such a failure.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:19 AM | Unregistered CommenterCheshireRed

Why do they want the government to match investment?

It's simple.

I invest £100, government adds £100, business venture loses 45% and I make 10% profit on a losing venture.
When government funds a venture it doesn't take a share of the equity which means that ALL losses are funded by the tax payer and ALL gains go to the private investor.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

How to become a billionaire 1 2 3
1 Steal other people's ideas.
2 Use them to cause problems.
3 Get paid to solve the problems you have caused:-)

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:30 AM | Unregistered CommenterStacey

David Attenborough was on BBC Breakfast this morning, insisting that we seek ways of harvesting, storing and using solar energy. Surely, he should know that Mother Nature / Gaia / call it what you will is already well ahead of us on this, and provides us with free energy in three easily transportable and usable forms – solid coal, liquid oil, and gaseous methane. What is all the fuss about?

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:33 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

RR: David Attenborough is a technological idiot. He should stick to wildlife and he should know know that nature has its own ways of harvesting, storing and using solar energy. It's called plants and fossil fuel.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:45 AM | Registered CommenterPhillip Bratby

Sir David Attenborough:
"If you can put a man on the moon in ten years," you can create cheap renewable energy
How's the cure for the common cold coming along, David? H/T: Mrs J!

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:50 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The answer is simple: to get the biggest bang for the buck. Philanthropists are into the business of buying power.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterCees

We can already tell, from arguments in David MacKay's book, that present renewables will only help low density remote populations, and will have nothing to offer the dense megacities where most people will live in 2050.
The idea of an Apollo programme is also misplaced, as the US went to the moon on the basis of science, engineering and materials solutions that were already known: all the was needed was to 'just do it'.
We need discovery research for new energy sources, but I am sanguine about predicting, let along assuming, any success. Solving the fusion challenge is now a matter of engineering that is over 50 years old!
Only nuclear fission and solar photovoltaic sources of energy have been invested since biblical times!
Serious demand reduction is the only way if CO2 emissions have to be curbed, and I see little leadership in this space: indeed the 30,000 flying to Paris is an obscenity. The climate change community should be taking the lead in sending photons not atoms to such meetings.

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:58 AM | Unregistered CommenterMJK

I predict that Bill will make a packet, until version 10 of his masterpiece comes out, then even the die-hards will click on 'later'

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:03 AM | Unregistered CommenterEternalOptimist

Having seen that clip, Mr A is truly living in cloud-cuckoo land. What does he think many of our main energy suppliers are doing? One thing is for sure – that evil “Big Oil” (boo! hiss! – it is more pathetic than the worst of pantos) is as interested in getting such “free” sources of energy as anyone else! Do people seriously think that “Big Oil” has no interest in maintaining their income, from whatever source they can find? One thing for sure is that they are presently making a killing, providing the plastics for the bird-chopping monstrosities, as well as the huge amounts of fuels used in their installation!

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:09 AM | Registered CommenterRadical Rodent

Kneel
I have no problem with anybody getting rich. "Rich" is relative, anyway. I count myself rich in a lot of ways, none of which require much in the way of money.
We are not going to make much progress if we carp (perhaps that's not what you are doing) at the likes of Gates making money. He's a bad example because he doesn't have a great deal of use for the stuff, as such.
Some years ago he offered Rotary International $100m as part of the fight against polio if RI matched it and that is only one example of his philanthropy. But he does expect his generosity to be matched because that way there is a commitment and he knows he's not simply pouring his surplus cash down the nearest drain, unlike the UK's International Aid for example which is designed, like so much in modern society, to make somebody (in this case Cameron and Osborne) look good in the eyes of those they wish to impress.

As M Courtney says, the techies can sort out the technical bit but if governments aren't going to play their part there's no point. And if creating cheap renewable energy (in Attemborough's definition of that, whatever it may be) was as simple as he makes out it would already have happened.
But let me hammer this point home again. I have more than enough quotes filed away to prove that what the eco-activists do not want above all else is cheap energy. One will do:

Giving society cheap, abundant energy would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.”
Paul Ehrlich

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:11 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

Sir David Attenborough:
"If you can put a man on the moon in ten years," you can create cheap renewable energy "
Ahh but Mr Attenborough it cost an insane amount of money was based on cold war politics and rivalry and was still only just doable with huge risks also we couldn't have done it with out the huge use of oil ,plastics and other now very naughty substances that your mates would drown in their polar bear suits on mass if we used again !

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:12 AM | Unregistered CommenterMatt

Mrs J has the right idea. Some of the most well known and simple problems need the most complex and potentially impossible solutions. The common cold is a good example, others are the anti obesity pill, World peace, long distance space travel, dementia etc.

Once a viable solution is found, the implementation is relatively simple. By the time we started sending rockets into space, most of the tools and technologies already existed. Even then, space travel is still an expensive, dangerous curio. We may have the technology now to solve the energy problem but until someone comes up with the real thing, we have to assume we could be at least decades away.

I know the idea is that the sainted David will sway us sceptics but the only effect is I no longer watch his wildlife progs.

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:29 AM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

...the only effect is I no longer watch his wildlife progs.
Ditto.
But I also believe he's past his sell-by date anyway. Like that other favourite David (Jacobs) who should really have stopped a couple of years before he actually did. (Not that I don't still miss David Jacobs' Sunday night programme; Moira Stuart really is not an adequate replacement!)
It's typical BBC of course. He's a "national treasure" because he's an Attenborough just as yet another David, and Jonathan, are allowed to bore on simply because they're Dimblebys.

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

The question Bill (and Attenborough, if he had any wits left) could ask himself, is why hasn't it already happened if it is so easy and only requires the odd billion or two? Hell, they've spent far more on the professional Cassandra's projects which always only come up with problems ("We're doomed" and "We're more doomed than we thought").

The answer, of course, is that people have already being trying for a long time. It is not an easy problem to solve.

Real solutions are most likely to come from real scientists and real engineers, not environmentalists, bankers, estate agents, or BBC wild-life presenters. And if genuine science is still scorned in favour of enviro-activists and their lame models, while driving industry and engineering jobs to China, then you can be sure the solutions are not likely to come from Western nations.

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:02 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

"I know the idea is that the sainted David will sway us sceptics but the only effect is I no longer watch his wildlife progs."

I steeled myself to watch "The Hunt" on BBCi (I don't do live TV) and I've watched it with growing delight. So far, no mention of climate change/warming, just superb edutainment!

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:04 AM | Unregistered CommenterRoyFOMR

Ye cannae change the laws of physics captain.

http://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=ye+cannae+change+the+laws+of+physics&qpvt=ye+cannae+change+the+laws+of+physics&FORM=VDRE#view=detail&mid=B18A5859D68D9D4E02D1B18A5859D68D9D4E02D1

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterBloke down the pub

Governments are very good at pledging money. Most of it never appears though.

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:20 AM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Re: the cliché that If society can solve {difficult problem A}, it can also solve {difficult problem B}, as reused by David Attenborough.

The recent work of mathematician László Babai has scientifically proved this isn't true - pending peer review.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn28478-complex-problem-made-simple-sends-computer-scientists-wild/

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:22 AM | Unregistered CommenterPete Austin

It should be restricted to thorium.

Nov 30, 2015 at 11:39 AM | Unregistered Commentercedarhill

RoyFOMR, Mike Jackson , the magic is all done by the technical teams. It's a shame to ruin their hard work and brilliance with Aunty Beeb nagging.

Nov 30, 2015 at 12:10 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

@Michael Hart:"The answer, of course, is that people have already being trying for a long time. It is not an easy problem to solve."

I agree. However I think there is a mentality that suggests if we approach things on a "war footing", things will bound to be improved. The problem is that the situation is simply not real. There is no "climate crisis", the planet is just fine, there are oodles of fossil fuels available to get people out of poverty! The climate loons have fallen for the oldest problem in the book, of believing one's own propaganda! The drivel on the BBC this morning was laughable, how they could come out with what they did & keep a straight face was commendable!

Nov 30, 2015 at 12:16 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit

"If you can put a man on the moon in ten years," you can guarantee everyone an above average income.

Nov 30, 2015 at 12:22 PM | Unregistered CommenterSlywolfe

"Behind every great fortune lies a great crime."

Honoré de Balzac

Nov 30, 2015 at 1:01 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

This should be called the "if we can put a man on the moon" fallacy.

Nov 30, 2015 at 1:17 PM | Unregistered Commenterlonetown

If you can make nature a program, you are an energy expert.

Nov 30, 2015 at 1:41 PM | Unregistered CommenterPunksta

The problem I have with Attenborough is that he is a film/tv producer who has been afflicted with the guru syndrome. There has been a trailer on Hong Kong TV for a programme I will not be watching; "Today is my 89th birthday and I'm about to be interviewed by President Obama" The sheer f+++king arrogance of the man. The only thing that stops me throwing something at the TV is that I can't afford a new one and my wife would not be pleased.

Nov 30, 2015 at 2:10 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

VW will be paying compensation cos it's product was flawed
When will the customers of MS Windows be getting compensation for all those hours wasted cos the product didn't live up to expectation ?

Nov 30, 2015 at 2:49 PM | Registered Commenterstewgreen

Mike Jackson, when environmentalists started giving Paul Ehrlich's ideas publicity, it was like giving lots of immature adults machine guns.

Nov 30, 2015 at 3:01 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I've long argued that Microsoft's position in the office software market is unchallengeable.
Even Windows 8 didn't get people to switch from Microsoft and that wasn't fit to run on a desktop PC without a touchscreen.
As competition doesn't constrain or drive Microsoft it needs a different stimulus.

Microsoft should be nationalised.

There's no need for further innovation anyway. Windows XP (with better security and efficiency) is all most people need from an operating system.
Each time a new Windows operating system is released the world's productivity dips as the innovation is grappled with. Yet no-one gets a PC or laptop for the Operating system.
They want to use the tool to do their own work - not learn new Microsoft skills.

Nov 30, 2015 at 3:02 PM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

I'm always greatly saddened when the great David Attenborough gets diverted into climage change bollocks. He's part of my childhood - a grandpa-on-the-telly who could be trusted to tell you true stuff about the natural world.

Nov 30, 2015 at 3:02 PM | Unregistered CommenterMissing Semicolon

Having been, at one time, involved in some research on algal diesel let me make an observation. The programs that I have seen successful in the US have started small, with not a huge amount of money spread over a significant number of projects but only followed with additional money when the first experiments were successful. By then slowly scaling up one can discover and resolve additional problems of scale while still at a reasonable level of expenditure, and programs that don't work out can be cancelled without huge overcommitments.

Unfortunately (as we saw with cellulosic ethanol investments inter alia) the current trend is to start with a small number of very large projects (of the sort Bill Gates seems to be advocating) and in most cases the money is quickly absorbed into administration and infrastructure so that the underlying research parts of the problem that still have to be resolved don't get an adequate share of the funding. The concentration of funding doesn't allow the broad range of examination that has the greater chance of success but rather concentrates in those areas where there is the most pressure from interested individuals and well connected companies, and the chance of final success is thus diminished, while the discouraged researchers who might have found the answer move on to other things.

Nov 30, 2015 at 4:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterHeading Out

@michael hart, Nov 30, 2015 at 11:02 AM

The question Bill (and Attenborough, if he had any wits left) could ask himself, is why hasn't it already happened if it is so easy and only requires the odd billion or two? Hell, they've spent far more on the professional Cassandra's projects which always only come up with problems ("We're doomed" and "We're more doomed than we thought").

The answer, of course, is that people have already being trying for a long time. It is not an easy problem to solve.

Real solutions are most likely to come from real scientists and real engineers, not environmentalists, bankers, estate agents, or BBC wild-life presenters. And if genuine science is still scorned in favour of enviro-activists and their lame models, while driving industry and engineering jobs to China, then you can be sure the solutions are not likely to come from Western nations.

Very true. Way back in 1983 at Uni I was required to investigate and write an essay on "A Future Technology". My choice was Wave (Marine) Energy as I had a fellow biker friend doing his PhD at Edinburgh Uni under Prof. Stephen Salter. I visited their facility in iirc a Chambers Street basement - huge wave tank and other equipment - and talked with Prof. Salter. Now, over 30 years later the "free" energy source he was trying to harvest (without subsidy) at profitable cost has still not been solved even with extravagant FIT subsidies.

Boast time: I was the only student with a contact (not disclosed) and thus impeccable sources and references and scored 92% - over 20% more than 2nd. Essay was all my own work, no proof reading/corrections by biker friend.

@stewgreen, Nov 30, 2015 at 2:49 PM

We will be paying compensation cos it's product was flawed
When will the customers of MS Windows be getting compensation for all those hours wasted cos the product didn't live up to expectation?

One worthy candidate for MS compensation is:
Paderborn Baskets arstechnica.com
Paderborn Baskets theregister.co.uk

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:03 PM | Unregistered CommenterPcar

Nov 30, 2015 at 9:10 AM | Registered CommenterM Courtney

has the correct take. Gates et al aren't climbing on board a bus that isn't leaving the station. They are not proposing doing something unilaterally because they know some people doing something about CO2 emissions is a waste of resources (time and emotional energy as well as money). The problem is bigger than minor tweaks (if it is indeed a "problem" at all, which India, China and Malaysia with their collective shrug don't seem to think it is, at least in relative terms).

When it is personal money, you look for probable results. When it is free money - the way politicians seem to consider taxpayers' money - anything tweet-worthy is reasonable.

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:36 AM | Unregistered CommenterDoug Proctor

Nov 30, 2015 at 10:03 AM | EternalOptimist

... then even the die-hards will click on 'later' ...

Why is everyone doing that? Even I have done it and I have used every version since Windows 2 (excluding Vista of course).

Dec 1, 2015 at 12:43 AM | Unregistered CommenterBilly Liar

To his credit, Gates believes/believed in TWR
I hope he is taking that up, it should be a moneymaker btw.

TWR is a modern fission breeder solution = nuclear reactor with minimal waste maximal energy efficiency (normal fission uses only 3% of the uraniums energy content, breeders pull that up to -cough- 97%)
TWR doesnt need chemical processing (like you need for the old French breeders, or like you need for thorium proposals)
TWR excels in simplicity, its just not tried out to the full

It would have made Gates look better if he stayed away from the COP scamsters btw, especially the Messiah
Is very bad optics to see billionaires schmoozing with politicians, they have destroyed the GOP

Dec 1, 2015 at 2:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterVenusCold

Mike Jackson:
I have no objection to anyone being or getting rich either - with one caveat: it should not be done at the direct and uncontrolled expense of another (eg, taxpayer funding!).
Other than that, if you can make money selling... well, elephant poo for example, then good for you!
If, like the renewables industry, you rely on taxpayers $ to make money, then I object - strenuously!

Dec 1, 2015 at 2:45 AM | Unregistered CommenterKneel

'When government funds a venture it doesn't take a share of the equity which means that ALL losses are funded by the tax payer and ALL gains go to the private investor.'

Right on, Terry.
This is a case of capitalising your profits and socialising your losses.

Dec 1, 2015 at 5:17 AM | Unregistered CommenterIan G

"If you can put a man on the moon in ten years, you can create cheap renewable energy"

What a stupid thing to say.

Would it bear repeating again, do you think, that one of those was a money-no-object do-whatever-it-takes engineering project, while the other is a physical impossibility?

Even if I did repeat it again, would he (or anyone else who matters) listen?

Silly old ass should stick to gorillas.

Dec 1, 2015 at 7:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

Mike Jackson above.
Mrs Aprodite and I have found the cure for the common cold, arthritic knees, and hips and toes.
It is called Global Warming.
We are 'suffering' from 25 degrees Centinite (sarc) here in Pafos at 1100 local (0900gmt).
I can tell you it is no fun having to move sunbeds away from the encroaching shade of the damn Palm trees.
We are spending our grandchildrens inheritance, and our winter 'fool' allowance for 3 weeks away from the Scottish commune.
Yesterday we visited Archbishop Makarios (was he Scottish?) 30 foot high statue up in the Troodos mountain.
It got we wondering, could we erect a statue to our own Bishop on a Fife Hill?
Off topic as usual, but wots rong wid lite relief?

Dec 1, 2015 at 9:38 AM | Unregistered Commenterpatrick healy

Silly old ass should stick to gorillas.

Dec 1, 2015 at 7:38 AM | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Duffin

There are a number of his fellow gorillas who are obvious much more intelligent than him.

Dec 1, 2015 at 10:15 AM | Unregistered CommenterStephen Richards

Nothing wrong with imagining we can produce cheap renewable energy. The problem is that we are removing the existing cheap and reliable power supplies prior to having suitable replacements.

Dec 1, 2015 at 2:05 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I'll try to be clear.

Patents generally run 17-20 years.
From design board to full scale demonstration a nuclear reactor takes 20 years.

Even if a private investor were to fund all the R&D on a 4th or 5th generation nuclear reactor..they would have no way to achieve a return on investment. As soon as the full scale reactor was demonstrated then competitors would copy the concept.

Hence...we either need patents on 'new energy' technology to be 40 years or we need governments to kick in some cash.

Dec 2, 2015 at 4:27 PM | Unregistered Commenterharrywr2

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