We should not trust tech billionaires to solve the world's climate problem, David Aeurbach recently wrote in Slate. His focus was on the fact that not just these great entrepreneurs, but all of us, must tackle climate change. However, there are some other, and more concerning reasons why we should be sceptical of the billionaire entrepreneurial climate action drive.
At the opening of the Paris Climate Summit (COP21), with the blessing of the White House, Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition (BEA), with an ambitious goal to deal with climate change. 24 billionaire philanthropists have joined in the BEA. They include Richard Branson, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jeff Bezos.
Simultaneously 19 governments, including the United States, China and India, announce "Mission Innovation", a project that will involve tax-payer money to explore and invent new ways to develop low carbon energy.
Not surprisingly, the two organisations will work in tandem. The billionaire philanthropists plan a public-private partnership between governments, research institutions, and investors that will focus on new energy methods especially for developing countries.
Sounds great, doesn't it?
I would be churlish to criticise the efforts of such generous givers as Bill Gates, Richard Branson, and Mark Zuckerberg. But I'm going to do it, anyway.
For a start, this twin project is directed at researching new forms of low carbon energy. A lot of money therefore is to go into trying out new plans, that exist at best, only in blueprint form. Yet already there are in operation large scale and small scale renewable energy projects that could be deployed. In particular, small scale solar energy is very well suited to being deployed in rural India, Africa, and other developing nations, as well as in Australia and other developed nations. It is happening now. Projects such as Barefoot Power have operated for years now, bringing affordable solar power to millions of rural poor in Africa, Asia Pacific, India and the Americas.
The energy need now for poor countries is deployment of existing technologies, not years of research and testing of so far non-existent ones.
Next, what avenues of research will the BEA pursue? Bill Gates gave a clue, in his launch speech on November 29:
The renewable technologies we have today, like wind and solar, have made a lot of progress and could be one path to a zero-carbon energy future. But given the scale of the challenge, we need to be exploring many different paths-and that means we also need to invent new approaches.
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