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How Bill Gates (and Vaclav Smil) Can Get it So Wrong on Climate

World Economic Forum/Flickr
World Economic Forum/Flickr

One of the world’s most-admired, richest, and by many accounts smartest philanthropists is spreading dangerous misinformation about humanity’s response to climate change, Andrew Beebe argues in a blog post directed at “upgrading Bill Gates’ reading list.”

The highly influential Gates continues to argue to susceptible audiences that “we need miracles” to re-stabilize the climate and save civilization, Beebe writes. The Microsoft founder’s views, he adds, appear to rest heavily on those expressed in Energy Myths and Realities, a now-six-year-old book by author Vaclav Smil.

In it, Smil argues that clean technologies don’t offer the scale or energy density needed to provide an alternative to fossil fuels. “This belief has been often repeated by Gates,” Beebe writes, “most recently by him and his wife in their February 2016 annual letter from their foundation.”

“The problem with this thinking,” he counters, “is that we do not need additional miracles. [his emphasis] We have plenty of miracles already available. We need to scale these pre-existing technologies as quickly as possible.”

Beebe calls Smil “a smart man. However, his book is filled with significant errors. Gates appears to accept these errors as truisms.”

Beebe tackles and sets out to update three of Smil’s mistakes, showing that the author dismissed the electric vehicle industry too soon, failed to anticipate the “extraordinary cost reduction curve” of electric storage, and confused the price of photovoltaic cells with that of installed solar arrays.

Not that Beebe wants to make an enemy of Gates. “We’re all on the same team here,” he writes. “We know Mr. Gates’ intentions are good.” Still, he urges: “Mr. Gates, let’s refresh your numbers and assumptions—particularly around solar, wind, storage, and transmission.”

3 Comments (Open | Close)

3 Comments To "How Bill Gates (and Vaclav Smil) Can Get it So Wrong on Climate"

#1 Comment By Carl On July 18, 2019 @ 6:11 PM

Beebe is making significant errors in quoting Smil: “the author (Smil) dismissed the electric vehicle industry too soon.” So he is not credible.

#2 Comment By LVogt On May 26, 2020 @ 4:24 PM

You should be providing a link to any articles or authors you reference. Just to say, some guy wrote a blog post is woefully incomplete. eg Who is Andrew Beebe? Why should we care? Where is the posting? etc.

#3 Comment By Mitchell Beer On May 26, 2020 @ 11:06 PM

That’s a good point, thanks. Short version of a long story is that, about 12 to 18 months ago, we shifted formats so that we no longer included precisely that kind of linked attribution at the top of every story. We knew that meant our older archival material would be missing context, but we frankly didn’t have the resources to go back and correct about 14,000 posts. I know it doesn’t answer your larger point, but FWIW here’s the link to Beebe’s original post on Greentech Media: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Lets-Upgrade-Bill-Gates-Climate-Reading-List