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Bill Gates gives Exxon cover: The Gates Foundation is deadly wrong on climate change, fossil fuels

Repost from Salon.com
[Editor:  Significant quote: “To Bill Gates’ credit he got the equation partly right, when he said that ‘the solution is investment’ in clean energy – a statement he backed up by committing to invest $2 billion in clean energy. However…”  – RS]

Bill Gates gives Exxon cover: The Gates Foundation is deadly wrong on climate change, fossil fuels

When Exxon shares your view, time to reconsider. Bill Gates has divestment, clean energy and fossil fuels wrong

By Alex Lenferna, Nov 7, 2015 08:59 AM PST
Bill Gates gives Exxon cover: The Gates Foundation is deadly wrong on climate change, fossil fuels
(Credit: Reuters/Pearl Gabel)

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s wealthiest charitable foundation, has been under an unprecedented amount of scrutiny regarding their investments in the fossil fuel industry lately.

Alongside a persistent and growing local Seattle-based campaign, about a quarter of a million people joined the Guardian in calling on the Foundation to join the $2.6 trillion worth of investors who have committed to divest from fossil fuels.

In response, Bill Gates has proffered two public rejections of fossil fuel divestment, the most recent in a lengthy interview on climate change in this month’s edition of the Atlantic. Both rejections were based on misleading accounts of divestment which created straw men of the divestment movement, and downplayed the remarkable prospects for a clean energy revolution.

Activists (and kayaktivists alike) were quick to point out the flaws in Gates’ argument and to highlight that by not divesting Gates is supporting the very industries that are lobbying against climate progress and whose business models are deeply out of line with averting the climate crisis. A disconcerting example of this came when Exxon Mobil endorsed Bill Gates’ view. They did so, furthermore, as part of an article attempting to deny their culpability for intentionally misleading the public about the reality of human-caused climate change, and by extension the risks of its product. Like Big Tobacco before them, Exxon are facing calls for federal investigation under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act by no less than Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and more. In order to try and vindicate themselves and justify their deeply problematic position on climate change, Exxon turned to Gates’ views as support.

Gates’ problematic statements remain the only response a representative of the foundation has given, and for a foundation dedicated to a better world, sharing worldviews on climate change with a corporation implicated in one of the more egregious corporate scandals arguably in human history seems like a poor position to be in.

Thus, while the Gates Foundation has, of course, done much good work, such a response to divestment and framing of the climate change issue should lead us to question the intentions and motivations behind Bill Gates, the Foundation and its leaders.

For instance, Warren Buffett, who owns much fossil fuel infrastructure, is the largest donor to the Gates Foundation, with donations of over $31 billion. What role does this play in the Foundation’s unwillingness to divest? Also, does Bill Gates’ chairman role on TerraPower, a nuclear power company, make him more willing to knock down clean energy in order to position TerraPower and their nuclear reactors favorably in the market? After all, the Atlantic interview in which Gates rejected divestment read almost like an advert for TerraPower.

Divest-Invest: Two Sides of the Same Coin

To Bill Gates’ credit he got the equation partly right, when he said that “the solution is investment” in clean energy – a statement he backed up by committing to invest $2 billion in clean energy. However, clean energy investments are only part of the equation; if we are to solve climate change, we also need to wind down investments in the fossil fuel industry and related infrastructure, while breaking the fossil fuel industry’s corrupting stranglehold on politics so that we can unlock the sorts of policies, societal changes and investments needed to tackle the climate crisis.

While Gates claims that divestment is a “false solution” that “won’t emit less carbon” and that there is no “direct path between divesting and solving climate change,” the 2° Investing Initiative (and the International Energy Agency) point out that “divesting from fossil fuels is an integral piece to aligning the financial sector with a 2°C climate scenario,” with reductions in fossil fuel investments of $4.9 trillion and additional divestment away from fossil-fueled power transmission and distribution of $1.2 trillion needed by 2035 if we are to achieve the internationally agreed upon 2°C target.

It seems that even Peabody, the largest private-sector coal company in the world, has a more enlightened view on divestment than Bill Gates. Peabody have recognized that by shifting perceptions around fossil fuels and spurring on legislation, divestment efforts “could significantly affect demand for [their] products and securities.” Peabody’s conclusion aligns closely with that of the researchers at Oxford University’s Stranded Assets Program, whose influential report on divestment illustrates that the political and social power that divestment builds through stigmatizing the fossil fuel industry could also “indirectly influence all investors… to go underweight on fossil fuel stocks and debt in their portfolios.”

Contradicting Bill Gates’ claim that divestment “won’t emit less carbon,” the “radical” environmentalists over at HSBC bank recently issued a research report showing that divestment could lead to less fossil fuel production and less carbon emissions. According to HSBC, divestment could help “extend the carbon budget” by creating “less demand for shares and bonds, [which] ultimately increases the cost of capital to companies and limits the ability to finance expensive projects, which is particularly damaging in a sector where projects are inherently long term.”

The “Miracle” of Clean Energy

Gates also provided a misleading assessment of the economics of the clean energy transition (seemingly out of the pages of a fossil fuel industry misinformation handbook or his favored climate contrarian adviser Bjorn Lomborg). Gates claimed that the only way current technology could reduce global emissions is at “beyond astronomical cost,” such that a “miracle” on the level of the invention of the automobile was necessary to avoid a climate catastrophe.

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