So, in every My Take interview we do, we ask what people can do together that we can’t do alone. Nearly everyone laughs and says: “everything” before coming up with their real answer. Which is frequently about energy policy and responding to climate change. Because for that? It’s all hands on deck. And to make that true, we need government. And Bill Gates is very clear about that.
He did a long interview with The Atlantic last week that you should read in full. He’s been spending months, years, forever thinking about what we need to do to really change our energy reality to prevent, well, catastrophe.
TL,DR: Government investment in R&D will allow private companies to make the great leaps forward that we need to actually address this problem. Which he thinks should be funded by a dedicated carbon tax. So that our energy usage will solve our energy problems. Because, while private companies and people doing things individually is great, it’s not enough.
He notes that companies won’t do it on their own, because the free market doesn’t create a fortune on its own, and that government has always been involved in making big progress in energy:
Everyone likes to argue about how much the shale-gas boom was driven by the private sector versus government; there was some of both. Nuclear: huge amount of government. Hydropower: mind-blowingly government—because permitting those things, those big reservoirs and everything, you can’t be a private-sector guy betting that you’re going to get permitted. People think energy is more of a private-sector thing than it is. If you go back to Edison’s time, there wasn’t much government funding. There were rich people funding him. Since World War II, U.S.-government R&D has defined the state of the art in almost every area.
Although, he was pretty excited about how extraordinarily effective government research and development is:
When I first got into this I thought, How well does the Department of Energy spend its R&D budget? And I was worried: Gosh, if I’m going to be saying it should double its budget, if it turns out it’s not very well spent, how am I going to feel about that? But as I’ve really dug into it, the DARPA money is very well spent, and the basic-science money is very well spent. The government has these “Centers of Excellence.” They should have twice as many of those things, and those things should get about four times as much money as they do. Yes, the government will be some-what inept—but the private sector is in general inept. How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them. And it’s just that every once in a while a Google or a Microsoft comes out, and some medium-scale successes too, and so the overall return is there, and so people keep giving them money.
Because government is how we come together to solve big problems. It’s the only body that’s really acting for the public good. More concerned about making things better than making a profit. In fact, not about making a profit. And that’s the only way we’re going to be able to address our energy issues. We’re so glad that Bill Gates is #ImagineGov’ing with us and remembering now importantly government paves the way for our health and success.