Bill Gates raised some eyebrows this week when he suggested that alternative energies would not be affected by the incoming policies of Trump’s administration, which is largely brimming with climate change deniers.
Gates is obviously optimistic that his newly-launched investment fund, which has assembled one of the all-time wealthiest groups of investors and is dedicated to fighting climate change, may flourish even under a climate-skeptic regime. It remains to be seen if even the most Herculean of private pursuits can be successful in the face of global policies and pricing structures that inherently favor the tried-and-tested dominance of fossil fuels. It is important to see our current predicament as a self-reinforcing feedback loop; a sort of hamster wheel spinning on coal and oil, here described by Duncan Clark of the Guardian:
The industrial revolution that kick-started the human impact on the climate was driven by just a feedback. The steam engine enabled us to drain coal mines, providing access to more coal that could power more steam engines capable of extracting yet more coal. That led to better technologies and materials that eventually helped ramp up production of oil as well. But oil didn’t displace coal, it helped us mine it more effectively and stimulated more technologies that raised energy demand overall. So coal use kept rising too – and oil use in turn kept increasing as cleaner gas, nuclear and hydro came on stream, helping power the digital age, which unlocked more advanced technologies capable of opening up harder-to-read fossil-fuel reserves.
It is plain to see that fossil fuels cannot be kicked without a disruption to its supply-and-demand chain, and even harder to see how that may be accomplished without government policies that facilitate this disruption and replacement of dirty energy. While entrepreneurs such as Gates and Elon Musk may stand to benefit from the favorable taxation climate promised by Trump, it is not clear how their technologies will get us off the hamster wheel that looks to only spin faster under the President-elect. Only time may judge Gates’ comments as sagacious or textbook naiveté.