Cross-posted from Climate Progress.
Bill Gates is one very confused billionaire philanthropist.
He understands global warming is a big problem — indeed, his 2012 Foundation Letter even frets about the grave threat it poses to food security. But he just doesn’t want to do very much now to stop it from happening.
He loves techno-fixes like geoengineering and, as we’ll see, genetically modified food. Rather than investing in cost-effective emissions reduction strategies today, or in renewable energy technologies that are rapidly moving down the cost curve, he explains that the reason he invests so much in nuclear research and development is “the good news about nuclear is that there has hardly been any innovation.” Seriously!
His letter includes the ominous chart above, and he warns of the dire consequences of climate change:
Meanwhile, the threat of climate change is becoming clearer. Preliminary studies show that the rise in global temperature alone could reduce the productivity of the main crops by over 25 percent. Climate change will also increase the number of droughts and floods that can wipe out an entire season of crops. More and more people are raising familiar alarms about whether the world will be able to support itself in the future, as the population heads toward a projected 9.3 billion by 2050.
And yet, as the AP reported this week, the wealthiest of all Americans gets very prickly if you don’t wholeheartedly endorse his techno-fix, adaptation-centric approach to dealing with this oncoming disaster:
Bill Gates has a terse response to criticism that the high-tech solutions he advocates for world hunger are too expensive or bad for the environment: Countries can embrace modern seed technology and genetic modification or their citizens will starve …
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has spent about $2 billion in the past five years to fight poverty and hunger in Africa and Asia, and much of that money has gone toward improving agricultural productivity. Gates doesn’t apologize for his endorsement of modern agriculture or sidestep criticism of genetic modification. He told The Associated Press that he finds it ironic that most people who oppose genetic engineering in plant breeding live in rich nations that he believes are responsible for global climate change that will lead to more starvation and malnutrition for the poor.
Resistance to new technology is “again hurting the people who had nothing to do with climate change happening,” Gates said.
The real irony is that most people who diss efficiency and renewables and aggressive greenhouse-gas mitigation, like Gates, live in rich nations that are responsible for global climate change that will lead to more starvation and malnutrition for the poor.
Where is the story that says “countries to embrace existing technology to reduce emissions or their citizens will starve,” or “resistance to aggressive low-carbon technology deployment is again hurting the people who had nothing to do with climate change happening”?
This is not a blog on genetic modification, so I’ll just quote the AP story:
Bill Freese, a science policy analyst for the Washington-based Center for Food Safety, said everyone wants to see things get better for hungry people, but genetically modified plants are more likely to make their developers rich than feed the poor. The seed is too expensive and has a high failure rate, he said. Better ways to increase yields would be increasing the fertility of soil by adding organic matter or combining plants growing in the same field to combat pests, he said.
The biggest problem with those alternatives, Freese said, is the same one that Gates cited in high-tech research: A lack of money for development.
I will say that while you can make drought-tolerant crops, I seriously doubt that you can make Dust-Bowl-tolerant crops — and so without mitigation, Gates’ efforts will likely have only a marginal impact on reducing the utterly preventable catastrophe.
I applaud Gates for warning people about the threat that climate change poses to billions of people. Here’s another chart his letter has on who will be harmed most by rising food prices:
But the fact is, as Oxfam and others have made clear, global warming is poised to make food vastly more expensive, which will be devastating to the world’s poor no matter how much money Gates dumps into GM crops.