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Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft and one of the world's richest men and most prolific philanthropists, has just released a broad new plan on how the U.S. could take the lead in the fight against climate change.
"[We] need to revolutionize the world’s physical economy—and that will take, among other things, a dramatic infusion of ingenuity, funding, and focus from the federal government. No one else has the resources to drive the research we need," Gates writes.
With a new Biden administration set to take over the reins of government, the timing for Gates' suggestions couldn't be better. The outgoing Trump administration was singularly opposed to combating climate change, rolling back regulations, withdrawing from international agreements on climate change mitigation and sweeping aside science in favor of specious arguments from the industries that had the most to lose from a recognition of the threats of anthropogenic climate change.
Gates calls for a dramatic $25 billion boost in spending that would bring clean energy research spending to $35 billion a year (in line with medical spending from the government). Gates notes that this could lead to the creation of more than 370,000 jobs while boosting a clean-energy agenda.
Gates noted that Americans spend more on gasoline in a single month than the government spends on climate-related research.
Beyond simply spending more money on research, the Microsoft-made billionaire called for the creation of a network of "National Institutes of Energy Innovation."
"This is the most important thing the U.S. can do to lead the world in innovations that will solve climate change," Gates wrote.
Modeled on the National Institutes of Health, the largest financier for biomedical research in the world, Gates called for the Energy Innovation Institutes to comprise separate institutions focusing on specific areas. One would be an Institute of Transportation Decarbonization while others could focus on energy storage, renewables or carbon capture and management, Gates wrote.
Gates also suggested that each organization should be tasked with the commercialization for innovations that come out of the lab. "It's not enough to develop a new way to store electricity that works in the lab -- to have any impact, it has to be practical and affordable in real-world settings. The best way to ensure that is to encourage scientists to start their research with an end-use in mind."
Finally, Gates called for the institutes to be located around the country -- just like the Department of Energy or NASA have laboratories and research facilities spread around the country.
In addition to the research facilities and spending boosts, Gates called for a program of tax incentives and energy standards that could make markets for more clean-energy tools.
There are already pieces of legislation making their way through Congress like the Clean Energy Innovation and Jobs Act and the American Energy Innovation Act that could help the federal government move toward a more nimble and focused setup, Gates acknowledged. But both of these laws have stalled.
Gates' climate plan comes as more than 40 major U.S. companies penned an open letter to the incoming Biden administration to do more to address climate change.
"Our communities and our economy are enduring not only a devastating pandemic but also the rising costs of climate change," the companies wrote. "Record wildfires, flooding, hurricanes and other extreme weather are upending lives and livelihoods. And science makes clear that future generations will face far greater environmental, economic and health impacts unless we act now."
And yesterday, the medical journal "The Lancet" released a sweeping survey documenting the health impacts associated with environmental catastrophes, pollution and climate change.
Heat waves, air pollution and extreme weather increasingly damage human health, the report said. As National Public Radio reported, the report makes an explicit connection between death, disease and burning fossil fuels.
"Many carbon-intensive practices and policies lead to poor air quality, poor food quality, and poor housing quality, which disproportionately harm the health of disadvantaged populations," the authors of "The Lancet" analysis wrote.
Even in a divided government, there's much the Biden administration can do to make a significant dent in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
As TechCrunch reported, a large portion of any infrastructure-related stimulus could contain significant spending on climate change mitigation-related technologies.
“A lot of the really consequential climate-related stuff that’s going to come out in the [near term] … won’t actually be related to renewables,” an advisor to the president-elect said.
However, if the Democrats manage to wrest control of the Senate from Republican leadership in the aftermath of the January 2021 runoff elections in Georgia, then the possibility of a more muscular climate agenda -- one that could incorporate Gates' suggestions -- could be on the table.