How Bill Gates Would Solve the Climate Crisis

It takes a lot -- perhaps a minor miracle -- to put more than a thousand people in a celebratory mood at 7:30 a.m. And apparently, a public discussion with Bill Gates about climate change and its solutions is just such an occasion.

This week, the former Microsoft chief and current philanthropist and head of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation served as the main attraction at a fundraiser in Seattle put on by Climate Solutions, a regional non-profit organization with operations in Washington, Oregon and Montana.

During the breakfast event, Climate Solutions promoted its mission of clean energy solutions, in part through the premiere of its Solutions Stories video series, and in part through presentations from other regional environmental and political leaders, including Dean Allen, CEO of architecture and construction firm McKinstry; Climate Solutions' policy director, K.C. Golden; Washington state governor Christine Gregoire and Representative Jim McDermott were also in attendance.

But the real reason the crowds had thronged, and Climate Solutions had gathered dozens of volunteers wearing bright green hard hats as greeters and coordinators to welcome attendees, was to hear Bill Gates speak on climate change challenges and solutions, and how to, as Golden put it, "pioneer a sustainable path to prosperity that works for us for the long run and for the billions of people around world" who are less privileged.

Breakfast with Bill

Gates was interviewed by Climate Solutions' board co-president Jabe Blumenthal, who asked Gates about his interest in energy, climate change and how these topics relate to the work being done by the Gates Foundation. Excerpts of Gates' answers to Blumenthal's questions follow:

Q: How and why did you get involved in climate change?

Gates: I think it's important to think about energy and how critical it is in so many ways. Why has our civilization gotten so advanced in the last few hundred years? A lot of it is about breakthroughs in energy and intensification of energy use. If you think about poor people and improving their lives ... getting around, getting fertilizer, getting lighting at night ... so many of the things that count for them are related to energy.

As I learned about energy, I began to understand that we've got this constraint. We have to do it in a way that's not emitting CO2. We need multiple breakthroughs -- a portfolio of solutions--that deal with the environment and getting the costs down. In terms of overall planetary energy use, we have to have something that works for everyone. I've enjoyed learning about it and helping people understand how important this is.

Q: Can you talk about what you've done in the past couple of years to educate yourself about this area?

Gates: The number of great books in this area is phenomenal, including Creating the Twentieth Century by Vaclav Smil and Sustainable Energy -- Without the Hot Air by David MacKay. I'm also very lucky that some of the top people on climate and energy are willing to come and talk with me.