Bill Gates has a habit of unleashing insects when he gives his lectures. Last year at TED (Technology-Environment-Design) it was a jar full of mosquitos which he used to demonstrate the importance of solving what he felt was the world's #1 problem — insect-born disease, in particular malaria.
For years Gates has frustrated the likes of Al Gore for putting climate change on the back burner, emphasizing health issues as the main focus of his philanthropic Gates Foundation. This, despite the reality that climate change is largely driving mosquito epidemics in Africa.
But that changed at this year's TED conference. Last night Bill Gates unleashed not mosquitos but fireflies, demonstrating visually that the planet's #1 problem is energy — dirty energy to be precise — and the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the burning of fossil fuels that consequently drives climate change. According to Gates, climate change poses a threat far greater to human health than any one specific disease.
Gates advocates for a heavily funded 20-year period of R & D which could bring scalable technologies such as biofuels and reprocessed nuclear fuel stocks, followed by a 20-year period of implementation, at which point (2050) we could go fossil-fuel free. Last year I had the chance to visit the nuclear research labs at LANL and saw the amazing array of research projects on reprocessing highly radioactive, highly toxic waste materials to make for safer, cheaper nuclear energy.
I spoke to dozens of the world's top nuclear scientists and came to two conclusions:
(1) Our civilization will largely be powered by advanced (clean) nuclear energy in the future and
(2) advanced nuclear is a long way off. From most of the scientists, I heard a timeline of 10-20 years for functioning prototypes (then another 20 for bringing the technology to scale) which is right in line with Gate's plan.
Now that Gates is in the energy game, nuclear just might have a shot at becoming a viable solution for our climate-challenged planet.