Bill Gates: Fossil Fuel Divestment a False Solution; Humanity Should Innovate its Way Out of Climate Change

The Atlantic recently published an article interviewing Bill Gates, who is arguing for a dramatic increase in investment to innovate for fossil free energy. 

Bill Gates wants innovation to drive humanity's response to climate change through a big investment push for technological innovation to arrive at a carbon-free energy source. Specifically, Gates wants this push to begin with government-funded R&D, which would then be followed up by spin-off investment from private actors that can afford to take big risks. He called on the U.S. government to triple its budget for energy research to $18 billion USD annually. 

Gates notes that current levels of investment in clean energy are nowhere near where they need  to be in order to avoid the disastrous consequences of climate change. The reason for this, he argues, is that private sector R&D for clean energy is too low because, frankly, there is no fortune to be made by investing in fossil fuel innovation: "the incentive to invest is quite limited, because unlike digital products - where you get very rapid adoption and so, within the period that your trade secret stays secret or your patent gives you a 20-year exclusive, you can reap incredible returns - almost everything that's been invented in energy was invented more than 20 years before it got scaled usage." Gates acknowledges that the government doesn't always pick the right 'winners' but notes that it is no worse at this than the private sector: "How many companies do venture capitalists invest in that go poorly? By far most of them." 

Gates argues that strategies like divestment promote false solutions and are counterproductive -because the only viable way to go off fossil fuels is through a real alternative. Divestment campaigners have since reacted against the criticism. For example, Tim Ratcliffe at argued that divestment was a necessary step to weaken the political power of the fossil fuel industry, and as such was an important prerequisite to moving forward on climate action.