Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Gates of Heaven

Well, it's official: I don't hate Bill Gates anymore.

I was already on the fence about him, because on the one hand, he turned Windows—which I loathe in all its forms—into the dominant operating system in the world, so that now even those of us who hate it have to use it in order to be compatible with everyone else. But on the other hand, he has taken the billions he made from this venture and invested them in things like worldwide vaccination and better agricultural techniques, helping to ward off famine and pestilence around the globe.

Then today, I read in my "Climate Minute" newsletter that Gates is devoting millions of dollars to the goal of developing carbon-free energy sources—the silver bullet as far as alleviating global warming is concerned. Here's a quote:

Today, we're very dependent on cheap energy. We just take it for granted—all the things you have in the house, the way industry works. I'm interested in making sure the poorest countries don't get left behind, so figuring out how they can get cheap energy is very, very important. Whether it's fertilizing crops or building housing, a lot of it comes down to energy.
Investigating further, I discovered that back in February, Bill Gates gave a talk about clean energy at the TED conference. One of the big technologies he highlighted in the talk was a new type of nuclear reactor that can run entirely on depleted uranium—something we already have enough of in this country to meet our energy needs for the next 100 years. The company in question is named TerraPower, and the new reactor it's developing is called a traveling wave reactor, or TWR. And Bill Gates is one of its biggest investors. So I'd definitely bet on it to be a financial success, because if that man can out-compete every rival with an inferior product, then just think what he'll be able to do with a truly superior technology. (I'd have bought some of their stock myself, but it's a privately held company.)

The point is, we're talking about a machine that can take spent nuclear fuel, something we desperately need to get rid of safely, and turn it into cheap, clean energy, something we desperately need more of. This is ecofrugality on a grander scale than anything I've ever conceived of before, and Bill Gates is the guy who's going to make it happen. How can I possibly go on hating him?

I still hate Windows, though.
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