Bill Gates was interviewed in the Thursday June 25th Financial Times, about global warming investments, and he said some remarkably stupid things, but explaining what he said requires a lot of intelligence; so, maybe what he said isn’t actually that stupid. Might he be an idiot savant? Perhaps there’s a deeper truth here.
After all, idiot savants should be respected in the areas where they have their gift, but not outside it. Occasionally, distinguishing between an idiot savant and a genius can be hard to do.
For example, at the beginning of the 20th Century, Henry Ford was considered to be a genius of industry and of technology, and he was sometimes America’s wealthiest person, but he was also a bigot, and no one can be stupider than that; so, he was just an idiot savant, after all. He was additionally famous as a philanthropist, having founded the Ford Foundation, but his donations to Hitler’s Nazi Party and his propagandizing in the United States against Jews and for the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” hoax, might have done the world more harm than his Foundation ever did good. It certainly helped to produce World War II, Hitler’s war to exterminate all Jews.
Global warming will do even more harm in the world than anti-Semitism has done; and the only way that it might be prevented from actually destroying the world is if very little of the already-discovered fossil-fuel reserves that are in the ground will ever be sold and burnt – in other words: used. This is the subject that Bill Gates was talking about; so, the key scientific finding about “unburnable reserves” must be stated, as it was clearly expressed in the 25 January 2013 study “Oil and Carbon Revisited: Value at Risk from ‘Unburnable’ Reserves,” from the giant global bank HSBC,
The IEA’s World Energy Outlook (2012 edition) estimated that in order to have a 50% chance of limiting the rise in global temperatures to 2ºC, only a third of current fossil fuel reserves can be burned before 2050. The balance could be regarded as ‘unburnable’.
That’s for only a 50% chance of a livable world in 2050: “only a third of current fossil fuel reserves” can be burnt by that time; the remaining two-thirds must be wasted (left permanently in the ground), if we’re to have just a 50% chance.
Obviously, that’s not good enough. We need a 100% chance of a livable world in 2050; and, if that’s no longer possible, then we’ve got to do everything that we can to approximate as closely to a 100% chance as we can. Two-thirds of current reserves being simply wasted – left forever in the ground – won’t be good enough. It’s got to be as close to 100% as we can make it.
But, for Bill Gates, what’s not good enough seems to be instead too good, too much. He doesn’t want merely for those two-thirds to be burnt; he wants even more oil and gas and coal to be discovered; he wants to add yet more to these unburnable reserves.
And, so, Agence France Presse headlined on 26 June 2015, “Fossil fuel divestment alone will not halt climate change: Gates,” and they reported that he is investing some of the money of his ‘charity,’ the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, “in carbon-spewing companies like BP” – the oil giant that caused the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.
This money that his Foundation is investing props up these companies’ stock prices, so that even more oil and gas can be discovered and added to their existing stockpile of unburnable reserves. Exploration, after all, is what a company like BP does: it explores for and develops – sends to market – yet new sources of unburnable oil and gas. If it doesn’t explore for yet more oil and gas and coal, then it simply dies. There are all of those sunk costs, which will kill it, even when they stop exploration altogether. If the assets that they’ve discovered in the past can’t be sold, then certainly new such assets can’t be sold – but Bill Gates wants his ‘charity’ to pay (indirectly) to discover more such ‘assets.’ He apparently wants to burn the planet. But, he says he doesn’t; so, Gates himself also personally “will invest $2 billion in green energy.” Doesn’t seem very smart, does it?
The Financial Times interviewed him and reported that he was “rejecting calls from environmental campaign groups for shareholders to dump holdings in oil and gas companies, on the grounds this will have little impact.” That “little impact” is actually the only chance to salvage our planet. If investors don’t drive down the market-value of fossil-fuels companies, then there will be even more unburnable reserves added to those that these companies have previously wasted money to discover; and those companies will thus become even more desperate to advertise and lobby against governmental actions to stop global warming; so, not only will governmental actions to stop global warming be further delayed, but the companies themselves are doomed anyway. It’s just stupid, but that’s the way the real economy (not the fake one in the textbooks) actually works. It works like the debt-buildups and crashes in 2008, and in today’s Greece, and elsewhere, have worked: crashes which can be predicted with certainty, and which become the worse the longer they’re held off, but whose precise timing is always in doubt among the public (but known among the aristocracy, such as Gates) until the crash suddenly comes. (The world, and economic theory, are corrupt as hell, in order to leave the public-at-large holding the bag at the end, almost every time.) Not only those companies will be doomed; but, by virtue of this needless delay, the planet itself will also be doomed. This is just obvious to any intelligent person; but (if we are to believe him) it’s simply not obvious to Bill Gates. Does he actually believe in the tooth-fairy?
Henry Ford didn’t care enough about past history for him to get past history right. Bill Gates, apparently, doesn’t care enough about future history to get future history right.
It’s even more important to care about the future, than it is to care about the past. But Bill Gates is either an idiot, or else he doesn’t really care about the future, because any investment in a fossil-fuels company is going largely into discovering yet more unburnable reserves. That’s so simple. Why doesn’t he get it? Is he – like Henry Ford was – really just an idiot savant?
The odd thing is that, whereas Gates wants his ‘charity’ to lose money on fossil-fuel stocks that are doomed to become a total waste (they’ve already got more reserves than they’ll ever sell), his personal funds are simultaneously buying alternative-fuels stocks that will be benefiting from replacing those fossil-fuel companies. It’s interesting that, while his ‘charity’ will be losing money, he personally will be gaining money.
The inverse relationship between the values of fossil-fuels companies versus renewable-fuels companies is already evident from stock indexes that follow these things. Here you can see the 5-year performance of renewable-fuels companies; and here you can see the 5-year performance of fossil-fuels companies. Whereas the former are steadily going slightly upward (and a purer fossil-free index has performed even more steeply upward than that), the latter (the fossils) are highly volatile and already seem to be heading slightly downward. Clearly, fossils are at least a little worse than alt-fuels stocks on the overall trend, but they are lots worse even than that when their additional extreme volatility is taken into account. On 25 August 2014, Bloomberg issued a report, “Fossil Fuel Divestment: A $5 Trillion Challenge,” and at the end on page 17, this puff-piece for staying in fossils characterized renewable-fuels investments as having the disadvantage of being “volatile” as compared to fossil-fuels companies – something that they had offered no data to support, and which those three links I just provided show to be the exact opposite of the reality: the renewable-fuels companies are far less volatile, and also have better trendlines. Perhaps billionaires need the public to buy fossil-fuels stocks because that’s what they must themselves get rid of. They know that the sector is inevitably heading for a crash. They know that only a 50% chance of a livable world in 2050 won’t cut it much longer. They thus must sell their trash ASAP, and they need people to buy it.
So: maybe Bill Gates is no idiot after all; maybe he is instead using his ‘charity’ in order to help suppress the current market value of the alt-fuels stocks that he is buying (at those artificially suppressed market-values) for his personal portfolio. Maybe the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is basically a racket for him, not just regarding ‘charity’ tax-deductions, but, even more, in order to suppress the current market value of the stocks that he’s buying right now, so that he’ll experience even bigger capital gains on them as more and more people subsequently dump oil-and-gas-and-coal companies (such as his ‘charity’ is buying) in order to invest in alt-fuels stocks (which he will then be selling – presumably at hefty profits). He just doesn’t care about the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation losing some of its money, so long as this will boost his own net worth.
Maybe Gates is intelligent, after all – an intelligent psychopath, that is.
Well: he seems to be a lot like Henry Ford, after all, doesn’t he?
Or, is he, instead, an idiot savant, who is intelligent only about investing, and who has no real conscience – none but the one that he fakes (via his ‘philanthropy’)?
However, that would be just a specific type of intelligent psychopath, wouldn’t it?
Whatever it is, it’s the real world; it’s the way a real economy works – or, at least, ours does.
Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010, and of CHRIST’S VENTRILOQUISTS: The Event that Created Christianity, and of Feudalism, Fascism, Libertarianism and Economics.