Bill Gates' letter to high schoolers: We need an 'energy miracle' to stop climate change

Bill Gates has published his annual letter on behalf of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and for the first time, he directs it specifically at high school students.

While last year’s letter focused on eradicating disease, this year’s note takes on the topic of energy, and he directs it at young people because he believes they will be the ones responsible for coming up with the “crazy-seeming ideas” necessary to combat climate change.

The basic premise of the letter is that many people around the world still don’t have access to electricity. Those people — about 18% of the world’s population — deserve access to cheap, clean energy. But that “clean” part is very important: We need to get carbon dioxide emissions, which drive climate change, down to zero by the end of the century, in order to avoid dramatic, long-term changes to the world’s climate.

Hitting zero will require an “energy miracle,” he says, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. People — like today’s high schoolers — just need to come up with some powerful, economical solutions.

Gates calls for a massive amount of new research:

When I say ‘miracle,’ I don’t mean something that’s impossible. I’ve seen miracles happen before. The personal computer. The Internet. The polio vaccine. None of them happened by chance. They are the result of research and development and the human capacity to innovate.

In this case, however, time is not on our side. Every day we are releasing more and more CO2 into our atmosphere and making our climate change problem even worse. We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas — even ones that might sound a little crazy — if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century.

He suggests that he’s excited about new ways to make wind and solar power available to people even at night, on overcast days, or in areas that don’t get much sun or wind ever — like through batteries that have huge storage capacity. He’s also seen ideas for ways to use solar energy to produce fuel.

“We need to try lots of crazy seeming ideas so we can find a few that help us solve the world’s energy challenge,” he writes.

The note, in its entirety, is funny and inspiring; read it here.

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