There are expected to be 9 billion people on this planet by the year 2050. I may be one of them.
Without sounding too much like a brainless beauty-pageant entrant, I hope that one day, we might see an end to world poverty. But is this view inconsistent with the part of me that also wants concrete and effective action on climate change?
I love that once the sun goes down, I get to switch on my lights, watch tv, play on the computer, take a hot shower and so on. But I can’t say to the 1 billion or so people who live without electricity that, sorry, you don’t get to have it because there’s not enough space in our atmosphere for you, too. My ethical compass tells me this is not fair.
But then, I don’t want to sit in a cupboard and cry all day, “it’s no use, we’re all doomed!” I like action and I like the people who do it.
Enter, Bill Gates. He delivered a talk at TED a couple of years ago called Innovating to Zero!. He offers a solution to our energy requirements that is half the cost of fossil fuels and produces zero CO2. It uses depleted uranium – the waste from nuclear reactors – of which the US has enough to last hundreds of years. Hopefully the first TerraPower nuclear reactor, which is still in design phase, does not run any Microsoft software products.
Bill Gates is someone putting money into the research and development of alternative energy sources. (Maybe the billionaire Koch brothers could channel some of their money into something similarly useful instead of funding climate denial think tanks. Hint, hint!) The world needs more rich people like Bill Gates. If you watch his TED talk, Gates says there isn’t nearly enough money spent on research. He also thinks there need to be market incentives to reduce CO2.
As most people probably know, Bill Gates is also throwing money at alleviating world poverty. This includes things like birth control. Recently he launched a new Grand Challenges Explorations grant competition: Develop the Next Generation Condom.
Which brings me to livestock. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) released a report some years ago – Livestock’s Long Shadow – which showed that livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector – cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes. So if you’re feeling guilty about that plane flight you took to Fiji, you should be feeling worse about the meat you eat.
The first thing that happens when people rise out of poverty is that they eat more meat. Do we really want 9 billion people on the planet consuming as much meat as Americans do today? There is no way we can produce enough meat for 9 billion people.
Enter, Science. There is a new industry emerging in food science in which companies are creating products that look like chicken, taste like chicken, but do not contain any chicken. They are made from plants. Read about it in The Future of Food. There is also a company developing eggs that do not come from chickens thereby ending the great debate as to which came first, not the chicken or the egg but the scientist. This field needs to grow, otherwise, we’ll all have to go veggie.