FOssile fuels are like water. That’s how Bill Gates sees it. He illustrates this thesis with a story told by David Foster Wallace in his famous 2005 speech at Kenyon College in Ohio. It goes like this: Two young fish meet an older fish who asks them: “Moin, boys, how is the water?” The two young fish swim on, then one looks at the other and says: “What the hell is because water? “
The most obvious aspects of our reality, so Wallace’s point, are often those that are most likely to be overlooked. That’s what Gates is all about. Fossil fuels are “so ubiquitous that it can be difficult to identify the multiple ways in which they – and other sources of greenhouse gases – affect our lives.” Toothbrushes are made of plastic, the grain for the muesli is harvested by combine harvesters that run on diesel, and many items of clothing are made of the plastic polyester.
A gigantic project
Gates, who likes to read and recently raved about Barack Obama’s book “A Promised Land” in the “New York Times”, has now published a book with which he has just swept his former president off the top of the “Spiegel” bestseller list. It is called “How to Prevent Climate Disaster”, revolves around human activities that generate CO2, and discusses ways to reduce the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases released annually to zero by 2050.
Zero doesn’t literally mean zero, but almost net zero. The aim is to produce as little carbon as possible and to remove the CO2 emitted from the atmosphere using processes that are not yet available. Not a small project. But the book appears at the right time, because Gates has never polarized as strongly as since the beginning of the corona pandemic. Google has determined that interest in his person in April 2020 was more than twice as high as at the previous peak in June 2006.
Person of the year
The public perception of Bill Gates has changed several times over the past twenty years. In 2001 his company Microsoft was accused of not wanting to give up its monopoly on operating systems and of violating United States antitrust laws. The impression at the time was that competition did not seem to be a problem for Gates as long as others were struggling. For the time being, he wanted to order the constantly expanding software field on his own.
Four years later, Gates, his wife Melinda and U2 singer Bono were voted People of the Year by Time magazine, not because their assertiveness led to economic success, but because they campaigned for poverty reduction. Since Bill Gates withdrew from Microsoft’s day-to-day business in 2006, he threw himself more and more intensively into the work of his Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which was founded in 1999. To date, the foundation has spent more than fifty billion dollars. Nevertheless, its chairman is still one of the three richest people in the world, alongside Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.
First grasshopper, then altruist. First economic, then charitable endeavors. This change seemed dubious to many skeptics. Was there someone looking for a way to get tax breaks? Why did the foundation invest in the controversial agrochemical company Monsanto? And do ethical standards exist for your money at all? The criticism never dried up, but it subsided. Soon Gates was seen as a credible do-gooder whose benefits do not spring from any dubious insider Since the beginning of the Corona crisis, he has even appeared almost as a prophet, warning in 2015 in a “Ted Talk” of the risk of a pandemic. According to his warning, a system must be developed in order to be able to recognize global outbreaks of disease in good time and to be able to react to them.
That too struck some contemporaries as suspicious. Over the past year, conspiracy theorists have discovered Gates as a useful container for their ideas, including dystopian science fiction: the sixty-five-year-old multi-billionaire wants to implant microchips into helpless people through vaccinations and thus build a gigantic surveillance network.