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The Milton Measure

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Works Towards Clean Energy

by Patrick Huang on Thursday, March 10th, 2016

If you could choose one superpower, what would it be? Time travel? How about teleportation? Better yet, telepathy! With so many options, how could anyone pick the superpower that bests them all? Bill Gates–yes, the same Bill Gates that founded Microsoft–and his wife, Melinda Gates, tackled this question in their 2016 Annual Letter.

In the letter, the couple discusses unresolved global issues by responding to a group of high schoolers’ initial question: If you could choose one superpower, what would it be? Bill replied, “more energy”, while Melinda answered with “more time.” A bit surprising? Perhaps. Realistically, though, how would each of these superpowers–limitless energy and limitless time–improve society, and which idea is more practical?

To be sure, an infinite amount of energy and time would be a perfect superpower for Bill and Melinda Gates who have to keep up with[their foundation work and their three children’s schedules. But on a global scale, more energy and time would also dramatically transform the lives of billions of others.

First, envision a society without energy–one without the Internet, without all the other technological advances we take for granted. This society is a reality for millions of people. In his letter, Bill Gates calls for a generation of innovators to rise up and produce cheap energy solutions to support poor families who live without electricity. He believes, as I do, that by granting a broader portion of the world access to cheap energy, innovators can confer the benefits of convenient communication, efficient hospitals, and refrigeration, etc. to more

Perhaps even more importantly, Bill Gates points out that these energy solutions should be clean ones. After learning from scientists that even cutting carbon-dioxide emissions by half “wouldn’t be enough”, Bill Gates devised an equation to find a way to reduce emissions to zero. He reasoned that the world’s total carbon dioxide emissions consist of a simple calculation that multiplies together a number of variables. But, because some of these variables will rise over time (such as the number of people in the world) or never reach zero (like the amount of energy used by services), the only variable that we can reduce to zero is the amount of carbon dioxide produced by the energy used.

“In short,” Gates says, “we need an energy miracle.” Renewable energy sources, including solar and wind energy, have come a long way and now account for approximately 5% of the world’s energy, but we need even better solutions. To accelerate progress towards an energy miracle, Bill Gates wants the government to step in because they can play a huge role in creating breakthroughs. In addition, he believes that educating the younger generation on energy problems as well as in math and science will increase the amount of people who can take action and make a difference in the world.

In the Gates’s letter, Melinda Gates instead chose to address the issue of unpaid work distribution between genders. She acknowledged that women, on average, spend more time than men working without pay, and she believes that this circumstance hurts everyone. When people end up spending a large amount of time on unpaid work, there are costs. Specifically, Melinda talks about “opportunity cost”, a term that describes everything that a person could have accomplished had she spent her time differently- in this case not doing unpaid work.

She has a three step solution: “Recognize, Reduce, and Redistribute.” “Reducing” might be the most straightforward step of the three. By minimizing the time we spend on tasks like household chores, we minimize the time we (and women especially) spend on unpaid work. Yet, despite increasing innovation, women around the world are still paying hefty opportunity costs. The next step, then, is to “recognize” these issues and “redistribute” the workload.

Melinda Gates calls for us, the younger generation, to raise global awareness by clarifying that everybody’s time is equally important and that social norms need to adapt. After addressing the “Recognize” aspect, Melinda proposes a solution to “Redistribute” the workload: society’s gradual acceptance of fathers spending more time with their family.

Starting with one simple question, we touched on two important issues that plague our society in hopes of recognizing whether Bill or Melinda has the better idea for a superpower. To be honest, however, the comparing of these two superpowers– which should probably be considered equally significant– is not what is important. Instead, in my opinion, the importance lies within each of us, ordinary high schoolers who have the ability to change the world but still need to make that first step. In fact, Bill and Melinda Gates stated that the people who have currently inspire them “have all tapped into a different kind of superpower that all of us possess: the power to make a difference in the lives of others.” The question is then: how will you tap into your own “superpower”?

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Posted by Patrick Huang on Mar 10 2016. Filed under More Opinion, Opinion, Recent Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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