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Bill Gates Approves of Biden/Manchin climate bill: ‘May be the single most important piece of climate legislation in American history’

Always good for a laugh, the New York Times opinion page has few peers as a dependable repository of supreme silliness. Day after day, year after year: It delivers ignorance of basic facts, bad analysis, endless non sequiturs, dishonesty by omission. All of that and more (or less) for a very reasonable price; it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.

And the editors have succeeded in their never-ending quest to reach new depths: Bill Gates informed us recently that The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) “may be the single most important piece of climate legislation in American history.” That, of course, is damnation with faint praise, as Congress for decades steadfastly has refused to enact “climate legislation” — measures yielding an actual reduction in greenhouse gas emissions — for the obvious reason that any such laws would increase energy costs dramatically, an impact that would not prove salutary for the political prospects of politicians voting for it. Instead, efforts to force massive dislocations in U.S. energy markets for the most part have taken the form of regulatory maneuvers and litigation both deeply dubious and dishonest, that is, paths that decidedly shunt aside the consent of the governed.

For its part, Congress has contented itself with an endless series of massive subsidies for producers of unconventional (that is, hugely expensive and unreliable) electricityfuels, and electricvehicles, all of which would collapse if forced actually to compete with conventional energy and transportation technologies. Ignore the propaganda that those subsidies are tools to address the “climate crisis.” “Climate” policies would have effects on climate phenomena effectively equal to zero, a point to which I turn below.

Far more centrally these efforts are payoffs for rent-seekers: the producers of uncompetitive energy and EVs, labor unions, states and localities interested in ever-more subventions from the Beltway, the federal bureaucracy striving for bigger budgets and more coercive power, an ideological left intent upon exerting ever-more control over the lives of the masses, and on and on. The climate industry writ large — the rent-seekers, the ideological left, the bureaucracy — is enormous and enormously destructive, economically, environmentally, and politically. Can it surprise anyone that these policies As an aside, the common argument that producers of fossil fuels too receive large subsidies is a lot of hooey.

Back to Gates: His assertions are as follows.

  • “Americans are experiencing the effects of climate change” [in the form of] extreme heat, drought, floods, and wildfires.
  • The IRA will facilitate “an energy future that is cleaner, cheaper, and more secure.”
  • “Net-zero emissions” of GHG is an essential goal that would “help build a modern, reliable power grid” providing “access to affordable, abundant, and clean energy” instead of the “summer blackouts, power shortages, and high electricity bills” now confronting “many Americans.”
  • The “incentives and investments… would catalyze a new era of American innovation” reducing the risk that we will fall “behind other countries [building] their own clean energy economies.”
  • “Clean energy industries… could create millions of jobs.”
  • “Solving climate change… will require fundamentally transforming… how we do everything.”

The extreme effects of climate change. Gates is happy to parrot the mindless climate “crisis” — or “existential threat” — assertions so ubiquitous in the public discussion and among the right-minded, but those are not consistent with the evidence. Anthropogenic climate change is “real” — increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHG are having detectable effects — but the data on climate phenomena do not support the “crisis” narrative.

Temperatures have been rising in fits and starts, but as the Little Ice Age ended no later than 1850, it is not easy to separate natural from anthropogenic effects on temperatures and other climate phenomena. And some part of ongoing trends is natural: Temperatures increased about 0.5°C from 1910-1945, which could not have been anthropogenic because atmospheric GHG concentrations over that period increased only from about 300 parts per million in 1910 to 310 ppm in 1945 (from 278 ppm in 1750 to about 414 ppm in 2021). The latest research in the peer-reviewed literature suggests that mankind is responsible for about half of the approximate temperature increase of 1.1°C since 1880.

There is little trend in the number of “hot” days since 1895; 11 of the twelve years with the highest number of such days occurred before 1960. NOAA has maintained since 2005 the U.S. Climate Reference Network, comprising 114 meticulously maintained temperature stations spaced more or less uniformly across the lower 48 states, 21 stations in Alaska, and two stations in Hawaii. They are placed to avoid heat island effects and other such distortions as much as possible; the reported data show no trend over the available 2005–2021 reporting period. A reconstruction of global temperatures over the past one million years, using data from ice sheet formations, shows that there is nothing unusual about the current warm period.

Global mean sea level has been increasing at about 3.3 mm per year since satellite measurements began in 1992. (That would sum to about 13 inches over the course of a century.) The tidal-gauge data before then show annual increases of about 1.9 mm per year, but that comparison cannot be interpreted as an acceleration in sea-level rise because the two datasets are not comparable. The tidal gauges do not measure sea levels per se; they measure the difference between sea levels and “fixed” points on land that in reality might not be fixed due to seismic activity, tectonic shifts, land settlement, etc. Accordingly, the data are unclear as to whether there is occurring an acceleration in sea level rise. It is reasonable to hypothesize that there has been such an acceleration simply because temperatures are rising due to both natural and anthropogenic influences, and such increases should result in more melting ice and the thermal expansion of water. But because rising temperatures are the result of both natural and anthropogenic causes, we do not know the relative contributions of those causes to any such acceleration.

The Northern and Southern Hemisphere sea ice changes tell different stories; the arctic sea ice has been declining, while the Antarctic sea ice has been stable or growing. U.S. tornado activityshows either no trend or a downward trend since 1954. Tropical storms, hurricanes, and accumulated cyclone energy show little trend since satellite measurements began in the early 1970s. The number of U.S. wildfires shows no trend since 1985 (acreage is driven heavily by perverse management practices in government forests), and global acreage burned has declined over past decades. The Palmer Drought Severity index shows no trend since 1895, and during the past century the percent of the globe in drought has not changed.

U.S. flooding over the past century is uncorrelated with increasing GHG concentrations. The available data do not support the ubiquitous assertions about the dire impacts of declining pH levels in the oceans. Global food availability and production (Charts 28 and 46) have increased more or less monotonically over the past two decades on a per capita basis. The IPCC itself in the Fifth Assessment Report was deeply dubious (Table 12.4) about the various severe effects often asserted to be looming as impacts of anthropogenic warming. So much for Gates’ warnings about the adverse effects of climate change that Americans supposedly are “experiencing.”

Moreover, while applauding the asserted reductions in GHG emissions to be engendered by the IRA, Gates fails to mention the benefits of increasing atmospheric concentrations of GHG, as reported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and in the peer-reviewed literature. Examples are planetary greening, increased agricultural productivity, increased water use efficiencyby plants, and reduced net mortality from cold and heat. Do the potential adverse effects of anthropogenic warming outweigh the benefits? That is hotly (!) debated.

And, Gates, supposedly a smart businessman, also neglected to tell us what effect the IRA — “the single most important piece of climate legislation in American history” — would have on future climate phenomena. So let us do that for him, using the Environmental Protection Agency climate model. The U.S. GHG emissions reduction claimed by the proponents of the IRA is 40 percent (below 2005 levels) by 2030, a deeply problematic assertion for reasons that I ignore here. The temperature effect by 2100: 0.044°C. Because the standard deviation of the surface temperature record is 0.11°C, that effect that would not be detectable.

This central benefit/cost question is so basic and so obvious that it cannot surprise anyone that the journalists and opinion editors almost never think to ask it. That calculation, again using the EPA climate model, reveals the following projections. Net-zero U.S. GHG emissions: 0.137°C by 2100. The entire Paris agreement: 0.141°C. A 50 percent reduction in Chinese GHG emissions: 0.146°C. Net-zero emissions by the entire Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development: 0.278°C. A global 50 percent reduction in GHG emissions: 0.544°C. Are such policies even plausible as a political matter? Note that GHG emissions in 2020 fell by about 6.4 percent driven by a global decline in real GDP of 3.4 percent attendant upon the COVID pandemic. Can anyone believe that even larger GHG reductions — and the attendant economic costs — would fail to create riots in the streets? Is there a believable benefit/cost analysis that would justify such policies?

An energy future that is cleaner, cheaper, and more secure. The common description of unconventional energy as “clean” is deeply disingenuous, as it shunts aside the massive environmental problems attendant upon such energy technologies.  Because the energy content of wind and sunlight is unconcentrated, and because of the theoretical limits on the conversion of the energy in wind flows and sunlight into electric power, a renewables electricity system for the U.S. would require the use of massive amounts of land; my conservative estimate is land use 15 percent greater than the entire land area of California.

The production process for wind turbines, apart from the heavy use of steel, concrete, and other such industrial materials, requires significant amounts of such toxic heavy metals as neodymium and dysprosium for the magnets. For the most part these metals are mined in China, where environmental controls are lax, to put it mildly. Such heavy metals could be produced in the U.S., but the environmental requirements would increase costs massively. The disposal problem for solar-panel waste — as much as 78 million metric tons worldwide by 2050 — is acute, in particular because of the lead, cadmium, chromium, and other toxic metals that are released when the panels are broken as a central part of the disposal process.

The disposal problem for wind turbines — in particular, the magnets and the massive blades — is only now beginning to be recognized. The noise and light-flicker effects of wind turbines are serious problems that siting choices can solve only partially at most. And there is the wildlife destruction attendant upon the operation of wind farms and solar fields: Large numbers of birds are killed by wind turbines and by the scorching temperatures in solar “flux” regions where mirrors focus sunlight at solar towers.

Because wind and solar generation is intermittent, backup conventional units must be deployed in order to preserve system reliability. (Even the strongest proponents of unconventional electricity recognize that regular blackouts and brownouts are not an option.) Those backup units must be cycled up and down depending on whether the renewable units are producing enough power to satisfy demand loads. That cycling reduces the operating efficiency of the backup units — more gas or coal must be burned for a given amount of backup power — and under a broad range of conditions increases net emissions of conventional pollutants and GHG; the net reduction in the latter will be far less than advertised. Moreover, the U.S. power system is an alternating current one in which generators must be synchronized at 60 hertz. Only conventional units can perform that function; wind and solar units cannot be ramped up and down in response to disequilibria. Despite casual assertions to the contrary, batteries cannot solve this problem because even a massive battery-backup system could not maintain output for more than several hours. Without conventional backup units available, the absence of constant synchronization will yield repeated blackouts even apart from the fact that wind flows and sunlight are intermittent.

At a more general level, the forced substitution of energy expensive and unreliable in place of competitive forms will make the economy smaller, that is, poorer. Will a poorer society be willing to invest more or less in environmental protection? The question answers itself.

Gates did not explain why the massive subsidies extended yet again in the IRA are needed if wind and solar power are “cheaper.” (He is far from the only promoter of climate policies to engage in such dishonesty.) As Pravda in its glory days used to put it: Is it an accident that California has average retail power rates 70 percent higher than the national average? For the U.S. as a whole, the simple correlation for 2010-2020 between electricity rates and the wind/solar capacity market share is 0.624; between electricity rates and the wind/solar generation market share it is 0.598. Does Gates want to argue that these relationships are spurious? The European experience is identical qualitatively and worse quantitatively.

Consider the Energy Information Administration (Table 1b) estimates of levelized generation costs for conventional and unconventional power technologies.

Technology                             Levelized Cost (year 2021 dollars per mWh)

Ultra-supercritical coal                                   82.61

Combined-cycle gas                                       39.94

Nuclear                                                            88.24

Hydroelectric                                                  64.27

Onshore wind                                               158.09-168.78a

Offshore wind                                               254.37-265.06a

Photovoltaic solar                                         154.35-165.04a

Hybrid solar                                                  170.39-181.08a


Total of EIA reported levelized cost plus combustion turbine backup cost (lower figure) or plus battery storage cost (higher figure). These sums are the appropriate figures because the intermittent nature of wind flows and sunlight, and the inability of wind and solar generation facilities to synchronize the grid at 60 hertz (the U.S. case), mean that the economic costs of blackouts would have to be included in the levelized cost figures.


Even given the sharp upward bias in the EIA estimate for coal-fired generation: How do these estimates support Gates’ assertion that wind and solar power are “cheaper?”

What does Gates mean in his assertion that the massive subsidies for unconventional energy will yield an energy future that is “more secure?” He cannot possibly mean that wind and solar power are more reliable than conventional electricity; that would be a blatant falsehood, as California now is discovering. Does he mean that U.S. natural gas supplies somehow are less “secure” than wind flows and sunlight? Given that the latter are not predictable on a day-to-day basis, and given the massive increase in U.S. natural gas production attendant upon the fracking/horizontal drilling revolution, this interpretation of Gates’ argument is not to be taken seriously. And yet again: Look to Europe for the future that Gates applauds for the U.S.

About those “summer blackouts [and] power shortages.” Is Gates actually arguing that it is conventional electricity technologies that are the source of recent supply problems? The latest reliability report from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation makes it very clear that it is the expansion of wind and solar capacity and the premature retirement of conventional capacity — coal-fired plants in particular — that have yielded the growing problem of inadequate power availability in various parts of the U.S. Perhaps Gates can explain why these reliability problems have worsened as the market shares for unconventional electricity have grown.

“A new era of American innovation” and millions of jobs.” Gates apparently does not understand the difference between market-driven creative destruction yielding a larger aggregate economic pie, and a policy-driven artificial destruction of some substantial part of the energy-producing and -consuming capital stock yielding a smaller economy and greater poverty. The latter is the central feature of “climate” policies — the artificial substitution of expensive and unreliable energy in place of conventional energy far less expensive and more reliable — driven by a profound ideological opposition to fossil fuels.

“Innovation” in the Gates framework means the massive use of valuable investment resources to replace the capital stock destroyed economically by climate policies. Accordingly, what Gates calls “innovation” is actually a very large economic cost. The same is true for the “millions of jobs” that Gates and other proponents of climate policies assert as a benefit of those policies. Let us shunt aside the deeply-dubious premise that increasingly expensive energy would result in expanded employment in the aggregate. The more central point is that the use of valuable labor resources in unconventional energy sectors means that those workers cannot be employed elsewhere; that is the classic definition of an opportunity cost. Would Gates claim that a massive use of steel and concrete and fuels and other resources in the production of unconventional energy is a benefit or a cost of that energy? The same is true for labor. Gates fails to make a crucial distinction: Policy favoritism toward expensive energy might make those hired (and the producers of steel, etc.) better off; but the economy as a whole would find itself worse off.

Transforming “how we do everything.” Even small policy shifts create winners and losers, and big changes entail massive economic, social, and political implications that the phrase “transformation of ‘how we do everything’” does not begin to capture. Does Gates actually not understand the totalitarian implications of such central planning? The transformation of “everything” by its very nature means that government on a massive scale will replace market forces in the determination of the winners and losers of economic and social processes, chosen by bureaucrats and politicians subjected to enormous political and ideological pressures.

Has Gates thought about the attendant implications for the coercive and confiscatory power of the State? The inexorable result would be ever-greater social and political strife, poverty, suffering, and human degradation; is this really what he seeks? Attempts to “transform everything” through central planning are not new, a history that does not offer hope that the outcomes would be characterized as humane.

Gates applauds the IRA even though one central dynamic in the bill is a huge wealth transfer from pharmaceutical producers to unconventional energy interests. Among the many initiatives of his foundation is the Global Health Program, dedicated to “unprecedented action to fight deadly diseases and improve health in developing countries.” Perhaps Gates can explain how the inevitable adverse effects upon pharmaceutical innovation — the ongoing development of new and improved medicines — to be engendered by the IRA can be made consistent with that objective. Accordingly, Gates has endorsed the standard leftist stance that the plight of the desperately poor in the less-developed world is not as important as the ideological opposition to fossil fuels. Has Gates thought about this?

Vaclav Smil’s latest book demonstrates the obvious: Achievement of net-zero GHG emissions is a fantasy for a time horizon of less than three decades, and perhaps ever.  At the top of the front cover is an endorsement: “There is no author whose books I look forward to more than Vaclav Smil.” Who wrote that? Answer: Bill Gates! Did he actually read Smil’s book?

One would think that Gates would have recognized how unserious he has made himself out to be. One would think that the blatant dishonesty of the “Inflation Reduction Act” title might have led him to ask what other deep mendacities are lurking within the bill. One would think that Gates would have placed a higher value on the preservation of his longer-term credibility rather than the pursuit of fleeting applause at all the right cocktail parties. One would think that the NYT opinion editors would not have chosen to highlight their abject ignorance and the intellectual depths to which they have sunk by posting Gates’ column. And in all of those dimensions: One would be wrong.


Benjamin Zycher is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.