The Foundation’s pushback against disease is matched only by its efforts to alleviate poverty. In an open letter posted online in 2015, Gates' philanthropic organization bet that in the next 15 years, the lives of the poor will improve faster than at any other time in history.
This sounds incredibly optimistic. In fact, more than anything else that permeates through his answers. It’s clear that Gates is an unrepentant optimist even in the face of huge pessimism. Even when the unrelenting pace of climate change is brought up, Gates sounds unnerved, but is clearly focused entirely on solutions.
“In a sense, we have a deadline,” he tells IFLScience. “If we don’t innovate to get new ways of generating new electricity with zero carbon emissions, then we’re going to pay a huge price.”
Separate from the work of the Foundation, Gates personally invests plenty of his own money into low-carbon energy research collectives, including the Breakthrough Energy Coalition, a group also headed by Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos and Virgin’s Richard Branson.
“We’ve got to really get those things invented and deployed during the next 20 years to avoid big problems,” he adds, before emphasizing a common refrain. “Those big problems will hurt the poor countries more than anyone.”
Indeed, plenty of studies back him up on this. One notable analysis suggests climate change will bring with it not just more powerful weather events but also an increased likelihood of war – particularly to developing nations.
Distorting Fact and Fiction
Golden Rice is a GMO crop spearheaded by the BMGF. Thanagon_Stockphotos/Shutterstock
The Foundation’s focus on vulnerable nations is once again brought up during a discussion on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), and the stark opposition of certain politically motivated organizations to the technology. GMOs are perfectly safe for human consumption and have enormous potential for the developing world. In spite of this, many groups and even governments fiercely oppose their use.
Golden Rice is one such example. Spearheaded by the Foundation, this GMO crop aims to deliver an easily cultured source of vitamin A to plenty of those suffering from a serious lack of it in parts of Asia and Africa. Millions of children are blinded as a result of Vitamin A Deficiency (VAD) every single year, and millions die from it. Golden Rice has been genetically engineered to contain high amounts of beta carotene, a key source of vitamin A. It's almost ready for use in agriculture, and not a second too soon.
Over 100 Nobel laureates recently called on Greenpeace – famous for its opposition to all kinds of GMOs – to stop its objection to Golden Rice, stating that they are putting people’s lives at risk. They did so to no avail.
“The fact that some rich countries aren’t going to take advantage of more productive or more nutritious food, that’s not any kind of problem at all,” Gates told IFLScience. “What I would view as problematic is imposing that view on countries where the benefits are quite dramatic – in terms of avoiding crop diseases that lead to starvation, or growing crops that improve nutrition and provide vitamin A to people.”
Ultimately, Gates concludes, “people really need to look at the science,” and not any political messages clouding it.
Arguably, there’s one invention out there today that’s distorting science as much as it’s helping to communicate it and promote it – the Internet. The irony wasn’t lost on Gates when this was put to him.
“It’s easier today than ever to access information,” he told IFLScience. “It’s also the source of incredible misinformation. Some of these very non-scientific viewpoints or non-diverse attitudes are clustering together.”
At present, Gates – like everyone else – cannot see a solution to the matter.
“It’s a bit of an unsolved problem,” he said, nodding slowly. “The next generation that’s thinking about Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat – they really need to work out how [the Internet] becomes more inclusive.”
Once again, that trademark optimism shines through. “I believe that they’ll use the flexibility in the right way, but, you know, you’re more in touch with that young group, seeing how they’re evolving and moving it.”