Bill Gates masked up for his ninth “Ask Me Anything” event on Reddit on Friday, taking questions related to climate change, vaccines, conspiracy theories, meatless burgers and more.
The Microsoft co-founder and co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has been promoting his latest book, “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,” and he said in his introduction to the AMA that “there’s been exciting progress in the more than 15 years that I’ve been learning about energy and climate change.”
When he wasn’t working on the book over the last year, Gates said he spent a lot of time working on ways to stop COVID-19.
Both topics figured heavily in the discussion, but for Redditors not especially concerned with his answers on serious topics, Gates was asked if his coding has gotten rusty (yes, because his code no longer goes into shipping products); what his favorite comedy film is (“It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World”); and which “Mortal Kombat” fighter is his favorite (never played).
Check out some of the highlights, edited for length:
Meaty issues: Gates’ love for a good burger, or fake burger, is clearly well known. Several questions and answers alluded to the impact of meat production on climate.
- What niche technology do you believe could play a significant role in the future in the battle against climate change? “We need a lot of technologies — synthetic meat, energy storage, new way of making building materials. … We want to be open to ideas that seem wild.”
- What are you personally doing to consume less? “On the personal front, I am doing a lot more. I am driving electric cars. I have solar panels at my house. I eat synthetic meat (some of the time!). I buy green aviation fuel. … I plan to fly a lot less now that the pandemic has shown we can get by with less trips.”
- Do you think lab grown meat will become widespread and replace livestock? “If the cost of making synthetic meat comes down it might be competitive even without considering climate or animal welfare. There are 2 approaches — one is growing the meat in the lab (cells), the other is using plant material to make the meat. Right now the plant approach used by Beyond and Impossible is cheaper.”
Best burger in Seattle? “I am eclectic. Dicks, Burgermaster, etc. Seattle has a lot of good choices. I encourage people to offer synthetic beef as a choice.”
In this video, I answered some really good questions, including one about two really important numbers. Come ask me some questions of your own on @reddit at 11:15: https://t.co/HXMsI0lSK1 pic.twitter.com/SQ4N1MlxGO
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) March 19, 2021
Misinformation and conspiracy theories: Gates and the Gates Foundation have been targeted throughout the pandemic by conspiracy theorists who believe he wants to get richer off vaccines or use them to track us.
- How [does] misinformation, disinformation, and fake news do damage to society? “This is a huge issue. Some false information is more interesting than the truth so digital channels seem to magnify echo chambers with bad facts. I haven’t seen as much creativity on how we solve this as we need.”
- How do you think misinformation plays a role in the battle against climate change? “The damage in the past was huge. Now the oil companies have stopped funding these things so I think climate denial will go down. There are issues about how we go about reducing emissions but I hope all young people agree that is a critical goal.”
- Any comment on the opinions of r/conspiracy about you and vaccines? “I am innocent! The whole thing about 5G and microchips is pretty crazy. Why would I want to do that?”
- How do you cope with hate, theories and conspiracies about you? “Intelligent criticism is helpful. If people have ideas about how to solve climate that are different from mine or better solutions for global health I want to hear about. Just personal attacks don’t move things forward as much but I don’t let it stop me.”
After you finish your pancakes this morning, come ask me anything on @reddit at 11:15 Pacific Time: https://t.co/R3wfDhtqxD pic.twitter.com/fAPRPUWQtu
— Bill Gates (@BillGates) March 19, 2021
Three more hot topics: Gates’ views on the pandemic, taxing the rich and why he suddenly owns so much farmland also elicited questions.
- Will climate change make future pandemics more common or more severe and how? “I wouldn’t tie them directly. Pandemic risk is hard to compute but with humans invading nature more and more it has gone up. Travel causes fast spread which makes respiratory diseases very scary.”
- What do you think is a reasonable percentage tax rate for the extremely-wealthy to pay? “I have pushed for the estate tax to be higher. I think it is an effective tool for revenue and avoiding dynastic wealth. … Government has to do more — health costs, pandemic recovery, climate investments, foreign aid generosity… So I have pushed for some higher taxes. I have disagreed with some proposals that seem to go too far.”
- Why are you buying so much farmland? “My investment group chose to do this. It is not connected to climate. The agriculture sector is important. With more productive seeds we can avoid deforestation and help Africa deal with the climate difficulty they already face. It is unclear how cheap biofuels can be but if they are cheap it can solve the aviation and truck emissions.”
Gates wrapped up the AMA by thanking users for “all the meaty questions!” He said he would “try to offset them by having an Impossible burger for lunch.”
He also directed Reddit to answer his question: What makes you hopeful that we can reach net zero emissions by 2050?
And he provided his own answer: “There’s more public support for taking big steps to avoid a climate disaster than ever before. It’s inspiring to see governments and companies around the world set ambitious goals for reducing emissions. The world’s power to invent makes me optimistic.”