Bill Gates says telling people to stop eating meat and buying big houses will never solve climate change

September 30, 2022, 11:45 AM UTC
Bill Gates seen walking outdoors at a conference in Idaho.
Bill Gates, pictured in July 2022, told Bloomberg’s “Zero” podcast that "not many people are prepared to be worse off because of climate requirements."
Kevin Dietsch—Getty Images

Climate change will never be solved by asking or expecting others to live greener lifestyles, according to Bill Gates.

Speaking on Thursday’s episode of Bloomberg’s Zero podcast, Gates said expectations that people were going to “utterly change their lifestyle because of concerns about climate” were “unrealistic.”

“You can have a cultural revolution where you’re trying to throw everything up, you can create a North Korean–type situation where the state’s in control,” he said. “Other than immense central authority to have people just obey, I think the collective action problem is just completely not solvable.”

Gates, the fifth richest person in the world, has long publicized his interest in bringing the climate crisis under control—by writing a book titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, advocating for green innovation, and investing in the space himself.

Although Gates has a long history of working to alleviate the effects of climate change, the Microsoft cofounder stressed in Thursday’s episode of Zero that “not that many people are prepared to be worse off because of climate requirements.”

“Anyone who says that we will tell people to stop eating meat, or stop wanting to have a nice house, and we’ll just basically change human desires, I think that that’s too difficult,” he said on Thursday. “You can make a case for it. But I don’t think it’s realistic for that to play an absolutely central role.”

Possible solutions

Gates, whose foundations have invested hundreds of millions in climate initiatives, said last year that so-called Green Premiums—which offer people the chance to pay more to do or consume the same things without the emissions—could be a viable solution to reducing emissions without demanding people rethink their consumption habits.   

The billionaire philanthropist, who said he pays $9 million a year to counteract his carbon footprint, told podcast host Akshat Rathi that a better solution is to invest in green innovations—but he noted that there are various other important social issues competing for funding.

“But just having a few rich countries, a few rich companies, and a few rich individuals buy their way out so they can say they’re not part of the problem, that has nothing to do with solving the problem,” he added.

Gates also poured cold water on theories that green energy solutions could reduce Western reliance on Russian natural gas exports anytime soon.

“When people say to me, ‘Hey, we love your climate stuff, because we can tell Putin we don’t need him,’ I say, ‘Yeah, 10 years from now call him up and tell him you don’t need him,’” he told Bloomberg’s Rathi.

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