Yes, it’s elitist. Yes, sometimes the presenters and their audience can be too full of themselves. But I’ve yet to attend a day of TED when something hasn’t made me rethink something. We had all of that today.
I am disappointed to report that, unlike yesterday, no one on the stage destroyed any mosquitoes with a bright green laser. But, except for one very wrong move (inviting the far more unfunny than uncomfortable Sarah Silverman) and the occasional dud (people: don’t read papers and call them speeches!), the long day was full of delights both profound (George Church’s investigations into synthetic biology) and ridiculous (you have not lived a full life until you’ve seen a tattoo of Maury Povich and Bigfoot shaking hands).
One of the day’s strongest talks was by Bill Gates. He’s spoken at TED previously on a variety of topics, among them education and malaria (last year he set free some mosquitoes from the stage to make a point about the latter). Today he directed his mind toward energy and climate; in particular how to get CO2 levels to zero. He builds that on what has become conventional wisdom among sustainability scientists: that the temperature will keep going up until we cut CO2 almost down to nothing. He presented an equation in which
Total CO2 = People x Services Per Person x Energy Per Service x CO2 per unit of energy.
So, if he’s right, one of the variables on the right of the equal sign has to go down to zero. He argued why it won’t be any of the first three and focused on the last one, CO2 per unit of energy. I suspect TED will post Gates’ talk soon; we’ll point to it and let the man speak for himself. But he looked at what needed to be done — reducing and converting fossil fuels, managing nuclear energy in ways that are safe and don’t promote proliferation — and concluded we still need “an incredible miracle.” He’s investing in these areas and he was clear that he’s early on in thinking about his problem, but one hopes he uses the same precision of vision he used for everything from organizing his foundation to vanquishing the Netscape browser.