It’s rare that I consent to watching television but I was drawn recently to a Bill Gates documentary on Netflix, Inside Bill’s Brain. Note – I did wonder whether streaming is actually television per say, but since ‘tele’ come from being far or distant in Greek, transmitting from afar, such as telegraph, streaming is television after all! So yes, I watched television. Don’t judge me!
There were three outstanding items from the documentary: the first was Bill’s sanitation project, taking normal everyday poop and turning it into drinkable water and combustible fuel; the second was solving the world’s energy crises via redesigning nuclear reactors using spent nuclear waste as the powering source; and the final item was simply on his reading fanaticism. I try to read, God know I wear my finger out, but there are books that just take time. Having just finished Christopher Hitchens’ God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything in about two weeks (not reading constantly, you understand – am not that slow!), I generally went though a few chapters an hour. Bill Gates reads at an alarming 150 pages an hour, and imbibes every ounce of it. Bastard!
My pettiness aside (really, one hundred and fifty pages, come on!!) those two pet-projects of his could save hundreds of millions of lives per year – this without going into the eradication of polio which he and his wife, Melinda, have championed for years. In air-lifting/building a communal toilet to the most impoverished parts of the world and providing clean water as a by-product is simply astounding, ironically vastly improving the odds of almost 2 billion people that use a drinking water source contaminated with faeces, leading to dysentery, cholera, typhoid et cetera. Dysentery alone kills 140m people a year! Chuck in a few bars of soap as per a previous post on the Checklist Manifesto, and The Gates’ are single-handedly saving the human race (for which the planet may not thank him). Nuclear power on the other hand is a heavy topic, primarily because so many people have seen the repercussions of when it goes wrong. There are 450 in operation worldwide, but a single error such as Chernobyl or Fukishima results in unmitigated disaster. Interestingly there are none in Australia. What Bill saw was the necessity for a design re-vamp, which he and his team duly undertook. The result, if it works, is something that could change the entire perception of nuclear power worldwide. Speaking to a friend about it, he referred to is as a thorium reactor, and you can read more about it here in the Business Insider. I’m not a guru in business enough to know if Bill and Melinda Gates back turkeys often, but if Bill believes in it, and the eminent Warren Buffet backs Bill, then it’s worth keeping an eye on TerraPower.
It's heartening that after conquering the technological world, having more wealth than Croesus and being able to achieve anything Melinda and Bill want to do, they choose philanthropy. Giving something back.
You can read more about Bill Gates and his many projects at his blog gatesnotes.com.
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