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Business News/ Opinion / Columns/  Opinion | Greta Thunberg and Bill Gates aren’t on the same side

Opinion | Greta Thunberg and Bill Gates aren’t on the same side

Gates is practical and uses science to find solutions, while Thunberg is an endearing pied-piper

Swedish activist Greta Thunberg (Reuters file)Premium
Swedish activist Greta Thunberg (Reuters file)

Over the past few days, many of us paid attention to two people who have the same goal. One is a loveable 16-year-old Swedish girl who believes the world is going to end, for which she holds capitalism responsible; and the other is a billionaire whose wealth equals about one-fifth of Sweden’s gross domestic product (GDP). Greta Thunberg has become the mascot of climate-alarm; Bill Gates is a hero from another time, once a mascot of much happier things, and “the only person on this earth who I’ve never heard complain about his wife", a baffled man says in the new documentary, Inside Bill’s Brain, that was released on Netflix a few days ago.

Thunberg attracts people who are susceptible to believing any bleak and calamitous prognosis of the world. Gates is admired by prospering optimists who would admire any man who is worth $100 billion, and as a trade-off even listen to him talk about sanitation in poor nations.

Thunberg is particularly endearing to women, many of whom consider the girl’s critics “middle-aged men", which is somehow a descriptive insult today. Several female commentators have used the language of psychiatry when they talk about men who hate Thunberg: “Why does she trigger men?" they ask. On social media, young women are representing Thunberg’s critics through a common meme that young women use to insult middle-aged men: A scene from Game Of Thrones in which a young woman is saying: “Uncle, please sit." It’s a perplexing choice of meme, as it is from a series where “uncles" are no pushovers. Rather, they appear to get a lot of sex from young women.

Thunberg, for no fault of hers, has been co-opted and deified by the climate-alarm industry, which, like all of activism, believes that a bit of drama and exaggeration are absolutely justified for a great moral cause. Recently, a video of Thunberg staring at Trump became popular, with every share goading people to believe that she was giving him a dirty look. And people began to see exactly that, just as some people can be influenced to see human faces on Mars.

Gates is particularly endearing to men who imagine they have arrived at their beliefs by considering “all the facts" and through “logical reasoning". They see in Gates a strategic, masculine solver of the problems of a weak, miserable world, all along aided by an appreciative wife.

Thunberg has Asperger’s syndrome and, through her, everyone in the world who feels vulnerable is reassured by activism, which is after all a flea market of human frailties. Inside Bill’s Brain, on the other hand, reaffirms the great strengths of a billionaire who can read 150 pages of a dense book in an hour “with 90% retention", as a man says, though there is no way he can know what percentage Gates retains of his reading.

“How dare you!" Thunberg recently said to the adults who run the world. “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words." Human suffering, Gates says calmly in the documentary, as though with no emotion, “is a resource-constraint problem".

Despite the differences between Thunberg and Gates, people are led to believe that they are on the same side in the war to control the climate. After all, they share the same goal. But then, goals are often glorified masks of methods. Our fiercest battles have never been over goals, but over methods. All religions and ideologies, and professors who are not sadists, have the same stated goal, which is the welfare of people, but they have fought for centuries over methods.

We care more for our methods than about the world.

Gates, whose foundation spends more money on health than the World Health Organization, is disliked by career activists who generally hate billionaire philanthropists seen to be encroaching on their precious turf and even, preposterously, trying to solve problems using science and corporate methods.

As a businessman, Gates is trained to be practical. A few days ago, he gave an award to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and a self-righteous member of the foundation quit in protest. But from the point of view of Gates, it is a good idea to honour Modi.

Also, Gates has the freedom to seek solutions for climate change in nuclear power, which is among the cleanest fuels. The foundational design of a civilian nuclear reactor that he is developing was laid out by two men, one of whom was Edward Teller, also known as “the father of the hydrogen bomb".

It’s likely that if Greta Thunberg even suggests that nuclear power is a way to end climate change, she will suffer for it because such an idea is repulsive to the sort of people who have canonized her. An activist can only speak truth to people who really don’t matter to her—like heads of state. If she crosses humanitarians and some editors, her aura will fade.

In the future, she might be among the many powerful humanitarians who stand in the way of Bill Gates. The toughest part of Gates’ pursuit is not a quest for the kind of science that will end human miseries; it is battling reformers who have different ideas from him.

“Sometimes, you really have to say: Let’s give up," he says towards the end of Inside Bill’s Brain. “Sometimes, you have to just say: I need to work harder."

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Published: 27 Sep 2019, 02:30 PM IST
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