I have heard some conservationists lament that Bill Gates and his philanthropic foundation don’t “get it” when it comes to the environment — because they focus on vaccines and agricultural development, but not on environmental protection that also contributes to human well-being.

I think Mr. Gates has already “gotten it.”

In his 2009 Annual Letter to the Gates Foundation, Mr. Gates observed:

“It is interesting how often the impact of climate change is illustrated by talking about the problems the polar bears will face rather than the much greater number of poor people who will die unless significant investments are made to help them.”

Maybe if more of us “got” Mr. Gates’ point, there would be greater political will to rein in greenhouse gas emissions and to take the actions necessary to help those who will be victims.

I don’t mean to diminish the value and importance of saving polar bears — that is the mission of conservation organizations, after all.

But climate change will have life-or-death consequences for people — especially poor people — that demand attention too.

Climate change threatens to dry up water supplies, diminish crop yields, and compromise the sustainability of ecosystems and natural resources that people depend on for survival.

Millions of people may become environmental refugees with few places to turn.

Conservationists know how to protect, restore and manage lands and waters so that they can continue to deliver the valuable services that nature provides.

Perhaps the imperative of helping people who might otherwise be victims of climate change will get conservationists and Mr. Gates working together.

But in attitude, Gates is already there.

(Image: Bill Gates speaking at the 2009 TED conference. Credit: jurvetson through a Creative Commons license.)

If you believe in the work we’re doing, please lend a hand.


  1. Sadly, I think more well-off white people care about polar bears than care about poor brown people.

  2. Approximately 25,000 polar bears. 6,000,000,000+ people. Sure, more people are in danger. But our entire species is not at risk.

  3. Brilliant circular firing squad action.

    There is nothing that can be done to slow climate change to save polar bears that wouldn’t also benefit the people Mr. Gates is talking about.

    The sentences preceding the one you quoted read “A big challenge in achieving this goal is that climate change will be making weather conditions more extreme—triggering both droughts and floods—in the tropical areas where most of the poor live. The negative effects will fall almost entirely on the poor, even though they did not cause the problem. I hope that the increased public interest in reducing climate change will also increase the political will to provide aid that will help the poor mitigate its negative effects.”

    Just where exactly is the statement that that Mr. Gates is standing up for either fighting against climate change or supporting efforts to protect natural systems that provide for humans?

    Mr. Gates is an exemplary person. That doesn’t mean that what we do and how we do it isn’t also right.

  4. Where is the green roof? A top a … garage!!!
    How big is the garage? What is the garage for? What is the carbon foot print of the Foundation? What are they doing beyond installing a green roff on their garage?
    Come on…

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