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The 2016 Annual Letter from Melinda and Bill Gates:

In which John discusses the annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates, the key role energy production has played in reducing child mortality and improving people's lives, the risks now posed by that energy consumption due to climate change, how poverty is worsened by gender disparity in unpaid work, and our collective need to acknowledge problems if we want to solve them.

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Cut myself shaving for the 761st time. Stupid shaving always ruining everything.

Good Morning Hank, It's Tuesday.

So 2000 years ago something like half of people died before the age of 5. 1800 years later, in 1800, the global under 5 mortality rate had gone down from somewhere around 50% all the way down to somewhere around 43%, but then it began declining dramatically like by 2013 the Global Child Mortality Rate wasn't 50% or 43%. It was 3.4%. In wealthy Countries it's under 1%. How did this happen? Well in the new annual letter from Melinda and Bill Gates, Bill Argues persuasively that the key to these big changes in Health and development was and is energy. The whole letter is fascinating, you should read it there's a link in the doobly doo, but I wanna highlight a few big points.

So okay there are about 1.3 billion people how don't have regular access to the kinds of energy that most of us take for granted, and that has a huge impact on their lives. Like without electricity, kids can't study after dark, except by candlelight, and they can't access online resources like Wikipedia. Without tractors and energy-intensive fertilizer, people grow less food. And without running water, it's almost impossible to sterilize healthcare centers, so it's no surprise that the 18% of humans living without regular electricity are more likely to die of preventable diseases and malnutrition and much less likely to have access to good schools. They are also, by the way, disproportionately affected by climate change, which is especially unfair. You know, because by and large they haven't experienced that much benefit from the fossil fuel consumption that's a big driver of climate change. For instance, the average person in Bangladesh uses 98.8% less oil than the average American. And therein lies what I think will be the biggest question of this century: How do we get energy solutions to the 1.3 billion who don't yet have them while also dramatically reducing carbon emissions? The answer? Lots and lots of people trying lots and lots of solutions, most of which will fail, but a few of which will hopefully succeed spectacularly. Otherwise we're in big trouble.

So Hank, back in 1800, you probably would have been one of the 43% of people who didn't live to age five. You had a bunch of serious infections as a kid. This would have been bad for you obviously, but it also would have been somewhat bad news for the rest of us because you've gone on to do some cool stuff. Companies you started employ a lot of people, you've helped me and many others understand important scientific concepts, you invented 2D glasses, which allow people to see 3D movies in a crisp two dimensions, et cetera! And basically, advances in health and development have allowed the world to contain more Hanks, which is great, but now we need even more of them. We need as many Hanks as we can get! Because we know from history that when lots and lots of innovators work on big problems they find big solutions.

And that leads me to the second half of this year's Gates letter, which is about time, specifically how poverty is worsened by gender disparities when it comes to time. So Melinda Gates points out that globally women spend twice as much time on unpaid work as men. This gap is largest in poor countries, where work like getting water, chopping wood, cooking, and cleaning is mostly done by women. And as Melinda points out, assigning most unpaid work to women harms everyone because of what's known as opportunity cost. When girls are walking hours every week to get water, those are hours they can't spend in school or studying. If men and women are equally able to innovate and create (and they are), gender bias definitionally limits economic growth. Gender bias isn't just wrong ethically, it means less innovation, fewer jobs, and less inclusive governance. To address this problem, Melinda advocates recognizing, reducing, and redistributing.

First, we need to recognize that unpaid work is work. Second, we need to reduce the time needed to do such work, and third, we need to redistribute that work more evenly between women and men. Hank, I think we're gonna look back on energy and gender equity as two of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. But right now, we're not just struggling to solve those problems. Too often, we're refusing to acknowledge they exist. And that has to change now if the next 200 years are going to continue the successes of the previous 200.

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.