Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Are Bill Gates’ superpowers failing him?

Having read the annual letter from Bill and Melinda Gates a few things are surprising.

Simplifying it down, the letter emphasises achieving energy ie solar power for Africa (Bill) and time ie women’s rights (Melinda), as the superpower they would like.

On the last point of women’s rights, with Saudi Arabia the last nation of any size to now allow women the vote (where elections can be held apart from the one party states and dictatorships, or the last few equal opportunities nations such as UAE or Brunei where nobody can vote) surely women’s rights are a women’s problem?

Don’t get me wrong I’m not arguing that either there aren’t gender equality issues such as women’s representation in parliament (only c.20% in UK) or on large corporate Boards (almost all the FTSE 250 only now with at least one female director) or equal pay for the same job. Or even issues such as Female Genital Mutilation, again mainly in Africa, or child marriage and human trafficking.

#Melinda and unused superpower for women’s rights?

But why aren’t women – and Melinda specifically - dealing with these problems instead of talking about them?
Most nations have had women’s votes since 1945. And women’s rights movements for the last 50 years, and even now institutions such as UN Women or men supporting women’s rights for their daughters and granddaughters such as HeforShe.

This isn’t some hugely outrageous and complex problem. It’s less complex than calling for a penny off tax. If there are barriers to women then why haven’t women resolved them?

The African Union and UN could issue policy statements at their next sessions – and international law – on banning both FGM, and child marriage under 18. Very few nations would refuse to sign it or implement it.

While political parties could insist on a minimum of 40% women political candidates and Board representation within 12 months. With 50% of their voters or customers being women, which political parties or corporations would refuse to do that?

The US Republican and Democrat Presidential candidates could pledge that. Outgoing US president Obama could pledge that. The new UN Secretary-General elected in September this year could pledge that. The outgoing UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon could pledge that.

So could the Indian and African heads of government.

So could the CEO’s of DECC the 10 largest NGO organisations such as Red Cross etc.

Heck, they could even be urging for satellites around every planet and moon, and the first woman on Mars before 2030.

The oceans and forests could even have been reseeded with fish and trees by then.

Melinda doesn’t need superpowers to achieve that.

She could send them a one cent email before she’s even got down to making Bill’s breakfast.
Bill Gates as Superman?

But what of Bill’s concern over solar power? His map highlights Europe and Latin America and Asia and even the coast of Africa lit up by electric light at night.

But not most of Africa or India.

Again Bill seems to be making something of a mountain out of a molehill. Certainly superpowers aren’t required.
And he’s now downplaying his previous emphasis on vaccines as the key humanitarian need.

Bill is the richest man in the world with a $50BN fortune and is an owner of one of the world’s largest corporations and largest humanitarian organisations.

His Rolodex would connect with every President and Prime Minister and corporate and NGO CEO in the world.
What’s stopping him?

On vaccines, only 5 corporations such as GSK or Pfizer produce 80% of the world’s vaccines. Why isn’t Bill urging each of these 5 CEO’s to ramp up vaccine production?

Indeed UN-WHO highlighted just for influenza vaccines that doses have risen from 500M in 2006 to 1BN in 2010 to 2BN in 2015.

2BN doses of any vaccine would vaccinate all of Africa and India.

The world is already producing enough vaccines.

No new vaccines need to be invented just massive production, stockpiles and distribution for vaccines for TB, tetanus, rabies, HIV and diarrhoea and penicillin – even throw in condoms and malaria nets.

Similarly with solar power, the latest household solar panels are no bigger or heavier than an A4 pad of paper – and less complex than a mobile phone which are already nearing saturation point.

#Solar for the world is easy.

Producing say 200M solar panels for Africa is a minor production issue.

No top-down electrical grid is required like back in the 1920’s. You simply remove the packaging, pop the panel on your roof and let sunshine do the work to then charge up a mobile phone, a computer, a fridge, a television, a radio or a motorbike battery.

The world’s largest car factory in by Hyundai in Ulsan, Korea or Nissan Sunderland in UK producing more cars than all of Italy, or Coca-Cola producing 4BN bottles and cans just in UK each year all show the huge technological and production facilities that already exist.

Indeed since the UNMDG began in 2000 (now SDG as of January 2016 to be achieved before June 2030) the world is an even easier place to provide vaccines and solar panels (especially since so much has been done since 2000).

Television and radio and internet are at saturation point for the world’s 7BN people. While 50% of the population are now in cities making distribution and logistics even easier.

The cities of Cairo or Abuja or Cape Town and Johannesburg and Mumbai and New Delhi make communication and distribution to the populations of India and Africa easier than ever.

As does DHL or FedEx or the Post Office and network of ports and shipping depots around the coasts of India and Africa.

One small example: the US military just this month supplied 5,000 tons of NATO ammunition to stockpile in Germany: that’s over 400(!) shipping containers – for bullets that will almost certainly never be fired and will then need millions more in funding to decommission them.

Why aren’t 400 shipping containers of solar panels and vaccines sent every week to every main port in Africa and India?

While the USA has 14 aircraft carriers – more than the rest of the world combined – sailing around doing nothing but wasting fuel. Why aren’t say 10 US aircraft carrriers positioned off Africa and India for training in airlifting in solar panels and vaccines?

It’s not difficult.

#Bill’s shout out across the world.

Bill’s already sent out his letter without superpowers. Indeed Bill or his friends and colleagues could fund and launch a UN satellite for less than $1M, that day and night beams out a UN-TV television, radio and web channel across the world detailing the plans for vaccines and solar.

It’s no more difficult and cheaper than say an existing satellite Shopping Channel or even worse a blank screen channel.

While Bill’s friends at Facebook and Google and Twitter could have a permanent ad and weblink on their home page: covering almost 100% of the world’s internet population if not almost 50% of the world population within days.

Every television station and radio station could carry a 20 second new bulletin or ad every hour, and every world newspaper a free ad on their front page and webpage.

While, the folks at Microsoft or Dell or Samsung or Apple could include a screensaver on every computer and mobile phone, and a leaflet in every box.

Indeed if Bill was feeling a bit flush then he could fund a full page ad in the New York Times every day for a year. It wouldn’t even put a dent in his $50BN fortune. Neither would a Gates ad in the Rio Olympics opening and closing ceremonies this year, or SuperBowl next year. Heck, he could even buy both teams whoever they may be and sponsor their shirts.

It can’t be money that’s stopping global vaccines and solar.

Bill’s one of the richest men in the world: his $50BN fortune would almost fund all the SDG goals in itself.
Tobin Fund not superpowers.

But Bill could make just a 10 cent phone call to the G20 and G7 and G77 Summits (the last two being held this May in Japan and Turkey – why doesn’t Bill even go there and take the 5 pharma CEO’s and other progressive CEO’s such as Unilever’s Paul Polman or Nestle’s Peter Braback-Letmathe?) and ask each nation to achieve the required 0.7% in aid. The G20 alone covers 90% of the world economy so hardly a complex agreement.

The World Bank and IMF and international banks such as the ADB and AIIB, and national banks and stock exchanges, could create a Tobin Fund – much as with Victorian electricity or railways – to create Global vaccine and solar panels.

And if needs be then write the whole lot off.

Why not? Balancing an IMF spreadsheet somewhere is worthless compared to global vaccination and solar power and women’s rights.

It would be far cheaper and of more use than the trillions of dollars of bailouts to refloat the banks.
Why not?

Why delay the deaths and shortened and difficult lives in Africa and India a day longer?

#Hey Bill, 1st September 2017 Global Vaccine and Solar Day?

What’s Bill waiting for?

Why doesn’t he declare say 1st September 2017 the month of achieving global vaccines and solar power? The monsoons would be largely over, and stockpiles of solar panels and vaccines could easily be produced and stockpiled before then.

And then within a month or two all of them distributed.

90% of the world’s children are now in school forming the basis for universal vaccinations and even distribution of solar panels to their parents.

And everywhere you go in the world you can find Marlboro or Johnny Walker or Coca-Cola as well as aspirin and toothpaste. If Unilever and Proctor and Gamble can already stock the world’s shops and supermarkets what are we waiting for?

Worth remembering Rotary achieved global polio eradication in less than 30 years without the infrastructure that now exists. While Bill’s own USA almost 80 years ago in WW2 managed from a standing start in 1941 to supply, not just their own armies to invade Japan and Germany, but also the armies of Britain and Russia.

Millions upon millions of guns and bullets and planes and jeeps and lorries and uniforms and bandages and vaccines and food produced and shipped across the Atlantic and Pacific in less than 3 years. And all to then be scrapped.

Indeed so many tanks were produced in just 3 years from zero, that by the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944, with Germany still not defeated, Eisenhower actually asked for production to be stopped as they already had too many(!) Sherman tanks to use. And within a decade or so the Marshall Plan managed to rebuild not just Western Europe but Japan and Korea too.

Bill is right that global vaccinations and solar power will happen. Will it take a decade? I doubt it. Will it take 5 years? Maybe. Could it take less than 2 years from now? Definitely.

Indeed the issue will all the SDG Goals isn’t whether they will be achieved by 2030 but how quickly they will be achieved before then? 2025? 2020?

Why not.

No superpowers required.

Why hasn’t Bill made a few phone calls and emails already and delivered on his letter?

Time for Change

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