In a lecture given last week at the fifth Ramnath Goenka Lecture in India, former Microsoft CEO and philanthropist Bill Gates said that campaigning for individual changes in lifestyle such as reducing meat consumption won't have a big impact on limiting climate change.
"Will all Indians become vegetarians? Will all Americans become vegetarians? I wouldn't want to count on it. Anybody wants to evangelize that they're welcome to, I don't resist in any way," said Gates in conversation to Anant Goenka.
The comment can have an impact on alternative meat companies, including Beyond Meat Inc. BYND. The company has been struggling to stay afloat recently, with some commentators saying that 2023 will be its "make or break" year.
Beyond Meat beat analyst estimates after its last quarterly call, but still delivered losses.
In a January "Ask Me Anything" session on Reddit, Gates said that being vegan "is great," but he doesn't think "most people will do that."
There are companies making “beef” in new ways while others are working to still use cows but reduce the methane emissions, he told Reddit users.
"I have backed a number of innovators in this space including Beyond and Impossible and Memphis. I think eventually these products will be very good even though their share is small today," Gates wrote.
The former tech magnate is not putting into question the massive impact of meat production in greenhouse gas emission. A 2021 study published in the journal Nature Food found meat production accounts for 60% of global greenhouse emissions from food production and 35% of total emissions across industries.
"Global greenhouse gas emissions from animal-based foods are twice those of plant-based foods," read the study.
In Gates' view, trying to convince people to limit their consumption of energy-intensive products won't make that much of a difference. The solution must come from technology, innovation and political support.
Participating in Bloomberg's Zero podcast last October, Gates shared similar remarks, saying he doesn’t think “it’s realistic to say that people are utterly going to change their lifestyle because of concerns about climate.”
“Anyone who says that we will tell people to stop eating meat or stop wanting to have a nice house, and we’ll just basically change human desires, I think that that’s too difficult,” he told host Akshat Rathi.
"You can make a case for it. But I don’t think it’s realistic for that to play an absolutely central role," he added.
In his lecture in India, Gates recovered that motif. Asking people to "live an impoverished lifestyle" can't be a solution to climate change, he said.
"In the U.S. we could use half as much energy per person, but if we said to India to stay at your current level, that would be completely unjust," said Gates.
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