August 16, 2018
I’ve been spending a lot of time traveling this year. Long flights and hotel stays gave me an opportunity to reflect on some recent observations by our co-founder and chairman, Bill Gates, on Hans Rosling’s book, Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. We are following his lead to move away from thinking in terms of the “developed” and “developing” worlds. Decades of globalization have erased these distinctions, if they ever existed at all.
In this world view, we are all developing.
Rosling’s premise – proposing ways to apply healthy skepticism without becoming cynical – resonates with us at TerraPower. The company formed with the expectation that successful businesses in the 21st century would be the ones who think differently about world needs.
Innovation is creating new industries, climate change is shaping new needs, and technology is changing the flow of goods and services. Generalizations like “the West and the Rest”, “the North and the South”, “industrialized” or “emerging” serve only to reinforce old stereotypes that don’t represent reality today.
Whether we believe the world is getting better or worse, and how we divide the world into some version of us and them, our perception of facts is influenced by our underlying assumptions. As a result, for questions like “What percentage of the world’s population live in poverty?”; “Why is the world’s population increasing?”; How many girls finish school? –Factfulness reveals we often miss the determining factors, precisely because we have our “facts” wrong.
One of the things Rosling writes about is a new paradigm for understanding the world’s population. He identifies four income groups, not just two. As income increases from Level One to Level Two, Level Two to Level Three and so on, one’s quality of life improves. This is evidenced by access to water and sanitation, modes of transportation, opportunities for consumerism, education and availability of electricity.
Research consistently shows that most of the world’s population lives on between $2 to $32 a day, comprising Levels Two and Three. Five billion people have some possessions and varied levels of access to life’s conveniences like a personal vehicle, running water and refrigeration. One billion people on Level One remain in extreme poverty. Living on less than $2 per day is about survival. Transportation is on foot, often without shoes; food is cooked on open fires; and water for the household is carried home. The remaining 1 billion represent those who live on more than $32 per day, on Level Four. They are most likely to have at least a high school education and to afford cars, houses and vacations.
We need to find a way to raise 1 billion people out of energy poverty, while at the same time providing energy for a world population that will grow from 7 billion people today to 11 billion people in 2075. This is the problem statement that TerraPower has sought to solve.
Our part of the answer is advanced nuclear energy. Our mission – providing the world with clean, safe, affordable and reliable energy – aims to improve quality of life without burdening the environment. Policy makers can help reduce poverty by creating economic growth with new industries that require energy to fuel them. We can improve transportation options by finding the cleanest ways to electrify mobility, and we can improve efficiency and decarbonize at the same time by using non-fossil sources for industrial process heat and residential heating. We recognize that there is considerable room for growth in the global energy marketplace, and we are excited to be defining the role of advanced nuclear energy in this future.