By the middle of this century, the world will use twice as much energy as we use today.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
That’s the question these high school students in Kentucky asked us last year. They really got us thinking—and they inspired the theme of this year’s Annual Letter. We chose to write about two superpowers that would improve the lives of the world’s poorest families: time and energy.
Every time you flip a light switch, turn up your thermostat, or power up a computer, you’re using a superpower: your access to energy. But about 1.3 billion people live without it. You can see this fact for yourself in this image of the world at night.
If Bill could have just one wish to help the poorest people, it would be to find a cheap, clean source of energy to power our world. Cheap, because everyone must be able to afford it. Clean, because it must not emit any carbon dioxide—which is driving climate change.
A couple of years ago, Melinda and our daughter Jennifer visited Tanzania and stayed with Anna, Sanare, and their children. It was an eye-opening experience. Poverty, Melinda learned, is not just about a lack of money. It’s about the absence of other resources, like time and energy, the poor need to realize their potential.
In every country in the world, women do more unpaid work than men. The gap is especially big in poor countries, where women like this Nigerian farmer often spend hours a day collecting firewood, fetching water, and doing other chores.
More time. More energy. As superpowers go, they may not be as exciting as Superman’s ability to defy gravity. But if the world can put more of both into the hands of the poorest, we believe it will allow millions of dreams to take flight.