A lawyer, author and teacher, he has been director of the Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology  since 1984 and of the Ecovillage Training Center at The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee since 1994.
Bates has been a resident of The Farm since 1972. A former attorney, he argued environmental and civil rights cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and drafted a number of legislative Acts during a 26-year legal career. The holder of a number of design patents, Bates invented the concentrating photovoltaic arrays and solar-powered automobile displayed at the 1982 World's Fair. He served on the steering committee of Plenty International for 18 years, focussing on relief and development work with indigenous peoples, human rights and the environment. An emergency medical technician (EMT), he was a founding member of The Farm Ambulance Service. He was also a licensed Amateur Radio operator.
Bates first came to national prominence in 1978 when he sued to shut down the entire U.S. nuclear fuel cycle from mines to waste repositories. The case, which went four times to the United States Supreme Court and was later profiled in a law review article and two books, was ultimately unsuccessful but raised troubling questions about the health effects of nuclear energy and the ethical dimensions — and civil liberties implications — of the federal role in promoting it.
Bates has played a major role in the ecovillage movement as one of the organizers of the Global Ecovillage Network (GEN), and served as GEN's chairman of the board (from 2002 to 2003) and president (from 2003 to 2004). He was also the principal organizer of the Ecovillage Network of the Americas and served as its president (from 1996 to 2003). In 1994 he founded the Ecovillage Training Center, a "whole systems immersion experience of ecovillage living." He has taught courses in sustainable design, natural building, permaculture and technologies of the future to students from more than 50 nations.
Bates' Climate in Crisis (1990) was the first book published on web (rolled paper) press using a 100% recycled product without chemically removing clays or inks.
Since the mid-1980s, Bates has been planting a private forest to sequester carbon dioxide and related greenhouse gas emissions from travel, business and personal activities. At 40 acres under mixed-age, mixed-species, climate-resilient management, primarily being managed for ecosystem services, that forest now annually plants itself as it expands.
In 1980, Bates shared in the first Right Livelihood Award as part of the executive board of Plenty International. In 2012, he received the Gaia Award from Gaia Trust of Denmark for his efforts in fostering the ecovillage movement.
Bates is author of many books on law, energy, history and environment, including:
- Climate in Crisis (1990),
- Voices from The Farm (1998) with Rupert Fike
- The Post-Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook (2006)
- The Biochar Solution (2010)
The Post-petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times, was published in 2006. In it Bates examines the transition from a society based on abundant cheap petroleum to one of "compelled conservation." The book looks at the ways of preparing for this transition. He regards the coming change as an opportunity to "redeem our essential interconnectedness with nature and with each other."
In his introduction, Bates outlines the realities of declining fossil energy and global climate change. He puts forward a "twelve step petrochemical recovery program," from post-growth economics through methods to conserve fresh water, manage wastes, generate energy, produce and store food, and travel without the aid of fossil fuels. As a review by Ryan McGreal states: "The central message in this book is sustainability and permaculture. A recurring theme is that every waste product is something else's food, and that the most sustainable arrangement works with the prevailing conditions, not against them." McGreal summarizes Bates' proposals for human adaptation as follows:
- "Instead of wasting energy trying to fight nature, it makes more sense to understand nature and use it to your mutual benefit. This, of course, means the end of one-size-fits-all industrial solutions and a return to decentralized, idiosyncratic plans based on local conditions."
The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change, was published in 2010. In it Bates traces the evolution of carbon-enriching agriculture from the ancient black soils of the Amazon to its reappearance as a modern climate restoration strategy.
In The Biochar Solution, Bates repeats the urgency of declining fossil energy, especially in the context of chemical and energy-intensive progressive agriculture and global climate change. He proposes a carbon-oriented agricultural revolution that could double world food supplies while simultaneously building soil fertility and lowering atmospheric and oceanic concentrations of carbon. Bates suggests that, if sourced cautiously, biochar energy systems could eliminate fossil fuel dependency, bring new life to desertified landscapes, purify drinking water, and build carbon-negative homes, communities and economies. Peter Bane, the editor of Permaculture Activist, describes Bates' talents in this way:
- "If there is a smart, multi-functional, low-cost, democratic strategy that can help to pull carbon out of the atmosphere, it's probably in this book: chinampas, step-harvest planting of trees (with six times the carbon density per acre), harnessing youth to the task, agroforestry, greening the desert, uneven-aged forest management, carbon farming, the soil food web, and more. Each of these gets a relatively brief, punchy, and fairly technical description. Bates is a good and stylish writer; he has an ear for the pithy phrase, and reading him is generally a pleasure. This book, based on original scholarship, vast knowledge of a rapidly changing global field, and the arcana of many loosely linked disciplines brings the skills and interests of its polymath author together for a supremely important purpose." 
- Global Village Institute. Global Village Institute for Appropriate Technology, Summertown, TN. Retrieved on: 2013-06-12.
- 3 J. Envtl. L. & Litig. iii (1988)  Retrieved on: March 27, 2014.
- Ecovillage Training Center. The Farm, Summertown, TN. Retrieved on: June 22, 2007.
- Bates, Albert (January 20, 2013) "A Personal Forest (Parts I and II)." The Great Change. Retrieved on: June 12, 2013. Simultaneously published in The Permaculture Activist 88:40-43 (May 2013) (print edition).
- .The Post-petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook: Recipes for Changing Times (2006). New Society Publishers.
- McGreal, Ryan (January 10, 2007) "Reviews." Raise the Hammer, Hamilton, Ontario. Retrieved on: February 25, 2007.
- .The Biochar Solution: Carbon Farming and Climate Change (2010). New Society Publishers.
- Bane, Peter "Corraling CO2." Permaculture Activist, Bloomington, Indiana. Retrieved on: June 7, 2011.
- Where's the reset button? Culture Change, March, 2008. Accessed: 2008-03-20.
- The Curse of the Were-Rabbit as a Post-Apocalyptic Utopia Transition Culture, Feb, 2006. Accessed: 2006-06-11.
- Dreaming A Sustainable Environment The Bridging Tree, Summer 2002. Accessed: 2006-06-11.
- Technological Innovations in a Rural Intentional Community The Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society, 1987. Accessed: 2006-06-11.
- When Architectural Design Fosters Community Goals: The Oneida Mansion House Communities Magazine, Summer 1997. Accessed: 2006-06-11.
- The Karma of Kerma: Nuclear Power and Natural Rights Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation, Univ. of Oregon School of Law Vol 9, Page 3 February 1988. Online version accessed: 2006-06-11.
- The Gospel of Chief Seattle: Written for Television Natural Rights, Spring 1990. Online version accessed: 2006-06-11.
- Showtime in Waco Communities Magazine, Summer 1995. Online version accessed: 2006-06-11.
- Contemplating Megadeaths: Cultural Memory and Cataclysmic Events The Permaculture Activist, Summer 2003. Online version accessed: 2006-06-11.
- J.Edgar Hoover and The Farm International Communal Studies Conference on Culture, Thought and Living in Community, New Harmony, Indiana, October, 1993. Online version accessed: 2012-06-12.