In ‘How to Avoid a Climate Disaster,’ Bill Gates charts a difficult course that might just be doable

Bill Gates wrote “How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe” and spoke to GeekWire about the book. (Image from a video of the GeekWire interview on February 8, 2021)

In his new book, “How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe,” Bill Gates plays a role similar to that of a trusted doctor providing a prognosis and course of treatment for a patient confronted with a potentially devastating disease. He’s confident that we can beat this thing but we can’t make promises – other than that it will be the struggle of our lives and will require major scientific breakthroughs along the way.

Hardcover of Gates’ Climate Book.

In this case, of course, the patient is not an individual, but a life on earth, and the disease is a planet at risk of further warming to the point where the world as we know it is dissolving .

The cure: we humans have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from the current 51 billion tons per year to zero.

“It’s going to be harder than anything humanity has ever done, and only if we work on it consistently for the next 30 years will we have a chance to do it,” Gates said in a recent interview with GeekWire.

“Having some people who think it’s easy is going to be an obstacle. Having people who think it doesn’t matter is going to be an obstacle, “said Gates. “And you know that innovation is so unpredictable that we have to go many ways … so that our chances of being successful in each of the emission areas are very, very high.”

From technology to health and climate change

The story of Bill Gates as a writer tells as much about world priorities as it does about the stages of his life. In his first book, The Road Ahead, published in 1995 and quickly updated to reflect the impact of the Internet, Gates described the impact personal computers and digital technology would have on our lives. His second title, Business @ the Speed ​​of Thought: Using a Digital Nervous System, was published in 1999.

Tuesday’s third book, How to Avoid a Climate Catastrophe, follows a year in which Gates continued to be known to the public and emerged as an outspoken advocate of science and global justice in responding to COVID . 19 pandemic.

It also comes amid increased scrutiny of the ultra-rich as symbols of world inequality and as rampant conspiracy theories about Gates himself that continue to swirl despite repeated exposure. (The “information superhighway” predicted in his first book would also contain a lot of misinformation, it turns out.)

In his new book, the multibillionaire seeks to humbly deal with the climate crisis by recognizing his own oversized carbon footprint and describing his efforts to mitigate that damage, including paying for fuel for green jet and buying offsets from a company , the carbon traps the air and disposal.

“The world doesn’t exactly lack rich men with big ideas about what other people should be doing or who believes technology can fix any problem.”

“I am aware that I am an imperfect ambassador for climate change,” writes Gates. “The world doesn’t exactly lack rich men with big ideas about what other people should be doing or who believes technology can fix any problem.”

Gates’ deep dive into climate problems marks an ambitious third chapter in his life. The Microsoft co-founder built a company that is synonymous with computers and remains one of the most valuable companies in the world. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private not-for-profit foundation, has provided more than $ 54 billion with an emphasis on global health and education. Gates led the way in encouraging other wealthy people and families to give away most of their wealth during their lifetime.

In our interview, he made it clear that his focus remains on global health, but that he is also investing more time and money in climate change, in large part motivated by the clean energy needs of low-income countries and the fact That they suffer the worst will impact a warmer planet.

Technology alone is not enough

In his new book, Gates explains the fundamentals of global warming in twelve chapters. describes the five main categories of emissions and how they can be reduced; defines the role of carbon containment regulations; covers ways to adapt to a warmer world; gives an overarching plan to reduce emissions and ends with measures that individuals can take to prevent the crisis (spoilers: political action is the most important thing).

“We cannot make the progress that we need in the climate without this being a broad discussion in most households in the country,” he said in an interview. “So you have to involve a lot of other people.”

As you might expect, the climate book is full of data, but the tone is poor and there are moments of self-irony. The numbers are presented in context to help readers understand the relative impacts of various greenhouse gas sources and the potential for various corrections in which to rule.

Gates mocks his well-known technical optimism, which in the past has criticized some of his foundation’s efforts to promote agriculture in Africa and improve US education. In a 2010 TED lecture, he spoke at length about new innovations and climate change and briefly mentioned the role of politics.

TerraPower testsA technician places a bundle of fuel pens in the TerraPower tester. TerraPower, which Gates founded in 2008, is working on the next generation of nuclear energy. (TerraPower photo)

In his book, Gates took a more balanced approach. He emphasizes the essential roles that innovation, policy and regulation and robust marketplaces play in creating and deploying carbon-free technologies. Gates acknowledged that his thinking had evolved since his Microsoft days when he thought policymakers would “only keep us from doing our best job.”

His new perspective? “[W]When it comes to massive endeavors – be it building a national highway system, vaccinating the world’s children, or decarbonizing the global economy – government has a big role to play in creating the right incentives and making sure the whole system works for everyone ” , Writes Gates.

He repeated the idea in our conversation. “It really is governments that have to target climate change,” said Gates. “Nobody can do it without all of the governments of the rich world being a part of it.”

I’m talking to Jeff Bezos. We’re going to do some things together. He’ll obviously do a lot of things on his own, which I appreciate.

Gates also makes a point of moving existing clean technologies – including wind and solar, electric vehicles, and heat pumps – into action as quickly as possible rather than waiting for new solutions.

Before Gates wrote his book, he had made other climate endeavors.

In 2015, he founded Breakthrough Energy Ventures, a $ 1 billion fund to help startups reduce their carbon footprint. This initiative, which recently raised another $ 1 billion in investment, has grown into Breakthrough Energy, an umbrella organization that spans six programs including lobbying for clean tech guidelines, funding researchers, and generating data in support of the Decision making for clean energy.

“It’s fantastic that we’re attracting more people. I spoke to a lot of philanthropists today about how they can give by breakthrough or alone,” Gates said in an interview. “I’m talking to Jeff Bezos. We’re going to do some things together. He’ll obviously do a lot of things on his own, which I appreciate. “

Next generation nuclear weapons and plant-based meat

Outside of Breakthrough Energy, Gates has pursued climate solutions in areas that others may have identified as controversial or riskier investments. He is the founder of TerraPower, a Bellevue, Washington company developing next generation nuclear reactors and energy storage. supported Impossible Foods, a startup that makes plant-based meat; and his foundation supports programs that help low-income countries adapt to climate change with resilient plants and farm animals.

Impossible Food’s Impossible Burgers in a grocery store. (Photo by Impossible Foods)

Gates helps readers understand the challenge of deploying air conditioning solutions through the idea of ​​“green rewards”. Using the premiums, he compares the price of carbon-emitting technologies such as gasoline, cement or coal with their climate-neutral replacement. The idea is that the world needs to cut green premiums so that people, businesses and governments can buy the clean alternatives.

All of this leads to an extremely daunting and extremely important endeavor.

“There are days when it feels like focusing on something that requires global collaboration and changing the regulations of industries that are very critical but most people take for granted – things like power reliability or steel or cement [manufacturing] – It can be pretty daunting, ”he said in our interview. “So if it’s not a priority – and in the US it’s a priority for both parties – you can be very concerned that we won’t get there.”

Still, Gates offers a few words of hope in the last chapter of his book.

“I am optimistic that we will make real progress on climate change – because the world is more committed than ever to solving this problem … Although the pandemic has ruined the global economy, support for action against climate change is just as high as it is in 2019 “, he writes. “Our emissions no longer seem to be a problem that we are ready to hit the streets.”

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