By Miriam R. Aczel
February 9, 2021
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Bill Gates is not a climate scientist. In his new book, How to Avoid Climate Disaster, he explains that he came to climate science indirectly through energy poverty issues that arose from his health and development work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. “I realize that I am an imperfect ambassador for climate change,” he writes. “The world is not exactly lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do or who believes that technology can solve any problem. “
Gates, however, appreciates the technical aspects of climate change and its possible solutions. His expertise, gained from interactions with climate researchers, glaciologists, energy scientists, agricultural experts, and others, is evident in the book’s clear explanations of the scientific aspects of climate change. The solutions outlined by him are pragmatic and based on forward-looking economic considerations. Although he does not avoid the harsh truths that we must face about climate change, Gates remains optimistic and believes that we are able to avoid total climate catastrophe.
The five logically ordered sections of the book set a roadmap for further development. The first chapter explains why we need to bring net greenhouse gas emissions to zero, making the abstract concept of 1 ° or 2 ° C warming tangible with a description of the devastating effects of such a rise in temperature on a relatively wealthy Nebraska farmer and a subsistence farmer in rural India. The farmers are hypothetical, but the scenarios Gates describes – crop failures, economic ruin, a mass exodus from farming professions – are all too real.
Achieving net zero emissions will not be easy. Not only is the world population growing, people are living longer and the standard of living is improving, leading to higher demand for energy and materials. It would, of course, be “immoral and impractical to try to prevent people lower down the ladder of economics from moving up,” argues Gates. But can we find a way to support economic development without adding carbon emissions to the atmosphere?
Gates divides greenhouse gas emission activities into five sources: “make things”; “Plug in” or generate electricity; “Growing Things”, including agriculture and ranching; “get around”; and “keep warm and cool.” He uses this framework to assess various emission reduction strategies, assess the “green premium” that makes lower-emission solutions more expensive than fossil fuel technologies, and explain how government policies and incentives can help amortize these costs. </ Gates argues that three key components are required to reduce emissions: robust climate policies, new technologies and companies to develop zero-emission solutions, and markets made up of financial institutions and investors who support these companies. These components must complement each other. For example, policies to stimulate research and development spending can lead to the development of new technologies. Investors and markets can ensure that technologies are expanded. At the same time, it is important that politics are shaped by new technologies and that regulations keep pace with technological advances.
In the last chapter of the book, Gates describes specific measures that each of us can take to curb climate change, from a more engaged citizen to an informed consumer, with specific advice on reducing household emissions and switching to an electric vehicle. and set up an internal carbon tax for businesses.
Gates includes an epilogue to COVID-19 that states that many of the lessons we have learned from the pandemic – the need for international collaboration, the importance, the science of our actions to be guided, the understanding that solutions should be designed to meet the needs of those who suffer most – including climate change. We are at a critical point, he argues, and we need to commit to investing in new policies, market structures and technologies over the next decade to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “There is hardly a better response to a miserable year 2020 than spending the next ten years dedicating ourselves to this ambitious goal,” he concludes.
The reviewer is at the California Institute for Energy and Environment, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA, and at the Center for Environmental Policy, Imperial College London, London SW7 1NE, Great Britain.
The reviewer is at the California Institute for Energy and Environment, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA, and the Environmental Policy Center, Imperial College London, London SW7 1NE, UK.
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