by Ajmal Khan A.T 25 April 2021
American technologist, business leader, and philanthropist Bill Gates has just published a new book on climate change titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need. Bill Gates is not a climate scientist, political scientist, or any other authority on climate change, as he admits in the book, “I am aware that I am an imperfect messenger on climate change.” However, then why should one listen to him and his prescriptions to avoid a climate disaster? Indeed there is no doubt that billionaire business people like him are highly influential in creating public opinions and consensus around the world, given the influence that people like him have and the kind of mechanisms that they have to make their ideas public and the power to negotiate with governments, business, and non-governmental institutions to put their ideas into practice. Hence, it’s difficult to ignore what Bill Gates says. However, we need not accept it without scrutiny.
Each year now passes with significant climate disasters; we are currently living through the Covid-19, one of the biggest pandemics in human history, which might have caused by the impacts of global warming and changing climate. However, we are yet to have more revealing evidence and studies. In 2020 alone, a series of devastating climate disasters took place in various parts of the world, Cyclone Idai, deadly heatwaves in India and Pakistan, wildfires in Australia, and floods in South East Asia events. Before that, in 2019, more than 11,000 scientists from around the world signed a statement which said, “We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency” they argued unless we make radical changes urgently in the way in which we conduct our lives and our interactions with the natural ecosystem, a climate emergency is inevitable.
Bill Gates looks at how we can avoid a climate disaster, why it is important to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, and how that can be achieved by 2050. He demonstrates that it’s doable and not as expensive as one might think and talk about the catastrophic impacts if this is not being done. Bill Gates has some well-thought-out ideas to suggest, some of the ideas he has already started working on or investing, and he urges the world leaders, business world, and philanthropists to take action in the direction that he thinks. According to Bill gates, we need to remove 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere every year, and they predominantly come from five sources. The first source is making things including steel, cement, plastic, etc., and then producing and transmitting electricity, transportation, vehicles, planes, and trains, etc. The third source is keeping cool and staying warm and raising animals, growing food, and forestry. The fourth and fifth being growing things including plants and animals and from the electricity. He demonstrates what can be done in each of these sectors in terms of technology and innovation in the chapters.
He argues that we need to deploy tools that we already have, like solar and wind, faster and smarter and the need to create and roll out breakthrough technologies that can take us the rest of the way. He suggests massive proposals that involve new technologies and investing in new technologies, including technologies that will help directly remove carbon from the atmosphere. He also suggests for the Green Premium in all possible sectors, which in simple terms is the difference in cost between a product or process that doesn’t emit carbon with one that emits. This expensive green premium, he argues, should be brought down low gradually by harnessing technology, making it accessible to the people in poor and developing countries as well that can bring down the emissions alternatives lower than the reliance on fossil fuels.
In sum, the book demonstrates how we can reduce Greenhouse gas emissions and reach zero greenhouse emissions, which will be a must to avoid climate disaster. The book is an impressive technical road map that a well-meaning technocrat designed to prevent the world from climate disaster. He admits that climate change can only be solved if we can convince and get the world leaders into action. This book is a new addition to the technological optimism in the global warming and climate change literature. However, unlike many other techno-optimists, Bill Gates has some clear plans to invest in some of the solutions such as new nuclear power and technologies to capture carbon directly from the atmosphere.
The problem with the book, however, it is not concerned about one of the fundamental discourses around climate change, the historical emissions, the responsibility of the west and developed world in the higher historical emissions. The book is also silent about how some countries and communities are disproportionately being affected by climate change and the consumption pattern of the rich countries. Bill gates write in the book, “I think more like an engineer than a political scientist, and I don’t have a solution to the politics of climate change.” This is exactly the most important problem about climate change and the limitations of techno-fix in combating climate change. The International community will need to solve the politics of climate change and given that climate change is a planetary, political and ethical problem that involves hundreds of countries, block of countries, and their interests. We will also need political solutions even to get these techno-fixes into action.
Secondly, a book that talks about preventing a climate disaster by getting into zero carbon emissions don’t acknowledge the role of the fossil fuel industry in getting us where we are and continuing the fossil fuel industry’s role in the present and the future. We also have evidence to suggest how the 100 major corporations are the biggest emitters of global carbon.
Finally, when we talk about climate change, we are talking about nature, its process, ecosystems, and their life forms, and thousands of communities who depend on each other for their survival. The book hasn’t paid attention to this fundamental aspect of climate change.