How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, is a book that covers his views on how we should tackle the climate crisis. It goes without saying that Gates is a technologist, and this book proposes various technological fixes.
The book is very well written. In the acknowledgements, Gates gives credit to his “writing partner” Josh Daniel, who has done a good job of creating a text that felt quite conversational. The book is also logically structured.
I found Gates’s analysis of the cost of fossil fuels to be enlightening. He mentions that unit for unit, oil is cheaper than fizzy drinks. While we know that fossil fuels are cheap considering the substantial harm they create, I had no idea they were this lowly priced and I’d never come across a unit for unit comparison like this before.
Gates also talks about investing “$1 billion into approaches that I hope will help the world get to zero.” This includes investments in things like meat-free companies, which will no doubt play a big role in the future.
Other aspects of the book
I was surprised to see a few progressive topics were barely mentioned. For example, there was no mention of Kate Raworth’s doughnut economics model, or degrowth which people like Jason Hickel have proposed. I also don’t recall any mention of planning for seven generations into the future, in the book.
He briefly acknowledges activists who’ve created awareness of the problem, but doesn’t call out the politicians, the media or the fossil fuel companies who’ve stymied action on the climate crisis for decades. Oil companies for example, have pushed denial, doubt and delay for 40 years.
Something else that surprised me was that Gates has invested in geoengineering, which he believes is a last chance saloon at reducing the impacts of climate change, without hurting the economy. I share the scientific opinion that messing around with geoengineering will only cause further harm, and I’d encourage Gates to reconsider his views here. The same goes for biofuels which often rely on palm oil, and tends to have a largely negative environmental impact.
Fossil fuel subsidies reached $5.9 trillion in 2020. According to the UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2022, creating a global low carbon economy is expected to cost $4-6 trillion each year. It therefore seems that there is a problem and a financial solution available. To be fair to Gates, the Emissions Gap Report only come out the year after his book was published, but it would be interesting to hear Gates’s views on this in any future revisions of the book. I’d also like to share something else that came out in the year after the book was released – the seven reports that were released before COP27, which really do bring us up to speed on where we stand and what we need to do.
For someone just starting to learn about the climate crisis, I’d recommend starting with books by climate scientists or those involved in the climate movement. A few that I’ve reviewed include The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg, Hothouse Earth by Bill McGuire, Generation Dread by Britt Wray, Don’t Even Think About It by George Marshall, and A Farewell to Ice by Peter Wadhams. These are just a few examples of hundreds available. But they will give you a basic understanding before you approach Gates’s book, and allow you to then determine what kind of solutions you would like to see implemented in the world.
My new cli-fi children’s picture book is Nanook and the Melting Arctic. Nanook is a caring polar bear who lives in the Arctic. But when his igloo starts melting, Nanook must find a way to save his friends and his home. He knows that the people who can help are also those who’ve caused the problem and he must find a way to convince leaders to act on the climate crisis. You can purchase Nanook from Amazon’s global stores including Amazon UK and Amazon US.