Bill Gates: How To Avoid a Climate Disaster

Bill Gates, the philanthropist billionaire, has written a succinct analysis of where we are in tackling climate change and where we need to go. His book focuses on how to achieve the challenging goal of zero emissions by 2050

By M. R. Dua

  • Bill Gates proposes ‘Five Questions To Ask In Any Conversation’ on climate change
  • Nearly 40% of the world’s emissions are produced by the richest 16% of the population
  • According to Data electricity is a major contributor to greenhouse gases
  • More than 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases the world adds to the atmosphere every year

TAKING the monstrously colossus of Climate Change that has overwhelmingly panicked the entire humanity, Bill Gates in the book’s Introduction, “51 Billion to Zero,” instantly plunges deep into the very theme of this remarkable volume. Elaborating the leitmotif, the author dwells upon his toughest stance for reducing “the 51 billion tons to zero” the greenhouse gases that the world spews relentlessly day in and day out.

Bill Gates elaborates: “Fifty-one is how many tons of greenhouse gases the world adds to the atmosphere every year… and it’s increasing. This is where we are today…Zero is what we need to aim for…To stop global warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change – and these effects will be very bad — humans need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere…This sounds difficult, because it will be. The world has never done anything quite big…”

ACHIEVING ZERO

” Global carbon emissions are currently approximately 65 percent higher than these were in the 1990s. And perhaps the immediate proof of which we are witnessing and experiencing in North-East India, Karnataka, Kerala and Bihar widespread floods causing gargantuan property damages and losses in life”

Further explaining, why Zero? Gates warns the world of the prodigious behemoth of ruination that these gaseous emissions flock upon the whole earth comprehensively; the Zero target should be the be-all and end-all target for every nation — as much as possible. He adds that since we still emit some carbon, and then we remove it from today’s atmosphere where we are allowing free play to the killer gases. To effectively tackle this horrendous calamity, he identifies electricity from geothermal, offshore winds, pumped hydro, nuclear power and several others. But, as we know, and probably forget that electric power too is not readily available in many countries, and in fact, even if available, it also contributes in abounding climate change problem. Gates’s alternative is yoking renewable resources. 

Besides, with a view to fully resolving the situation, Gates proposes that we pose ‘Five Questions To Ask In Any Conversation’ (on climate change), by answering which a particular prevailing climate position can be figured out and cracked. While that ‘may be hard’ to contextualise, opines the author, because such ready affordable solutions may be scarce to access, due to shortage of time, massive costs involved, and so on and so forth. But all these questions should amply pinpoint and diagnose these sources of emissions, and help in determining appropriate techniques for fixing concerns and fully quantifying the quantity of total emissions. 

It’s time that apparent hard facts, and the dire, emergent need to treat the climate conundrum should not be lost sight of. For, well-nigh most dangerous consequences worldwide could be, as Gates averses, in terms of losing precious lives, as happened in the case of Covid-19. In addition, Gates underlines, global carbon emissions are currently approximately 65 percent higher than these were in the 1990s. And perhaps the immediate proof of which we are witnessing and experiencing in North-East India, Karnataka, Kerala and Bihar widespread floods causing gargantuan property damages and losses in life.

Gates warns the world of the prodigious behemoth of ruination that these gaseous emissions flock upon the whole earth comprehensively; the Zero target should be the be-all and end-all target for every nation

The New York Times, May 14, 2022, has also reported heavy rains that caused ‘catastrophic flooding in South Africa’s town of Durban killing more than 400 people. It was suggested to the South African government that the country “needs to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a new reality where floods and heat waves are more intense and damaging.” The South African government authorities ignored the timely signal. And now the  South African government has reported a loss of over $1.5 billion.  

Necessity of Time

DELAYING a firm comprehensive action on a climate-control programme will not only prove disastrous and damaging to the people, expensive for the government but will also add to the miseries of other nations. As calculated by Bill Gates the 51 billion-to-zero tons of greenhouse gases that is added every year, is the target to be treated regularly. Inaction will cost thousands of lives worldwide, warns David Wallace-Well, author of a latest book, “The Inhabitable Earth.” Immediately, therefore, every country should act. Failing, which leads towards ….

1. About 5.5 billion tons of additional carbon would be added to the atmosphere.

2. Emissions should be cut by half by 2030 failing which millions of jobs will be lost.

3. Pushing climate action now will cause needless human suffering. Every year of delay eats into our carbon budget, raises global temperatures and makes future targets that much more vertiginous. Globally, even a few years delay would delay climate goals permanently out of reach.

4. Delayed climate action globally may cost thousands of lives by 2030. Clean energy policies could save thousands of lives, and $600 billion each year, as determined by Harvard climate researchers.

5. Air pollution caused by effects of climate change produced by the continued burning of fossil fuels may also lead to countless deaths.

6. Inaction could also cause damage of at least $500 billion. This figure has been determined by considering the cost of extreme weather and natural disaster – from every ton of emissions is $51, multiplying five gigatons $255 billion in climate damage in political terms. But the social cost of carbons at $100 a ton totaling $500 billion. In addition, there could be additional loss.

7. Since India is the world’s third largest carbon emitter after the USA and China, first and second in order, it has also to be concerned about the climate danger, particularly due to the constantly mounting population.

While India has created a ministry of environment at central and state levels, air pollution and climate laws are lax and loose. Much more needs to be done to manage effectively, rapidly, strictly and to manage the decarbonization laws at every level of administration to make sense of feelings of exigencies of control and regulation.

The bottom-line is that the world can’t delay reaching the zero goal, and how quickly can we get to zero in the next 10 years? It doesn’t look like the world Quin can decarbonize by 2030. Bill Gates has a four-point strategy: 

1. Quintuple clean energy and climate-related R&D over the next decade; 

2. Make bigger bets on high-risk, high-reward R&D projects.

3. Match R&D with our greatest needs; and, 

4. Work with industry from the beginning, involving from the local, civic bodies, region to state to national levels.

Finally, says Gates, we have to lower the Green Premiums. It’s the only way to make it easier for middle and low income countries to reduce their emissions and eventually get to zero. And, the real fact of the matter is that there’s a lot that individuals can do, from the local level to the national level, to accelerate this internationally significant and most urgent agenda today.

FIVE HOWS

Therefore, as Gates asserts, it’s but necessary that nations should start their climate-change fighting campaign fast, and start with the following five ‘Hows’- ‘How We Plug In’ (electricity), ‘How We Make Things’ (like cement, steel), ‘How We Grow Things’ (plants), ‘How We Get Around’ (travel) , and ‘How We Keep Cool and Stay Warm’ (refrigerator) while making sure that the action in all the five prominent sectors of commercial and social areas commence in consonance with one another. This will incentivize the people to work on these five sectors that will include electricity, manufacturing, agriculture, transportation, heating and cooling systems. 

While such an approach will be difficult to resort to, therefore, to Gates’s this cryptic response is: “Because it will be difficult.” To manage this, he offers steps on how to overcome such problems: “The key to addressing climate change is to make clean energy just as cheap and reliable as what we get from fossil fuels.” And this will indeed be difficult because, as Gates tells us: “Nearly 40% of the world’s emissions are produced by the richest 16% of the population.” The task will indeed be tougher by 2050 when the global population will also jump to 10 billion. Therefore, he says CAFE is the possible way out that (Corporate Average Fuel Economy law to cut energy consumption by increasing fuel economy of vehicles) may presently help finding electric power’s substitute.  

Moreover, it’s not just the rich world. Almost everywhere, people are living longer, and living healthier lives. And, it’s also the low-income group people who are, and will be, affected the most. Thus, Gates stresses that “climate change is real, and its effects will be bad, and we have everything we need to stop it: Between solar power, wind power, hydropower, and a few other tools…It’s simply a matter of will to deploy them.” He opines, that as the world population rises to 10 billion, carbons are getting intensive, we have to change our politics and policies (see how to do it: ‘Environmental Policy – New Directions for the Twenty-First Century’, Tenth Edition: editors: Norman J. Vig and Michael E. Kraft, Sage 2019).

As it’s obvious, it’ll be a gigantic task, to embark upon a fully comprehensive solution by one single country would be hard to accomplish, and the Paris Agreement amply demonstrated that how difficult it was. But a beginning could be attempted, as Bill Gates suggests, by acting upon the framework of the ‘Five How Questions’, detailed above. Besides, he feels that we should not be frightened by the enormity of the task: if global cooperation and consensus are arrived at by agreeing to reduce annual emission by 3 billion to 6 billion tons by 2030, it could be a good start. The bottom line is: lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering along with public policies to push a transition to occur, somehow.

Man of Technology

Bill Gates at TED2010. February 9-13, 2010, Long Beach, CA. Credit: TED / Marla Aufmuth

ALTHOUGH Bill Gates is essentially a man of technology, is known particularly for his Microsoft, the world’s largest corporation that makes personal computers and devices. He is a software developer and programmer who wrote his first software programme at the age of 13. Bill Gates whose full name is William Henry Gates III, joined Harvard College at the age of 17, where he excelled in mathematics and graduate-level computer science courses, but quit after two years. He along with one of his childhood friends set up the internationally-reputed computer technology corporation, Microsoft, in 1975 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. 

Bill Gates has established himself as one of the ‘pioneers of the microcomputer revolution’. However, since relinquishing his day-to-day ties with his company in 2008, Gates has devoted his time to authoring, and his multifaceted philanthropic activities. Microsoft’s global annual revenue is estimated at more than $87 billion, employing nearly over one lakh persons worldwide, including in India.

Bill Gates is now acknowledged for his par excellent entrepreneurship, business acumen, topmost investor, author and above all an eminent philanthropist. As chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he is deeply involved in helping fight poverty, disease and inequity around the globe. Bill Gates is a founding member of the “Breakthrough Energy”— an organisation of investors who first came together in 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris, to support the goal of fighting climate change.

Gates was also the leader of the “Global Commission on Adaptation’’, which studied measures to confront the effects of climate change. This extended review article mainly concerns Bill Gates’s enormously readable book, containing extremely laudable suggestions, “HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER – The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need’’, on the stupendously raging issue about the hazards of which the entire world is profusely perturbed and is a endeavourly arming itself to aggressively grapple with it by various scientifically innovated practicable measures currently available tools.

ELECTRICITY- THE CULPRIT 

Meanwhile, Gates has calculated the breakdown of human activities that produce greenhouse gases in daily life which require urgent remedial action: These include making things by human beings for making cement, steel, and plastic 31%; plugging in electricity for manufacturing or producing articles for human use 27%; growing things like plants, animals 19%; getting around by planes, trucks, cargo ships 16%; and, keeping warm, heating and cooling houses, offices and refrigerators 7%. Scrutinising this data-analysis closely, one finds that electricity is indeed a major contributor to greenhouse gases. This is because electricity is the main source of operating machines to produce articles used for making other goods. But while electricity is the main basic producer of goods; electricity is also the key emissions generator. But, the alternative sources of power suggested by Gates may not rise to the occasion as there are many inbuilt inconsistencies of their availability and content to meet. For example, solar-power when there is little or no sunshine, hydropower without the required water flow and wind-power in absence of full windblow. And also using alternate support like nuclear stations, dams for hydropower, wood and fossil fuels too have their limitations, and could defeat the purpose.       

Moreover, to achieve the goal of eliminating the 51 billion tons globally by 190 governments in less than next 30 years, i.e., by 2050, will only be a trifle, 0.03% of the overall annual global emissions. Looks like not a big problem to hit the target of 0.03 %. Besides, as Gates also said in nearly 100 pages – chapters 4 to 8, how the Five Questions, if responded collectively to eliminating 51 billion tons seems to be a distinct possibility. Of course, provided the number of tons remains the same (unlikely though) and are adequately supported by latest appropriate technologies.

Bill Gates says that zero emissions can be arrived at by electrifying every process; by getting electricity from a power grid that has been decarbonized; by using carbon capture to absorb the remaining emissions; and by using materials more efficiently

Gates however cautions that the ‘zero-carbon solutions are more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts.’ But he says he’s sure that technology companies ‘will be racing to create and market the affordable innovations that help the world to go to zero.’ He has explained how emissions created by electricity occurred and heightened in each case:- 31% making things; 27% plugging things; 19% growing things; 16% getting around; and, 7% keeping warm and cool could be taken care of with the new ‘miracle’ engineering and various zero carbon technologies. ‘Finally, we’d need a zero-carbon source of heat – which would likely also be clean electricity, hydrogen, or natural gas fitted with a device to capture the carbon it emits,’ he feels.

Gates says that zero emissions can be arrived at by electrifying every process; by getting electricity from a power grid that has been decarbonized; by using carbon capture to absorb the remaining emissions; and by using materials more efficiently. His realistic urging to attain the goal: get used to this theme. You’ll see it often deployed in all areas of human engagements – in most of the greenhouse emissions. 

Bill Gates sets climate change agenda

“To stop global warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change, humans need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. This sounds difficult, because it will be. The world has never done anything quite this big. Every country will need to change its ways, because virtually every activity is modern life – growing things, making things, getting around from place to place – involves releasing greenhouse gases. 

If nothing else changes, the world will keep producing greenhouse gases, climate change will keep getting worse, and the impact on humans will in all likelihood be catastrophic. 

But things can change. We already have some of the tools we need – and as for those we don’t yet have, everything I have learned about climate and technology makes me optimistic that we can invent them, deploy them, and, if we act fast enough, avoid a climate catastrophe. 

This book is about what it will take and why I think we can do it 

                                                                                                             —Bill Gates

POLICIES & POLITICS

Turning to the question of why government policies matter, Gates contends that talking merely of new technologies and new devices will not lead to avoiding climate disaster, the US government has ‘a lot of experiences’, and it’s one of the ‘most heavily regulated sectors.’ As for how the other countries can plan for getting to zero, with specific steps that governments, businesses and individuals can take’, Gates gives them a seven-point high-level goal they should aim to achieve. Some of these are: investing in new projects wisely; staying up to date; planning a just transition; and, working on technology, policy and markets simultaneously. In the end Gates affirms that ‘by investing in clean-energy research and development, governments can promote economic recovery that also helps reduce emissions, creates jobs.’’

Bill Gates has indeed done a magnificent job in authoring this extremely relevant text. He has poured his heart and mind out realistically and frankly, discussing climate change. He has drawn up practical designs, has set out clear roadmaps as to how the world can go about averting the frightening wave of climate change. Bill Gates uses very simple, straightforward, persuasive, reader-friendly language. And, above all, hooking deep into reader-interest. It should be an essential, required reading for all those involved in fighting climate change in any manner. 

The book carries the Gates family’s close connections; like his young son, Rory, 12, (p.67) is being ‘inducted’ in the business of an anti-climate change global struggle. But, there is no mention of the latest sad news of his broken marriage with Melinda, who was an intimate part of her husband’s most cherished mission. Thank you, Mr. Bill Gates. 

(With Inputs From San Ramon, California

M R DUA

The author was a professor and head of print journalism at the Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, for nearly two decades. He also taught journalism at different universities in California, Calicut, and Chandigarh. He was editor of publications, Union Labour Ministry. He was also director of JIMS, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi, and Institute of Media, Gurugram. He has authored five books on media issues. His writings have appeared in national newspapers, magazines, and media research journals in India and USA.

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