Micro… Soft?

Bill Gates’ new book – How to Avoid a Climate Disaster ­– spells out in great detail the sheer hard graft it is going to take to save the planet from the devasting effects of climate change.

Lots of books, films and reports lay out what climate change is already doing across the globe and the horrors that await all of us, our children and their children if the world doesn’t do what it must – halve greenhouse emissions by 2030 and hit net-zero by 2050.

Instead, Gates’ book, whilst covering the horrors, is ‘Micro’-focussed on what the world has to do to put things right. What is actually going to make the globe go from emitting 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere every year now to net-zero in 2050.

Gates says, rightly, the way we produce and distribute power, make things, grow things, get around, keep cool and stay warm – every aspect of these fossil fuel guzzling aspects of modern life - will have to change, dramatically, if the 2030/2050 targets are going to be achieved. And it will be crunchingly hard.

His book goes into great detail about all of it. From developing new fuels, transmitting them, inventing new plants and processes, to how governments and businesses need to create new policies and fresh practises to ensure green industries can grow and establish themselves as the new norm.

Numbers, charts, models, the harsh nitty gritty facts of life, Gates’ spells it out leaving no-one in any doubt that the road to global redemption will be very tough. The international community will also need to work overtime to ensure those most at risk from the changes, who happen also to be the people who have done the least to create such impending climate change catastrophe – the poor and poorer nations - are shielded as much as possible.

But Gates is a self-confessed optimist and he fervently believes, however difficult the way ahead seems in 2021, that saving the planet is doable. He is convinced the right policies will be introduced, the new inventions invented, the new fuels and processes developed. The Miscrosoft man tells us all this can be done.

Analysed at these levels, Gates’ new book is a bible for how to do it. It’s a tour de force in technicality - a serious, common-sense, lucid plan of action as the book’s title says on how to avoid a climate disaster. No-one reading it will fail to be impressed and it is a timely and significant addition to the globe’s current thinking.

But, the Gates plan need analysis on other levels too – ones the book goes soft on and doesn’t address with the same searing detail as the technicalities of the new inventions, how new types of cement must be made and how new green technologies can be financed. Such as:

Climate change deniers – Gates says there are a lot less around these days and he’s right. The trouble is a lot of them are in positions of power and won’t sign up to the Gates plan. Even in the wake of the latest disastrous power failures in Texas, deniers and/or political opportunists have doubled down on the need for renewable energy and, on one radio interview I heard, flatly denied that the way power is generated and used in the Lone Star State today has any effect on the climate.

Donald Trump may not be President anymore but his toxic beliefs on climate change still ring with millions of Americans and others around the world. Trump and his followers are a million miles away from the idea of any greater climate change plan or any detail on how new types of cement might get made. Gates has little to say on this destructive obstacle to progress.

Gates’ plan agrees how vital international co-operation is to achieving the 2030 and 2050 goals and cites the great leaps forward in this area across the globe – from the ground-breaking Paris Accords to the way governments, nations and cities are linking to counter climate change. The world is also coming together for COP26 in Glasgow later this year to further develop what Paris set out.

But the world continues to face extreme challenges to international co-operation with agreements and ties still often on a knife edge. Vladimir Putin is still Vladimir Putin, China is still a master of its own house despite some progressive commitments to climate change, the Middle East is still the Middle East, Syria is still Syria, Brazil still has a populist leader and is still cutting down trees in the Amazon. And, however much we applaud the arrival of Joe Biden and the return of the USA to the Paris agreements, Trump has not gone away and his climate change denying supporters are only weeks this side of having stormed the Capitol in Washington.

These are huge hurdles in the way of developing those new fuels, creating the global supply chains to ensure new green products can be made and creating the political stability to make the Gates plan fly – and the book almost passes this by.

Gates’ plan on almost every page is steeped in the economics of today’s consumer world. He made Microsoft what it is and his mega-millions (which he is turning to great philanthropic value) based on the world of markets and the rules of supply and demand.

But, climate change does not comply with any specific economic theory or practise. All it understands, like the inevitability which sunk Titanic after it had been holed by that ice-berg, is that if greenhouse gasses keep building up in the atmosphere the world will become too dangerous for humans to live in it.

Gates’ is right in that we have to face the climate change challenge from where the world is now. But, perhaps climate change simply won’t wait for consumers, markets, companies and products to work their magic. His book scopes the future set in the current drive for greater consumerism.

An inconvenient truth is that overcoming climate change may have to involve people all over the world, especially those in richer countries, having and doing less, at least in the near future. The world already needs to eat less meat, fly less, drive electric cars, move away from a throwaway culture and pull away from plastics. Gates touches on the idea that people may have to ‘consume less’ but it’s not a big plank in his plan.

The book has been well received across the world but there have been a few unnecessary snipes like how dare yet another privileged rich, white man jump in as if he knows all the answers. Well, Gates may be rich and white but he is an internationally acclaimed voice and thinker quite apart from his role in developing one of the biggest companies in the world. He needs to be listened too.

Other critics have said Gates is spending too much time considering pie in the sky geo-engineering such as capturing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. I’m not qualified to judge these issues but Gates shouldn't be dismissed because he has a few pet ideas that may be baseless. The world is going to get nowhere fast if all we do is stick to what we think we know.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is a important book and should be a must-read for politicians, business people, climate change activists, community leaders and the like the world over. It is a wealth of succinct detail the climate change debate has needed. But, it also has blind spots on some seriously important realities in the world today and if the Gates plan has any hope of coming to fruition, as in many ways we all hope it could, its arguments will need to be widened to confront them.

https://www.gatesnotes.com – For more information on Bill Gates and How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

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