A down-to-earth stock-take on avoiding the climate disaster. What do we need? What do we have? What do we need to invent? An honest look at what will it take and how hard will it be. But also filled with the inventor’s optimism and faith in the power of the human mind.
After I wholeheartedly recommended to my friend The Three-Body Problem she, in turn, lent me this one. A book I would probably not buy myself, but had no problems reading if it came recommended. Interestingly, it was with this friend that we heard Bill Gates speak a few years ago, during a lovely summer day in the park where we chanced in on a climate event.
The book literally does what it says on the tin. Thankfully Gates is not dabbling in fiction, because his imagination is not a literary one. He starts with his foundation and why he plans to stay focused on poverty, disease, and inequity around the world. But also why the climate is dear to his heart and how he works on that issue in many other ways.
Then he quickly explains why we cannot just aim to bring emissions down, but instead should be focusing on getting them down to zero by 2050. Then Gates explains how for the sake of clarity he groups human activities to analyze their impact on emissions.
What I really liked about this book is how not emotional it is. He focuses on the numbers, calculating the Green Premium for each solution (how much more would it cost us to use available green solutions). But what is really interesting here, apart from the costs, is his laser focus on where we need innovation. How we need the states and private investors to invest in innovation and accept the risk that some things will not pan out. But also this investment cannot be random, it has to be very targeted.
Another thing that is very interesting in this book is Gates’ optimism. He is not catastrophizing. In fact, he assumes we all know what will happen if the climate continues to get warmer. So he just briefly sums up the outcomes. Because this book really is about solutions. It is meant to empower, to give hope that is based on facts.
It reads well because it is simple. Gates does not complicate things unnecessarily. The science is basic, the language very straightforward. What makes it fun is also how Gates is sometimes geeking out when talking about inventions that have been made or are in progress. You can really see his passion for new things, for the progress humanity can make. He admits it will be difficult but also has a strong conviction we can do this.
In the conversation about climate, the hopeful voices are few and far between. But this is one of them and it is very refreshing. It’s a call to action and focus, without unnecessary or counterproductive drama. Also, Gates is not shying away from being very human about it, he shows us where things fascinate him, but also where he feels he still falls short. He is honest about what he’ll do about it.
I did also learn a few things I did not know. For example, it is a no-brainer that producing steel results in carbon emissions, but I never considered that producing concrete is not much better. Basically, for a ton of cement, we release a ton of carbon dioxide. I now have a construction side outside my window and even this one site uses a lot of concrete, and they’re only getting started.
My takeaway from this book is that we can do this. We can get to zero, but it takes a concerted effort on every single level. And really focusing on the goal of getting down to zero, not only cutting the emissions down.
Photo by Violetta Kaszubowska
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