How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

2021 book by Bill Gates

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need is a book published on February 16, 2021 which was written by software entrepreneur, billionaire and philanthropist Bill Gates.

"To avoid a climate disaster [1] we have to get to zero {net emissions by the year 2050}." - One of the many risks associated with climate change is an increased risk of catastrophic floods.
"To avoid a climate disaster [2] We need to deploy the tools we already have, like solar and wind, faster and smarter." - This logo depicts four common, currently-available sources of renewable energy: wind power, solar power, biofuels and hydropower.
"To avoid a climate disaster [3] we need to create and roll out breakthrough technologies that can take us the rest of the way." - Pictured above is Thomas Edison, considered one of the greatest inventors of all time.
"Deploying today’s renewables and improving transmission couldn’t be more important." - This photo shows solar panels, wind turbines, and components of the electrical grid that carry the electricity generated to consumers.
"[W]e’re going to need much more clean electricity in the coming years. . . . [B]y 2050 . . . the world will need much more than three times the electricity we generate now." - Click on the above image to enlarge a depiction of one possible "smart grid" configuration.
"As the climate gets warmer, droughts and floods will become more frequent, wiping out harvests more often." - This photo shows the effects of a drought in the US state of Texas on corn (maize) production.
"In most locations, your overall costs will go down if you get rid of an electric air conditioner and gas (or oil) furnace and replace both with an electric heat pump." - This photo shows the exterior heat exchanger for an air source heat pump.
"[G]overnments need to . . . [q]uintuple clean energy and climate-related [research and development] over the next decade." - The US National Renewable Energy Laboratory researches photovoltaics, biofuels, renewables commercialization, wind power, electric infrastructure systems, hydrogen and fuel cells, etc.
"By the middle of this century, the cost of climate change to all coastal cities could exceed $1 trillion . . . each year." - Click on the map above to show the locations of major cities threatened by rising sea levels, including New York, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Shanghai and Mumbai.
"Technologies needed [to avoid a climate disaster]: Hydrogen produced without emitting carbon . . . ." - This illustration shows a hydrogen tank in the back of a fuel cell electric vehicle.
"Rich and middle-income people are causing the vast majority of climate change. The poorest people are doing less than anyone else to cause the problem . . . ." - Click on the image above to enlarge a graphic which illustrates this idea.
"As a Citizen . . . Make calls, write letters, attend town halls. . . . [M]ake clear that this is an issue that will help determine how you vote." - Londoners voting in a UK general election.
"We should spend the next decade focusing on the technologies, {governmental} policies and market structures that will put us on the path to eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050." - The "Blue Marble" image of Earth, or the entire planet in one photo.
"[Bill Gates has a] touching, admirable faith in science and reason, [but he also] knows that the solution he seeks is inextricably tied up in political decisions." - Gordon Brown, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 2007 to 2010.
"[I]n 2015, Gates . . . launched Breakthrough Energy, an interlinked venture capital fund [that invests] in energy innovation [and] an international pact called Mission Innovation [that persuades governments to fund] clean-energy research and development. These various endeavors are the through line for [the] book."- Leah Stokes, Canadian-American political scientist.

The book is organized into five parts. In part one (chapter 1), Gates explains why the world must completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions ("getting to zero"), rather than simply reducing them. In part two (chapter 2) he discusses the challenges that will make achieving this goal very difficult. In part three (chapter 3) he outlines five pragmatic questions a reader can ask to evaluate any conversation they have about climate change. Part four (the longest part of the book, or chapters 4 through 9) analyzes currently-available technologies that can be utilized now to adapt to and mitigate climate change ("the solutions we have") and those areas where innovation is needed to make climate-friendly technologies cost competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts ("the breakthroughs we need"). In the final part (chapters 10 through 12) Gates suggests specific steps that can be taken by government leaders, market participants and individuals to collectively avoid a climate disaster.

Introduction: 51 Billion to ZeroEdit

Chapter 1: Why Zero?Edit

Chapter 2: This Will Be HardEdit

Chapter 3: Five Questions to Ask in Every Climate ConversationEdit

  • [Question] 2. What’s Your Plan for Cement? . . . [This question] is just a shorthand reminder that if you're trying to come up with a comprehensive plan for climate change, you have to account for much more than electricity and cars.
    • Page 54
Making things (cement, steel, plastic) . . . . . 31%
Plugging in (electricity) . . . . . 27%
Growing things (plants, animals) . . . . . 19%
Getting around (planes, trucks, cargo ships) . . . . . 16%
Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigeration) . . . . . 7%
  • Page 55
  • [Question] 5: How Much Is This Going to Cost? . . . Most . . . zero-carbon solutions are more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts. . . . These additional costs are what I call Green Premiums. . . . Green Premiums [can help us] decide which zero-carbon solutions we should deploy now [those with low or negative premiums] and where we should pursue breakthroughs because the clean alternatives aren't cheap enough.
    • Pages 59 to 61

Chapter 4: How We Plug InEdit

27 percent of 51 billion tons per year

  • Deploying today’s renewables and improving transmission couldn’t be more important. . . . Unless we use large amounts of nuclear energy . . . every path to zero in the United States will require us to install as much wind and solar power as we can build and find room for. . . . [M]ost countries aren’t as lucky as the United States when it comes to solar and wind resources. . . . That’s why, even as we deploy, deploy, deploy solar and wind, the world is going to need some new clean electricity inventions too.
    • Pages 83 and 84
  • Offshore wind holds a lot of promise . . . .
    • Page 90

Chapter 5: How We Make ThingsEdit

31 percent of 51 billion tons per year

  • [W]e don’t have a practical way to make [the cement in concrete] without producing carbon.
    • Page 102
  • [C]ement . . . steel [and] plastics are cheap because fossil fuels are cheap.
    • Page 105
  • [In discussing solely cement, steel and plastics in this chapter] I'm leaving out fertilizer, glass, paper, aluminum, and many others. . . . We manufacture enormous amounts of materials, resulting in copious amounts of greenhouse gases, nearly a third of the 51 billion tons per year.
    • Page 106
  • [T]he path to zero emissions in manufacturing looks like this: (1) Electrify every process possible. This is going to take a lot of innovation. (2) Get that electricity from a power grid that’s been decarbonized. This also will take a lot of innovation. (3) Use carbon capture to absorb the remaining emissions. And so will this. (4) Use materials more efficiently. Same.
    • Page 111

Chapter 6: How We Grow ThingsEdit

19 percent of 51 billion tons a year

  • With agriculture . . . each year’s emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are the equivalent of more than 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide.
    • Page 113
  • There’s so much animal poop that it’s actually the second-biggest cause of emissions in agriculture, behind enteric fermentation.
    • Pages 117 and 118
  • [W]orldwide, crops take up less than half the nitrogen applied to farm fields. The rest runs off into ground or surface waters, causing pollution, or escapes into the air in the form of nitrous oxide . . . .
    • Page 124
  • The most effective tree-related strategy for climate change is to stop cutting down so many of the trees we already have.
    • Page 129

Chapter 7: How We Get AroundEdit

16 percent of 51 billion tons a year

Chapter 8: How We Keep Cool and Stay WarmEdit

7 percent of 51 billion tons a year

  • The path to zero carbon for heating actually looks a lot like the path for passenger cars: (1) electrify what we can, getting rid of natural gas water heaters and furnaces, and (2) develop clean fuels to do everything else.
    • Page 153
  • In most locations, your overall costs will go down if you get rid of an electric air conditioner and gas (or oil) furnace and replace both with an electric heat pump.
    • Page 153
  • You already have a heat pump in your home . . . . It's called a refrigerator.
    • Page 154

Chapter 9: Adapting to a Warmer WorldEdit

  • Just about everyone who’s alive now will have to adapt to a warmer world. As sea levels and floodplains change, we’ll need to rethink where we put homes and businesses. We’ll need to shore up power grids, seaports, and bridges. We’ll need to plant more mangrove forests . . . and improve our early-warning systems for storms.
    • Page 160
  • As the climate gets warmer, droughts and floods will become more frequent, wiping out harvests more often.
    • Page 163
  • Rich and middle-income people are causing the vast majority of climate change. The poorest people are doing less than anyone else to cause the problem, but they stand to suffer the most from it. They deserve the world’s help, and they need more of it than they’re getting.
    • Page 169
  • By the middle of this century, the cost of climate change to all coastal cities could exceed $1 trillion . . . each year.
    • Page 171

Chapter 10: Why Government Policies MatterEdit

Chapter 11: A Plan for Getting to ZeroEdit

  • [I]f you want a measuring stick for which countries are making progress on climate change . . . don't simply look for the ones that are reducing their emissions. Look for the ones that are setting themselves up to get to zero.
    • Page 197
  • To get these [breakthroughs on the "Technologies needed" list] ready soon enough to make a difference, governments need to . . . [q]uintuple clean energy and climate-related R&D over the next decade. . . .
    • Page 200
  • It helps to set ambitious goals and commit to meeting them, the way countries around the world did with the 2015 Paris Agreement. It’s easy to mock international agreements, but they’re part of how progress happens: If you like having an ozone layer, you can thank an international agreement called the Montreal Protocol.
    • Page 215
  • There are markets worth billions of dollars waiting for someone to invent low-cost, zero-carbon cement or steel, or a net-zero liquid fuel. As I’ve tried to show, making these breakthroughs and getting them to scale will be hard, but the opportunities are so big that it’s worth getting out in front of the rest of the world.
    • Pages 216 and 217

Chapter 12: What Each of Us Can DoEdit

  • As a Citizen . . . Make calls, write letters, attend town halls. . . . [M]ake clear that this is an issue that will help determine how you vote. . . . Look locally as well as nationally. . . . Run for office.
    • Pages 218 to 220
  • As an Employee or Employer . . . Prioritize innovation in low-carbon solutions. . . . Be an early adopter. . . . Connect with government-funded research.
    • Pages 222 to 224

Afterword: Climate Change and COVID-19Edit

  • We should spend the next decade focusing on the technologies, [governmental] policies and market structures that will put us on the path to eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050. It's hard to think of a better response to a miserable [year of COVID-19 disruptions during] 2020 than spending the next ten years dedicating ourselves to this ambitious goal.
    • Page 230

Quotes about How to Avoid a Climate DisasterEdit

Gordon BrownEdit

  • Gates is right about the scale and urgency of the problem . . . . [He has a] touching, admirable faith in science and reason, [but he also] knows that the solution he seeks is inextricably tied up in political decisions. . . . [T]o operationalise the Paris [COP21] agreement – to limit warming to 1.5 degrees – requires countries to halve their CO2 emissions by 2030. So vested interests like big oil will have to be enlisted for change. The . . . rhetoric of irresponsible demagogues will have to be taken head on. And supporters of a stronger set of commitments will have to show why sharing sovereignty is in every nation’s self-interest . . . . Success will come by demonstrating that the real power countries can wield to create a better world is not the power they can exercise over others but the power they can exercise with others.

Bill McKibbenEdit

  • [How to Avoid a Climate Disaster] could not be more timely . . . . [W]e are in dire need of solutions to the greatest crisis our species has yet faced. . . . It is a disappointment, then, to report that this book turns out to be a little underwhelming. . . . [The price of] solar power has dropped astonishingly in the last decade [and] storage batteries are now dropping in price on a similar curve . . . . [Bill Gates is] absolutely right that we should be investing in research across a wide list of technologies because we may need them down the line to help scrub the last increments of fossil fuel from the system, but the key work will be done (or not) over the next decade, and it will be done by sun and wind. . . . Most people, Gates included, have not caught on yet to just how fast [the price decline for solar and wind power] is happening. So why aren’t we moving much faster than we are? That’s because of politics, and this is where Gates really wears blinders. “I think more like an engineer than a political scientist,” he says proudly — but that means he can write an entire book about the “climate disaster” without discussing the role that the fossil fuel industry played, and continues to play, in preventing action. . . . Power comes in many forms, from geothermal and nuclear to congressional and economic; it’s wonderful that Gates has decided to work hard on climate questions, but to be truly helpful he needs to resolve to be a better geek — he needs to really get down on his hands and knees and examine how that power works in all its messiness. Politics very much included.

The EconomistEdit

  • Bill Gates [in his] new book, "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" [asserts that if] humanity is to win the great race between development and degradation . . . green innovation must accelerate. . . . [G]iven the pressing need to decarbonise the global economy, says Mr Gates, "we have to force an unnaturally speedy transition" [to carbon-free energy, and the] linchpin of his argument is the introduction of a meaningful carbon price to account for the externalities involved in using dirty energy. . . . [Some will consider Gates' views on several issues to be] an outmoded mindset. He is an unabashed defender of carbon-free nuclear power, despite the industry's failure to solve serious problems surrounding waste and proliferation. He chastises those who make a fetish out of wind and solar technologies, emphasising the constraints of the intermittent generation they involve. . . . Mr Gates . . . acknowledges the power of the state and a need for intergovernmental co-operation, something not often heard from techno-libertarians; but he also calls for more green ambition and risk-taking by short-termist investors and company bosses. Ultimately his book is a primer on how to reorganise the global economy so that innovation focuses on the world’s gravest problems. It is a powerful reminder that if mankind is to get serious about tackling them, it must do more to harness the one natural resource available in infinite quantity — human ingenuity.

Leah StokesEdit

Paul HockenosEdit

  • Few climate crisis books give cause for hope. But Bill Gates’s new title does just that as [he] charts a way for private enterprises and governments to stave off the worst of global warming. . . . [He] is convinced that fossil fuels have to be replaced with renewable energy – and as soon as possible. Factories, vehicles and heating systems must all become electrified, and then run on green power. . . . So far, so good! [He also] says nuclear plants will stabilise the smart grids that link our energy systems of the future. . . . Here, however, he’s wrong. . . . [H]e underestimates the expert opinion that better storage – batteries and beyond – together with demand management and smart networks can balance the grid. One cornerstone to this way forward: natural gas would have to be on standby. But why not? This is already the case in Germany. . . . The other bone I have to pick with Gates lies in his contention that our market economies and extravagant lifestyles don’t have to change. . . . [C]riticism aside, this readable and jargon-free book offers valuable nuggets and advice for investors and politicos.

See alsoEdit

Carbon sequestration

External linksEdit