Book review Recommended Read Science

Book Review | How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

Rating: 3 out of 4.

Bill Gates’ new book How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is informative and engrossing. It is a great primer for anyone who seeks to upgrade his knowledge on Global warming and Carbon neutrality. It reveals a lot about how the world governments are poised to take on the challenge.

That said, the fact that Bill Gates is at the helm does impinge on some of the content matter in the book. I will come to that in a while, but first things first.

Climate change is frighteningly real.

In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – a body whose data Gates frequently cites in the book – presented a report presented to the UN on Global Warming. It emphatically declared:

Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

An increase of 1.5°C does not exactly sound intimidating, but it can inflict irreversible damage to our planet’s ecosystems.

What I liked about the book

Gates deserves praise for deciphering the technicalities of carbon neutrality and for fashioning a book that anyone with any background can read and understand.

His writing exudes urgency and intent to get started on curbing carbon emissions. In his own words, achieving net-zero by 2050 is a hard challenge.

This book essentially details his plan to reduce the carbon footprint from 51 billion tonnes today to zero by 2050. To do this, he takes the reader through where the emissions come from and examines ways to work through each of those areas, which he breaks down into making things, plugging in, growing things, getting around, and keeping warm and cool.

Gates states that the next wave of greenhouse emissions would come from developing countries like India, China, Brazil, Malaysia, etc. where hundreds of millions await the same kind of middle-class lifestyle that Americans and Europeans experienced when they were going up the ladder.

His solution to this is not very heartening. Today the richest 16% of the world’s population produces 40% of the carbon footprint. He proposes and expects that the rich world goes to carbon neutrality first, abandoning fossil fuels altogether while the emerging nations can follow suit after a while. Though I don’t blame Bill Gates for proposing this, this is an incalculable scenario.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster does a great job of alerting the naysayers and fence-sitters to the fact that climate change is real. It’s an impending disaster for the entire world. The compounding effects of a 2-degree-Celsius rise in temperatures would wreak havoc on the world’s ecosystems and destroy the livelihoods of billions.

Bill sounds quite pragmatic while discussing unavoidable yet thorny issues such as Green premiums. Green premium is the extra money you pay for replacing products and services that normally emit CO2. The innovative green or clean products of tomorrow would be healthy for the environment, but too expensive for everyone to afford.

In developing countries, this could become a political hot potato. Where people find it hard to gather two square meals a day, expecting them to cough up a major proportion of their overall income on clean transport or clean electricity would be nothing less than provocative.

What I didn’t like about the book

See, Bill Gates is no ordinary author. He is a billionaire, a philanthropist, and an active investor in many companies. Some of those companies are mentioned in How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. Though he does acknowledge his involvement, it makes you think twice whether he is pushing an agenda.

Take, for example, Terra Power, a new-age nuclear reactor company of which Bill Gates is the Chairman. If you had a chance to watch Inside Bill’s Brain, then you’d know about this company. It builds traveling wave reactors and Bill wants them to replace all the old-technology reactors across the world.

In his book, he subtly builds a watertight case for nuclear power and kind of sidesteps wind and solar energy because of their inability to provide consistent power around the year. Though experts claim that problems related to intermittency are often exaggerated, Bill insinuates that solar and wind power are not reliable in the long run. Do you see a solid business proposition here?

His following argument to justify nuclear power had me giggling. I mean it’s factually correct but sounds goofy coming from Bill Gates.

“Nuclear Power kills far, far fewer people than cars do. It kills far fewer people than any other fossil fuel.”

Let’s not forget that Bill Gates is also the largest shareholder in Canada National Rail (he owns 16.36%) which is engaged in the business of transporting fossil fuels.

He also came in for a lot of criticism for his stance that rich countries should switch over to 100% plant-based meat. It’s hard for people to take him seriously when such assertions directly benefit the companies which he has partly funded.

All such things make you question if Bill Gates has the moral ground to preach to others what he himself hasn’t practiced or maybe, is only starting to practice. That’s where I feel the conflict.

Conclusion

If you are not clued-up on what’s happening on the climate change front, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster will open your eyes to many other significant CO2 contributors. Most importantly, you will learn the incredible cost of getting to zero carbon emissions.

Long story short. At all levels of society – governments, corporations, or individuals – concerted action to reduce carbon neutrality has to happen.

It’s a herculean task that requires herculean efforts.

Globally, political and governmental partnerships are pivotal, and we are not there yet. Not even close. The Paris Accord was the first step and the unwillingness of a few critical players to participate illustrates far more clearly where we are than does Bill Gates’ book.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster has its share of high points and shortcomings. But the message is clear – our planet is on borrowed time and we must act now to avert any irreversible situation.

The following line from the book stuck in my memory. In the present context, it serves as a great reminder to be prepared:

“By 2050, climate change could be as deadly as Covid-19 and by 2100, it will be 5x deadly.”

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

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