How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need Bill Gates 2021
The biggest challenge
The two most important figures in this book are:
- 51 billion – so many tons of greenhouse gases humanity emits into the Earth’s atmosphere annually.
- 2050 – By this year, we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero, otherwise humanity will face a climate catastrophe.
too big? So it is – this is the biggest challenge that humanity has faced in its history. In 10 to 20 years, the economic damage caused by climate problems will be as severe as if the global economy experienced a pandemic every decade. Humanity is unlikely to withstand such overloads.
During the 2020 global lockdown, emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere have decreased by only 5% – a negligible amount, moreover, at the first opportunity, enterprises and transport around the world will catch up with these figures.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: Imagine a bathtub that slowly fills with water. Even if a thin stream pours from the tap, the tub will continue to fill. If we turn off the tap, the problem will not disappear either (harmful emissions remain in the atmosphere for many years). We need to turn on the faucet (stop harmful emissions) and remove the plug from the bath (find alternative sources of clean energy).
Why is this problem so difficult to solve?
- it is imperceptible: every day, every minute we use things that are created in environmentally harmful ways;
- the world lives better and better and comfortably, which means that we need more and more energy and things produced with its help (almost 40% of global emissions are produced by the richest 16% of the population, by 2050 global energy demand will grow by 50%);
- the transition to new types of energy always takes time, and a new type of energy is always more expensive (this is the reason why humanity has not yet switched to electric vehicles en masse);
- Moore’s law, according to which the power of computers doubles every two years, does not apply, alas, to different types of energy (otherwise the Boeing 767 would circle the globe in 20 minutes while consuming 20 liters of fuel);
- many environmental regulations in force today simply do not take into account climate change (for example, the Clean Air Act of 1963, one of the most influential modern environmental laws in the United States, does not mention greenhouse gases at all);
- environmental trends change with the frequency of governments: each new president sets a new environmental agenda, which brings confusion to the business world and to the work of researchers supported by government grants;
- global cooperation in this area is still difficult: it seems to each state that climate problems will be solved precisely at its expense.
That’s why Gates values the 2015 Paris Agreement so highly, which governs measures to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In the environmental aspect itself, there is nothing extraordinary (if the obligations are met, then by 2030 annual emissions will be reduced by 3-6 billion tons, which is less than 12% of the total emissions today), but in a reputational sense, such an agreement is extremely important: it proved that global cooperation is possible.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Environmental fact check
How to visualize the scale of the problem? Whenever you are dealing with data that describes the ecological situation in the world, use these techniques.
Technique #1: Convert reported tons of emissions into a percentage of $51 billion.
Let’s say that the aviation community has reached an agreement to reduce harmful emissions associated with the production of jet fuel by 17 million tons per year, that is, by 0.03% of annual global emissions. Is it a lot or a little? It also depends on whether this number will grow or remain the same. If the program starts with 17 million tons, this is an optimistic scenario; if she intends to stay at the same level, this is not too impressive. Therefore, the Gates Breakthrough Energy project only funds technologies that reduce emissions by at least 500 million tons per year.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Reception number 2. When studying information about energy sources, pay attention to what power is being discussed (different energy sources produce it with different constancy). Energy is measured in watts, in everyday life, we are dealing with kilowatts. There are 1000 watts in one kilowatt, and household appliances in the house consume 200–300 kWh per month. In a megawatt – 1 million watts, in a gigawatt – 1 billion watts; in gigawatts, they measure the energy needs of cities, in hundreds of gigawatts – countries.
In 2019, the total capacity of US wind turbines exceeded 100 GW, which is enough for 32 million homes and 500 factories. But on the scale of the entire American energy sector, this is less than 10%. In addition, the wind is a fickle phenomenon, so you cannot rely entirely on this source of energy.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Tactic #3: Ask how much space it takes to produce a certain amount of energy. Windmills require more space than solar panels. It is also worth considering the distance between the place where energy is used and the place where it is consumed (wind turbines are far from being effective in all US states).
Tactic #4: Ask how much you’ll pay extra for clean fuel (the “green tax”). A US gallon of jet fuel costs $2.22, while biofuel costs $5.35; the difference between these prices is $3.13, this is the “ecology tax”. The most urgent task is to reduce this tax to zero so that it would be profitable to buy environmentally friendly products.
Technique #5: When optimizing your business for green standards, don’t focus on any one aspect, saving only on production or only on the transportation of goods. Here is the real distribution of harm to nature from different types of activities:
- production of materials (cement, steel, plastic) – 31%;
- electricity production – 27%;
- crop and animal husbandry – 19%;
- transport – 16%;
- cooling and insulation of houses and offices – 7%.
Now about each of them in more detail.
The world around: can it be less poisonous?
Electricity. Gates admits: that if it were possible to reduce the environmental damage from any of the five factors to zero in the blink of an eye, he would choose electricity generation. Although its harmful contribution is only 27%, solving this problem will turn out to be much more beneficial for nature because electricity drives the whole world. With “clean” electricity, humanity will quickly switch to electric vehicles, and the work of factories that would use electricity instead of natural gas will change.
So far, the situation is not too optimistic. The share of world energy derived from coal combustion (approximately 40%) has not changed in 30 years. The share of oil and natural gas also remained the same (26%) over the same period. Solar and wind energy, meanwhile, account for 7%. From 2000 to 2018, China tripled its coal-fired energy consumption.
In general, different countries have very different prospects in terms of searching for alternative “clean” energy. America is easier: in California, year-round solar power is guaranteed; in the Midwest, winds blow constantly – another source of energy. Switching the entire US energy system to zero-carbon sources would raise tariffs by 1.3 to 1.7 cents per kilowatt-hour—about 15 percent more than people are paying now, a manageable “green tax.”
But the sun and wind do not generate electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. And we still don’t know how to create batteries with enough energy to power entire cities with clean energy (the best solar panels today convert less than a quarter of the sunlight that hits them into electricity). What about the location of the new “clean” power plants? America’s current energy system relies on railroads and pipelines to transport fuel long distances to power plants, and then on power lines to transport electricity to cities. But sunlight can’t be sent in a wagon to some power plant; it must be converted to electricity on site.
Here are some promising directions for the development of global energy:
- nuclear fusion. Nuclear energy is one of the most studied and managed phenomena, whose prospects in the field of energy supply are still underestimated. Of course, this brings up Fukushima-1 and the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, but, generally speaking, nuclear energy has killed far fewer people than any fossil fuel; our task is to make it even more “manual”;
- offshore wind energy: they are more constant than the winds on the plains, and many large cities are located near the coast;
- geothermal power plants that generate energy from the thermal energy of underground sources like geysers (although their economic effect is small, and they are not available everywhere – mainly in areas with high volcanic activity);
- hydroelectric power plants are capable of accumulating the generated electricity and putting it into operation at times of peak loads (in normal mode, the units of such stations pump water into specially equipped pools, and when there is a need for energy, the water from them starts to rotate the turbines). Such hydroelectric power plants operate in 35 countries of the world, but they can not be built everywhere, but only in places with a certain relief;
- thermal energy storage. Molten salt can hold heat for a long time – it is placed on solar thermal installations, where hundreds of mirrors collect the heat of sunlight and heat the liquid inside, then it rotates a turbine and generates electricity;
- cheap hydrogen: this is the most common element on Earth and in space, its heat of combustion is the highest, and the product of this combustion – water – can also participate in the circulation of hydrogen energy; however, the production of hydrogen is expensive, and its transportation is also complicated;
- carbon capture and storage is a process involving the separation of this element from energy sources and long-term isolation from the atmosphere. True, this technology is extremely expensive and resource-intensive, its implementation requires billions of euros and huge areas for carbon storage;
- reducing the load on the power grid. Many companies offer electricity rates based on the time of day. Benefits are given to users to reduce their power consumption when the grid cannot provide electricity to all consumers. In some countries, special companies analyze the parameters of the electrical network and determine the price of electricity at any given moment.
The goal is not to have all of these ideas “shoot” at the same time. Some of them work successfully today (reducing the load on the network), and some compensate for each other (if scientists succeed with cheap hydrogen, the creation of thermal energy storage facilities may not be so important). One way or another, we must constantly develop these areas, the plan for the development of energy systems cannot remain the same.
Production of materials. Almost everything around us at work and at home is made of steel, concrete, and plastic: the houses we live in, the things we use, the cars we drive. It takes four times as much energy to produce a ton of steel as it does to produce a ton of cement. Several tons of concrete can be made from a ton of cement. However, when we make cement or steel, carbon dioxide is released as an inevitable by-product, but when we make plastic, about half of the carbon remains in it. A separate item of expenditure is the electrification of this production.
- None of the technologies known today provides completely carbon-free cement: here, apparently, one has to rely on carbon capture technologies.
- Technologies for creating carbon-free steel are known, but they have not yet proven their effectiveness on an industrial scale.
- For plastic, a partial solution has been to produce it from carbon dioxide rather than burning oil and coal. British chemists are able to create nylon directly from atmospheric carbon dioxide. Another solution is plastic recycling (but the energy required for this processing must be “clean”, otherwise the environmental effect is close to zero).
- Even less energy is required to reuse the material, which means that it is important to focus on creating products using recycled and repurposed materials. Buildings and roads can be designed with limited use of steel and cement, instead of which less harmful materials would be used (there is, for example, self-cleaning concrete impregnated with titanium dioxide, which breaks up smog and retains whiteness: if this technology is improved, this concrete can be used in pavement, which will clean the streets from automobile exhausts).
Plant growing and animal husbandry. The main culprit here is not carbon dioxide, but methane and nitrous oxide – however, their impact on global warming is even more detrimental. Worldwide, one billion cattle are raised for beef and dairy products. The methane that these animals emit has the same warming effect as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide – that’s 4% of global emissions.
The amount of methane a cow produces depends largely on where it lives: cattle in South America emit five times more greenhouse gases than those in North America. The thing is that North American cows are improved breeds, receive the best veterinary care and quality feed. The richer and more educated the owners of these cows, the more technologically advanced their production.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Of course, we can simply eat less meat, replacing it with plant-based or lab-grown meat. It can be built with virtually no greenhouse gas emissions (apart from electricity to power the labs). The problem is the same “ecology tax”: such meat is much more expensive as long as it is an experimental product.
Methane is also produced by the food we throw away, which is more than 20% of food in Europe and Asia: this waste produces methane equivalent to 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year. In general, environmental pollution is the price that humanity pays for satiety.
Discovered in the 20th century, the Haber-Bosch 1 process saved mankind from starvation. But today it absorbs more than 1% of all the energy in the world, and these are huge emissions of carbon dioxide. The problem is that only 15% of the nitrogen gets from fertilizers through crops into the stomachs of people, and most of it penetrates into water and air, polluting them, causing acid rain, and killing fish. At the same time, it is impossible to create a trap for nitrogen, as for carbon.
Rich and poor countries are in very different “weight categories” here. Nitrogen fertilizers are harmful, but it is they who save peasants from the poorest countries from starvation. The priority task for them will always be to feed the family, and not to push back the global climate catastrophe. The solution to the problem should be more flexible: do not harm either the environment or people. For example, to create new varieties of rice and corn that can withstand drought and adapted to certain areas of Africa. Work with farmers to explain the benefits of new varieties. In Zimbabwe, this measure helped farmers harvest 600 kg more drought-tolerant corn per hectare than usual. Scientists are creating smartphone apps that allow farmers to use video cameras to detect pests and diseases affecting plants. More applications help farmers determineHow to Avoid a Climate Disaster
These factors account for 70% of the environmental damage caused by agriculture. Another 30% is deforestation. Since 1990, the world has lost more than half a million square miles of forest cover – that’s an area of Peru. Of course, developing satellite monitoring contributes to fire prevention, but this problem is not technological, but economic. The Indonesians cut down 10 million hectares of forest in order to organize palm plantations in this area: the production of palm oil is extremely profitable. Therefore, political (benefits to countries for the conservation of their forests, the introduction of rules that protect certain areas) and scientific (search for an alternative to palm oil) solutions are much more effective.
Of course, new trees can and should be planted in place of cleared forests, but such a measure will always be insufficient: to absorb the emissions produced by the average American in his lifetime, you need to plant about 50 acres of trees (preferably in tropical areas) . It is much more effective not to cut down on those that have already grown.
It would be unfair to say that governments do not pay attention to this problem. China has designated about a quarter of its landmass as critical natural assets to be prioritized by environmental activists, while Mexico has accorded the same status to a third of its river basins—saving water supplies for 45 million people.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Transport. Worldwide, transportation is not the biggest contributor to pollution, but in the US it is the number one. And America offers the whole world a solution to the problem – electric cars. The hindrance is the “ecology tax”: driving on electricity is cheaper only when gasoline is expensive. In some European countries, gasoline prices are so high that the tax has dropped to zero there. But in the US in May 2020, the average price of gasoline fell to $ 1.77 per gallon: in this situation, electric vehicles turn out to be a luxury.
In addition, they are only justified if electricity is generated from sources with zero carbon content (the same claim applies to biofuels: bioethanol from sugar cane or corn is more environmentally friendly, but cane and corn are grown using toxic fertilizers; one can hope for fundamental improvements in this area, but so far, research to improve biofuels is rather poorly funded). And by 2050, all gasoline-powered cars must somehow be removed from the roads: for this, over the next 15 years, electric vehicles must account for 100% of sales (today – less than 2%).
There is another problem with electric vehicles. If the car is relatively light, travels short distances, and parks in the same spot every night to make recharging easier, then electric power is a good solution (the Chinese city of Shenzhen, home to 12 million people, has electrified its entire bus fleet of 16,000 buses – others cities may follow the same path). But what about the huge heavy trucks that cross the country from end to end?
There are five ways to reduce harmful emissions in this area:
1) encourage alternative modes of transportation such as cycling or walking by optimizing the urban environment;
2) use less carbon-intensive materials in car production;
3) step up advanced development of more efficient engines that burn less gasoline;
4) intensify developments that fundamentally reduce the “environmental tax” for electric vehicles: these are administrative measures that encourage people to buy electric vehicles, and technological ones (creation of a network of charging stations).
5) intensify the development of alternative fuels for heavy-duty transport (nuclear-powered sea container ships; hydrogen fuel cell vehicles; locomotives that can be powered from a contact network on electrified lines, and autonomous locomotives on non-electrified sections).
Cooling and warming of houses. Air conditioning is a revolutionary technology that has changed people’s lives (it’s hard to imagine the heyday of countries like Singapore without air conditioners) and computer maintenance (huge server parks cannot work without cooling).
Americans joke that air conditioning brought Reagan to power: with the advent of air conditioning, retirees began to move to the South of the United States, this changed the political balance of the states. At that time (early 1980s), America used half of all air conditioners in the world. Today, China is the leader in this indicator: in just 10 years, the share of air-conditioned houses there has grown from 10 to 60%. By 2050, global demand for electricity for cooling will triple.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
But the air conditioner cools the room only by raising the temperature outside (because of this, in some American cities, the air temperature at night rises by two degrees). The refrigerants used in air conditioners are harmful and they can leak.
There are no major technical hurdles to solving this problem. In 2016, representatives from 197 countries committed to reducing the production and use of certain refrigerants by more than 80% by 2045. And air conditioners are indeed becoming more environmentally friendly, however, few people buy such models – simply because people are little interested in the relevant characteristics of the product. If sellers are required to inform buyers about the properties of air conditioners, adjusting prices accordingly, the average efficiency of air conditioners can be doubled, and the demand for electricity used for air conditioning can be reduced by almost 50% by 2050.
Solving the problem of heating houses is similar to the problem with cars: environmental damage will be reduced significantly if gas stoves in homes are replaced with electric heat pumps (so far, globally, fossil fuels provide six times more energy for heating than electricity).
What we can do
Three control levers
A global task becomes a challenge for those who are chosen by society to make key decisions. There are grounds for optimism here. Looking back at the history of the United States, one cannot fail to recognize how reasonable energy policy was throughout the 20th century. In 1910, only 12% of Americans had electricity in their homes; by 1950, more than 90%. In response to the oil shocks of the 1970s, America bet on the study of alternative energy sources, and passed important legislation related to energy conservation, including fuel efficiency standards for cars. Since the 2008 crisis, the government has created jobs and spurred investment by pouring money into renewable energy, electrical infrastructure, and railways. Other countries have had considerable success: for example, China created a special economic stimulus program in the amount of $584 billion in 2008, most of which went to environmental projects.
Political decisions, the market, and technology are the three levers that will turn the world in the other direction, and make it wean from fossil fuels. But you need to pull all the levers at the same time. Creating a new fuel standard for cars is useless if the technology for creating new generation cars is not debugged and if there is no market demand for them. Technologies for making greener fertilizers could develop much faster if they were supported by the government and brought to the market. The potential for nuclear energy to provide energy is much greater than is commonly believed, but today only a few countries (including Russia and China) are investing in such research.
Solar energy is a great example of an industry where technology, politics and the market have all worked together and successfully. Such studies began to be funded by the governments of the USA, the USSR, and Japan as early as the 1970s. By the early 1990s, more companies were making solar panels, although the technology had not yet been widely adopted. Germany gave a boost to the market by providing low-interest loans for the installation of panels and setting a fixed payment per unit of electricity generated by renewable sources. Then, already in the 2010s, the US introduced loan guarantees for the five largest solar panels in the country. Result: Since 2009, solar electricity prices have fallen by 90%.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Bill Gates plan
It is addressed primarily to governments and businesses. All goals in it are grouped according to two principles:
1) ways that increase the supply of innovations;
2) methods that accelerate the demand for innovation (this includes methods that scale the implemented technologies).
To stimulate supply, governments should:
1) Over the next decade, increase funding for clean energy and climate research by five (today, public funding for this area is about $22 billion a year – this is 0.02% of the global economy; the United States spends only $7 billion a year for these purposes);
2) to encourage risky ideas that private business is afraid to support and that may not pay off immediately (the Human Genome project would not have been supported by any private fund, it took 13 years and cost billions of dollars, but it identified fundamentally new methods of treating dozens of genetic diseases) ;
The global adaptation of the world industry to the new environmental reality is an expensive, but not a win-win business. A special commission, which includes Bill Gates, estimated the cost of key areas for adaptation. These included building early warning systems for natural hazards, building climate-resilient infrastructure, increasing crop yields, managing water resources, and protecting mangrove forests. Conclusion: Investments of $1.8 trillion from 2020 to 2030 will generate more than $7 trillion in returns.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
3) encourage research programs that integrate fundamental and applied research;
The SunShot project has been sponsored by the US Department of Energy since 2011. It had both a specific goal (to reduce the cost of solar energy to $0.06 per kilowatt-hour within a decade) and a global goal (by 2050 to reduce carbon emissions to 20% of their highest level recorded in 1990). Along the way, issues such as reducing the cost of solar energy systems, reducing the cost of financing a solar energy system, and eliminating bureaucratic barriers during the introduction of new technology were resolved. By 2016, the program achieved 90% of its goals, in the fall of 2017 the plan was completed.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
4) the more complex the projects being implemented (and energy projects are very complex), the closer should be the relationship between government initiatives and production, between those people in power who came up with an idea in the style of “it would be great …”, and those who know how to do it. In the early stages of work, it is important to connect and the business that will bring new products to the market will act as a co-investor in projects.
Creating demand for innovation. Any innovation in the energy sector is much more difficult to test in the real world than, say, computer technology: both costs and risks are high.
1) The government should be a key buyer of a new product, whether it be a defense department initiative to buy low-carbon fighter jet fuel or a government commitment to buy low-carbon cement for construction. The idea is not new: the main customer of the Internet was originally the US government;
2) the government should reduce the “green tax” to zero by making carbon-free products cheaper. Tax cuts, credit guarantees – there are many tools for this;
3) the government should promote the creation of infrastructure for new technologies in every possible way: power lines for wind and solar, charging stations for electric vehicles, etc. Even economically competitive low-carbon technologies will not be able to gain market share if the infrastructure is not created to bring them to the market;
4) along with the creation of infrastructure, production standards, and market rules must be adjusted to support the competitiveness of new technologies (so far, regulations adopted in the United States make it difficult to use more advanced biofuels in cars and trucks or introduce new forms of low-carbon concrete in construction).
At the same time, public policy should be:
- flexible, accommodating any decisions that help reduce emissions of harmful substances into the atmosphere, and not just a few companies favored by certain senators;
- predictable (those who support such government initiatives must be sure that we are talking about long-term plans that do not change depending on the political agenda).
Technology scaling. New technology must not only be created but also scaled up according to the specific requirements of society. We are not new to scaling energy technologies: in the 20th century, rural electrification was carried out almost all over the world, and the production of fossil fuels was expanded. Now, these skills need to be used in new conditions:
1) carbon dioxide products should become more expensive (while gasoline, plastic, and other benefits of civilization cost us so cheaply because they do not include the price of environmental damage). It is not so important where the money from these taxes will go (whether to consumers to compensate for rising energy prices, or to finance new developments in this area), it is important that the market will receive a signal: it is more expensive to work with carbon dioxide;
2) “clean” electricity standards should be introduced. One common measure is the Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which mandate that a certain percentage of electricity sold by utilities must come from renewable energy sources;
3) “clean” fuel standards should be introduced (for example, in the USA and EU countries, Euro-4 standards were introduced, which tightened the requirements for maximum permissible concentrations of harmful substances in car exhaust gases: it is noteworthy that fuel that meets this standard is characterized by improved consumer properties, it is less harmful to engines);
4) Cleaner product standards should be introduced in purchasing programs that define labeling principles that give all buyers information about how “clean” a particular supplier is in an environmental sense. Ideally, this practice should cover all carbon-intensive goods, including imported ones (a signal to other states that do not yet meet the required standards: “We will not trade with you”);
5) the introduction of new technologies should be accompanied by an active reduction of environmentally harmful equipment, transport, etc. Only government measures can become the best accelerator of this process: the economy itself is indifferent to the environment, it is quite satisfied with the old plants and factories.
The powers to make such decisions are too diverse, no single state body by itself can fully implement the designated plan. We need action at all levels of government and their maximum coordination. It is important for every official to remember what exactly he can do to change the situation for the better.
- Local governments determine how buildings are built and what types of energy they use, whether buses and police cars run on electricity or gasoline, and how to make the city more walkable.
- State or provincial governments play a central role in electricity regulation, infrastructure planning, and welfare issues (the latter aspect will be especially important when it comes to supporting workers affected by the transition to a new type of energy).
- National governments make decisions covering entire sectors of the economy and international relations.
All this work must be subject to three strict guidelines:
1) reach zero tons of harmful substances emitted into the atmosphere by 2050;
2) by 2030, have a set of developed political and economic measures for this (some activists believe that we can achieve zero emissions by 2030, however, all the above facts and figures indicate that the emission problem will not be solved by this date; to work out by 2030 the necessary measures are a more realistic target);
3) work in every possible way to resolve the issue of reducing the “environmental tax” to zero, supporting sources of “clean” energy, and working to discover new ones.
The world is imperfect, and some states will come to the desired zero mark faster than others. Rich America and Japan can afford expensive energy exploration and experimentation, but poor Nigeria cannot. However, the richest countries should not view their investments in this area as a service free for the rest of the world. In a sense, the richest countries also owe the poorest: it is in countries with higher living standards that the more complex environmental problems arise, for which, in the end, the whole world pays.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
What can each of us do?
If you are an ordinary person, not a businessman or a politician:
- become a conscious consumer, support the eco-friendly offers of the market and reject the harmful ones – in the end, the market will have no choice but to obey the collective will of the buyers;
- use your right to vote: write complaints, and appeals, go to rallies supporting environmental initiatives, vote for candidates who propose relevant solutions, and participate in public councils. But let your questions and claims to the authorities be as specific as possible: not “Let’s live in a clean world”, but “How to prevent the cutting of poplars in our city?”.
If you are an entrepreneur:
- make the “environmental tax” the measure of all your decisions and do everything so that in your case this tax tends to zero;
- give preference to anti-carbon solutions, including by sponsoring them directly (today, companies in the aerospace, raw materials, and energy industries spend less than 5% of their income on relevant developments – this is extremely little);
- introduce an internal carbon tax in your company – a fee for burning carbon-based fuels. Such a tax has already been introduced or planned in 25 countries;
- be a pioneer in the use of environmentally friendly, yet unpopular technologies. Use electric vehicles in corporate fleets, buy low-carbon building materials, and commit to using a certain amount of clean electricity. Many companies around the world, including Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Disney, have already committed to using renewable energy sources for a large part of their operations;
- Collaborate with the government by getting involved in government-funded research, acting as consultants, bringing in your practical commercial experience;
- support inventors: invest in new technologies, create scholarships and educational programs, fund “clean” projects, and create business units specifically focused on low-carbon innovation.
A few years ago, Gates learned about an American company that had created a way to turn woody biomass into a sustainable fuel. He visited the plant, was impressed by what he saw, and after the necessary verification, he decided to invest $50 million in the company. And … the technology turned out to be unprofitable: the plant could not produce enough fuel to stay afloat. Gates’ millions of dollars are missing. Does he regret it? Not at all: if you don’t try, you won’t know. Not every businessman has $50 million, but everyone can take a risk.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
COVID-19 and global warming: what do they have in common?
In 2020, the world has experienced a rehearsal for a global catastrophe. The lessons learned from the pandemic are also relevant for the climate problem. In both cases:
1) the problem cannot be solved without the closest possible international cooperation (if one country gives up slack in solving the coronavirus problem, this will sooner or later affect other countries);
2) we must listen to scientists: no matter how influential politicians are, they cannot do anything without a vaccine created by biologists. The more we invest in the health system, the better prepared we are for the next pandemic; the more we invest in “green” technologies, the closer the transition to zero emissions into the atmosphere;
3) Our decisions must be fair and meet the needs of those most affected: the poor and the elderly have been hit hardest by COVID-19, developing countries are hardest hit by global warming, which cannot cope with this problem with all their will.
Solutions to both of these global problems can move in the same direction: smart investment in clean energy contributes to economic recovery, including by creating jobs (in the US alone, such investments guarantee more than 1.6 million jobs). Funding for the impact of COVID-19 could go directly to expanding the use of renewable energy.How to Avoid a Climate Disaster
Today we have more reason to be optimistic about the solution to this problem. Gates is sure of this because he remembers the events of 2008: then, during the global financial crisis, public support for action on climate change plummeted. Support for climate action remained as strong in 2020 as it was in 2019, despite the dire state of the economy. For 12 years, people’s consciousness has changed: we no longer dismiss global warming. It remains to give him the last fight.
Top 10 Thoughts
1. Either we reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, or put humanity on the brink of extinction.
2. Whenever you are dealing with environmental data, convert the indicated tons of harmful substances into a percentage of 51 billion – this will allow you to understand the scale of the problem visually.
3. Political decisions, the market, and technology – these are the three levers that will turn the world in a different direction, and make it wean from fossil fuels. But you need to pull all the levers at the same time.
4. Everyone can become a conscious consumer by supporting eco-friendly market offerings and rejecting harmful ones. In the end, the market will have no choice but to submit to the collective will of the buyers.
5. Be a public activist, use your right to vote: write complaints, appeal, go to rallies. But let the claims to the authorities be as specific as possible.
6. If you are an entrepreneur, make the “environmental tax” the yardstick of your decisions and do your best to make this tax go to zero.
7. Often we prefer a “harmful” product to a “clean” one, not because it is cheaper, but because we know little about the characteristics of the goods. Our awareness is good for the climate!
8. Investing in adapting the world to a new ecological reality is worth it: remember the $7 trillion in profits that await private capital this decade.
9. The richest countries should not treat their environmental investments as a free service to the rest of the world. We are all in the same boat. The crisis of 2020 has taught us justice.
10. Always give new green technologies a chance.
1. Use of nitrogen from the air to produce ammonia, from which fertilizer can then be obtained. The method was invented by German chemists Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch. The production of fertilizers made it possible to no longer depend on nature with its limited supply of nitrogen in the soil and fully satisfied the food needs of the rapidly growing population of the Earth.