It’s hard to avoid skepticism when someone like American billionaire Bill Gates, 65, decides to write a book with his recipe to save the world.
“I cannot deny that I am another rich man full of opinions,” he jokes in the introduction to his latest work entitled “How to Avoid a Climate Catastrophe”. “But I think my opinions are well founded and I always try to learn more.” This is not a misleading advertisement, at least most of the time.
In fact, the book by co-founder of tech company Microsoft is a surprisingly detailed and clear picture of the magnitude of the challenge humanity faces today to have changed the Earth’s climate.
Despite the brevity of the volume, Gates manages to pinpoint the root of the problem (the brutal dependence on fossil fuels plaguing 21st century civilization) and possible solutions, particularly technological ones, but not only these.
Given the absurdities big business owners can express on environmental issues, it’s comforting that the world’s third richest topic can get straight to the point.
Half-measures will not take the rope out of the climate crisis, Gates hammers. The net emissions of gases resulting from the combustion of fossil fuels such as CO2 (carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide) must be set to zero. It’s relatively quick, on a scale of a few decades. “There is no hypothetical scenario in which we continue to release carbon into the atmosphere and the world stops warming,” he writes.
The big problem is that virtually every aspect of modern life is shaped by our dependence on fossil fuels. As the book lists, plugging things in, making items, producing food, transporting goods and people, cooling and heating things – that is almost all we do – are activities that are made by the today Depend on burning coal, gasoline or natural gas.
To make matters worse, historical trends do not work in our favor. More and more people around the world are living relatively prosperous lifestyles (which usually means more greenhouse gases are being emitted), and the transition to new energy-using systems is often slow – too many mistakes to prevent dangerous climate change.
The only logical approach is to be as pluralistic as possible, says Gates. There is a need to target both the common villains (e.g. gasoline-powered cars and coal-fired power plants) and areas where few consider themselves a major source of greenhouse gases. For example, only the production of steel and cement corresponds to 10% of global emissions.
The billionaire’s recipe, of course, involves the aggressive use of already available clean technologies such as wind, solar and biofuels. However, he argues that multiplying their usage is not enough to achieve the goal of zeroing global net emissions. To do this, we need high investments in innovations.
It will be necessary to find ways to store and transmit energy from renewable sources much more efficiently, which is very different in time and space – the winds change over the course of the year, the sun shines a lot in summer and little in winter Places on earth etc.
It will also be important to radically transform vehicle fleets, with electric cars predominating and / or powered by second generation biofuels (made from vegetable residues like sugar cane bagasse).
Industrial processes that today do not do without forms of combustion such as the production of cement and steel must be “electrified” or are carried out using methods that differ fundamentally from the current ones.
Meat production in the laboratory needs to increase steadily as livestock represents 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions from belching and gas from ox and other ruminants.
Methods of extracting some of the carbon dioxide from the air or safely burying it underground must also be far more efficient and cheaper.
Until then, it would be a tantrum not to agree that such strategies and innovations are desirable – and Gates has invested in or helped articulate prototypes of these technologies. The defense of nuclear energy and, above all, support for further studies and tests in the field of geoengineering are more controversial.
In this second case, the idea is to test strategies like scattering particles that would help darken and cool the atmosphere, similar to what happens in large volcanic eruptions.
The side effects of this type of approach can be hugely unpredictable, making the purported remedy for global warming far worse than the disease. However, to be fair, Gates spends no more than a page and a half analyzing the pros and cons of this radical treatment – so it doesn’t seem high on his list.
Perhaps the book’s most positive surprise, however, is the emphasis the author places on government action and public policy making. In contrast to the wild privatism that prevails in much of American high-business, Gates is aware that planetary challenges can never be met without the strong intervention of the state – based, of course, on scientific evidence.
Instead of simply telling the reader to “eat less meat” or “buy an electric car,” Gates said the most important individual measures against the climate crisis are political measures: vote for green candidates, put pressure on MPs, participate in debates on climate action Participate in your region or even run for local elections with a climate platform for voting. This can have a positive effect even without disruptive technological innovations.