Book Review: “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” by Bill Gates
AirPurifiers.com Explores Bill Gates’ Take on Climate Change and Ways to Find Solutions
By Jenn Goddu
12 min read
Gates’ Environmentalism Expertise
Though you may not associate the Microsoft founder with environmentalism, Gates proves well-versed in what’s happening with decarbonization right now and what’s realistic to aim for in the next few decades.
Although Gates refers to himself as an “imperfect messenger” (14), his first-hand experience adds credibility. Along with his technology and innovation background, Gates draws on his foundation’s work in global poverty. One chapter of this book explores climate change concerning poverty and malnutrition. He also offers insights from his investments and works with Breakthrough Energy, aiming to commercialize clean energy and other climate-related technology.
Other authors might have relied more heavily on academic studies. Still, Gates draws more on technology pitches he’s heard, factories and energy plants he’s visited, and conversations he’s had with the likes of Warren Buffet or third-world farmers. It makes for an informative and engaging book.
Gates, writing solo for the first time (his other two efforts had co-authors), is particularly effective at making his points accessible to the average reader. He begins with reasons we need to prioritize getting to zero emissions. Then, he spends a chapter acknowledging “this will be hard.” Yet, he does even this without making it seem unrelentingly dire.
Next, he devotes an individual chapter to each of the five primary contributors to green-house gasses:
• How we plug in
• How we make things
• How we grow things
• How we get around
• How we keep cool and stay warm
Using his “green premium” calculations to offer readers a way of comparing the costs of different solutions, Gates provides a tool for weighing the many options he presents. For example, when we analyze the suggestion of replacing jet fuel with zero-carbon alternatives. With regular jet fuel retailing at $2.22 per gallon and the zero-carbon advanced biofuel option costing $5.35, he illustrates that airlines (and their passengers) would have to be willing to accept the 141% green premium.
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Broad View of Climate Change Opportunities
Throughout the book, Gates looks at the progress we’ve made, innovations in the work, and possible opportunities. His wide-ranging discussion runs the gamut from plant-based burgers to direct air capture, from nuclear fission to dwarf wheat from pig poop to flow batteries which generate electricity by pumping fluids together. Along the way, he injects some humor, too, to keep us from flagging.
Readers can also thank Gates for offering his “five questions to ask in every climate conversation.” This chapter provides a straightforward way to cut through all of the noise around climate change. Sharing this mental framework for what’s a lot or a little, how expensive something will be, and identifying up-and-coming ideas is equally practical advice for the consumer, employer, employee, policy wonk, or science nerd.
His air quality discussion, of particular interest to this site, is brief and focused on government policy. Sharing examples of pollution in Los Angeles and London in the 1950s (the latter as seen in the Crown) so bad it prompted action, he notes policymakers responded quickly. In China, more recently, programs in response to worsening smog made a real difference, with certain types of pollution declining by 35% or more in different cities within a few years. All this he uses to illustrate the point that government spending on research and action in the form of regulations can play a “leading role” in accomplishing change.
The book concludes with his “concrete plan” to achieve climate change goals, offer a government policy perspective, and share what citizens and consumers and employers, and employees can do to help avoid a climate disaster. Adding an Afterword addressing COVID-19 and climate change further seals the sense that this book is as up-to-date as possible.
Yes, moments are reminding the reader that the author is in his unique strata. He is a billionaire who can talk about a $50 million dead-end investment and how he doesn’t regret it. But for the most part, Gates draws us in with his clear, conversational prose and enthusiasm for his topic.
Plus, his conclusion that we all need to embrace a “fact-based view” of the climate crisis and work together for change can appeal to readers across the political spectrum. It’s exciting to see all the possibilities engineers, scientists, and policymakers explore to make a difference. In the end, the book is motivating and makes a strong case that change is possible.
The Bottom Line
This climate crisis is an issue that affects each and every one of us and as this crisis continues, addressing air quality and air purification will become increasingly critical. Data already shows unusual spikes in the number of reported cases of asthma and allergies. It is important that we educate ourselves and become more aware of ways we can work together toward a solution.