How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need (Hardcover)
“HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER: THE SOLUTIONS WE HAVE AND THE BREAKTHROUGHS WE NEED” by Bill Gates
“THE FUTURE WE CHOOSE: Surviving the Climate Crisis” by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac
The opportunity to review these books on the heels of the August 7, 2021 release by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) is fortuitous. The release provides a rich tapestry of the ominous state of the world as theater for the dramatic climate policy responses in both these books.
Self-styled billionaire, entrepreneur/engineer Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change, with the help of physicists, chemists, fellow engineers, biologists, political scientists, and economists. This book is his engineering/mercantile framework to lead the world in avoiding a climate-driven, future global disaster.
Not to be outdone, calling climate change the “mother of all issues,” political activist Figueres, former Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and spokesperson for the IPCC and Rivett-Carnac, her Senior Political Advisor, offer a political action plan to reach what they refer to as the scientifically established goal of “net zero emissions” by 2050, a similar goal of Gates.
These three works (AR6/Gates’/Figueres’) seem to set new standards for unconstrained governmental and mercantile interventions into human life, in pursuit of the goal to preserve humankind’s existence while creating a green energy world and intergenerational equity in the process. The books assume that the world accepts AR6’s and its predecessor ARs’ “anthropogenic scientific consensus” as incontrovertible fact about climate change; its cause (mainly carbon dioxide driven) and its measureable extent; and it’s inexorable future, as the authors formulate pathways to avert what they see as obvious...humankind’s certain suicidal Armageddon. Even acknowledging (as this reviewer strongly does) that the Earth’s average temperature is increasing is in no way the place-holder for AR6’s/ Gates’/Figueres’ “incontrovertible facts”.
Why is that?
First, the persistent reference to “manmade” warming throughout each work is prejudicial, red meat for media-talk. Figueres (for over 30 years) and Gates (for perhaps 10 years) have been convinced (though they themselves are not convincing) that we are now in the Anthropocene Epoch, i.e., a geological time unit in which the trajectory of the Earth System (e.g., climate, oceans, biosphere) is being profoundly altered in epoch-scale magnitudes with permanent effect by human impact, even though such epoch has not yet been designated officially by the International Union of Geological Sciences. Hubris, perhaps, is this increasingly popular notion of human domination over Mother Earth, that man is able to shape the world around him according to his wishes or mistakes. Influence, yes; domination, hardly.
Second, AR6 rests firmly on “consensus science”, i.e., the position held by scientists whose opinions of the future have been carefully hand-picked by IPCC on the physical issues being investigated, despite containing seriously diverging, embedded projection models, requiring averaging (!!) to produce consensus. The science isn’t unanimous, by definition, nor is it necessarily permanent. The history of science has many examples of true science overturning consensus, like Galileo, Copernicus and others. Consensus is an interestingly powerful narrative, but it holds little value against “science “derived from applying true scientific method (hypothesis, test, appraisal of methods and assumptions by outside experts, with reproduced results) and lessons of what Einstein, Feynman and other respected scientists say is true science.
The engraving on the Einstein Memorial Statue at the National Academy of Science in Washington reads: “The right to search for truth implies also a duty: one must not conceal any part of what one has recognized to be true.” Feynman expands this quote: ”Try to give all the information to help others to judge the value of your contribution; not just the information that leads to judgment in one particular direction or another.” AR6 has not done this, nor have the previous ARs1-5.
But relying on consensus, which “physicists and chemists and engineers” did Gates visit in his investigations? Certainly not with the four major professional engineering societies (IEEE, ASME, AIChE, ASCE), which have been soundly criticized by anthropocene-devotees for staying on the sidelines of the consensus debate. And he certainly did not consult with the American Chemical Society (ACS), which has opined: “Forget the carbon dioxide. Water vapor is the most important greenhouse gas. It controls the Earth’s atmosphere.”
Third, solid evidence of truly dominant, natural forces of climate change exists, dwarfing human effects, but unmentioned by AR6, Gates, or Figueres. A 1500 year(+/-) proven climate cycle was disclosed in the work awarded in the prestigious 1996 Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement (i.e., the Nobel Prize equivalent for environmental sciences). This acclaimed, peer-reviewed, scientific methodologically-produced discovery has since been corroborated repeatedly in over 25 years of follow-up research on Greenland and Antarctic ice cores, successfully back-fitted against actual warming and cooling records revealed in over 900,000 years of Earth’s existence.
Fourth, neither the AR6 nor the Gates/Figueres books even mention serious ongoing scientific work to get the physical science of Earth’s geosphere and the economics of climate change modeled more accurately. Two such rigorous, complementary undertakings are the Caltech-led CLiMA project (physics/chemistry focused) and the M.I.T.-led Joint Program on the Science & Policy of Global Change (economics/society focused). Such work is specifically designed to sharply reduce the increasing uncertainties (physics and economics) in the scores of different computer climate model runs used as the IPCC research sources, whose averaged projected results generate AR6 endorsed, “consensus science”. Those dozens of models contain virtually no discriminating information on geographic differences and local impacts; and, remarkably, all the models back-test poorly against actual, historical global temperature records.
The Caltech group and M.I.T/Harvard efforts are important, ongoing undertakings aimed at interdicting trillions of potentially misspent dollars on currently, scientifically misidentified causes and term effects of climate change, to implement the necessary structural changes.
Fifth, the AR6 and Gates/Figueres consistently refer to “global warming of “x” Centigrade degrees”, leading to a screaming misinterpretation. Warming increase is measured by global warming calculated over a given base level, i.e., the “increase in warming” as calculated from warming level 1 to warming level 2. The international standard of warming is calculated by Planck’s Law, using the Stefan-Boltzmann Equation, with warming measured on the Kelvin scale, not Centigrade scale, which is the source of misinterpretation, though not acknowledged as such.
Public confusion arises from the fact that 1 Kelvin degree equals 1 Centigrade degree. Thus, for example, the scenario that posits a future doubling of carbon dioxide content in the biosphere is said to predict (in media language) a temperature change of 3 degrees on the Centigrade scale. Since the global average Centigrade temperature is 15 degrees Centigrade, the warming is narrated (either in error or in mischief) to increase 3/15, or a steamy 20%. However, the actual warming is the gradient over the global KELVIN temperature (288 Kelvin degrees) thus 3/288, or 1% increase (not the hysterical 20%).
Sixth, critically informative economic analysis is not yet being used.
With which economists did Gates consult? Did he visit with the economic “lodestar” American Economic Association (AEA); and has he read their brilliant economist’s guide on climate science? or talked with vocal IPCC critic, Yale economist William Nordhaus, co-recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in the economics of climate change?
Perhaps he did, but it’s not obvious in Gates’ book.
No advocate of the process of so-called consensus science, Nordhaus is a fervent believer in good “science and economics” methodology, appraisal of methods and assumptions by outside experts, with reproduced results. He believes that the previous IPCC’s ARs’ economics were seriously wrong; and with no Nordhaus public announcements on AR6 yet, perhaps past will be prologue. Nordhaus believes that the central economic questions about climate change policy (i.e., how much, how fast, how costly) remain unaddressed without more appropriate socio-economic models, which include more local and regional analysis (i.e., geo-spatial granularity) and, extremely important, more longer-term time sensitivity and social utility awareness, which are, coincidently the similar objectives of the M.I.T./Harvard program).
Also, it is not clear that the AR6 acknowledges whether Nordhaus’ previous analysis of IPCC’s shortcomings is factored into either its economic strategies and conclusions, or those of Figueres.
Seventh, green energy mining hurdles:
Have Figueres or Gates considered the inconvenient truths disclosed by the World Bank on its findings of the massively disruptive requirements of mineral and metal extraction needed to produce so-called clean energy? If so, they are silent.
As is AR6.
In 2015, the UN promulgated its Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) achievable by a forced shift in energy production from carbon-based fuels to renewables, over the next few decades to reach 50% reduction of carbon emissions (i.e, build enough solar and wind utilities to produce half of the electricity to power half of the world’s economy by 2050). Less than two years later, the unaffiliated World Bank quietly announced that reaching such goals will require a dramatic increase in metal and rare-earth minerals extraction, already among the biggest drivers of deforestation, ecosystem collapse, biodiversity loss in the world.
Some examples of the World Bank’s current estimation of the potential environmental disaster, which would accompany squelching carbon based energy sources and implementing substitute green strategies, follow:
- Massive increases in toxic materials over existing levels of extraction of wind turbine materials (neodymium), silver and indium (solar panels), lithium (battery storage), copper-cobalt-dysprosium (cars), ranging from 70% increases to nearly 3000%
- To produce one ton of lithium requires 500,000 gallons of fresh water; green strategies will require an increase of 40 million tons of lithium, which would kill the fresh water supply of the world
- To reach zero emissions instead of merely 50% reduction, the mining required is called “staggering” and vastly exceeding current levels: 34 million tons of copper, 40 million tons of lead, 50 million tons of zinc, 162 million tons of aluminum, and 4.8 billion tons of iron
- To produce the amount of silver needed would require finding and digging more than 130 new silver mines the size of the world’s 5th largest, open pit mine, the legendary “Earth-scar” Penasquito, Mexico, currently covering nearly 40 sq. miles, with a miles-long tailings dam full of toxic sludge, retained by a wall as high as a 50-story skyscraper.
Aside from the incremental mining invasion of the physical earth in achieving SDG, wind and solar power will remain severe challenges to the world’s power grids. Some of the challenges may be overcome (e.g., contentious siting issues; politically surprising World Bank findings of China’s outright, global dominance in “green power” metals and mineral supply, including reserves; and probable bankrupting of existing power producers and carbon-based energy producers), but some shall not be overcome (one of which is the most “inconvenient” admission for renewables advocates, i.e., the economic need to preserve conventionally powered fossil fuel plants to make up for the natural variability and low capacity factor of solar and wind, which work at roughly 1/3 electricity production capacity relative to their potential). Conventional plants, although needed for grid reliability, will not run often enough in the supplemental power role to recover their costs, thus a further economic drain and major incremental cost of going green.
Despite the limitations of Gates and Figueres works as discussed, read their books. Some information is novel and interesting, such as Gates’ chapters-long breakdown of sources of convenient villain carbon dioxide and its capture; and some, peculiar, such as Figueres’ inconvenient recognition (p.135) that our fossil fuel driven “economic growth has lifted more people out of poverty than any other model in history”. This is supported separately by a World Bank assessment that the share of the world’s inhabitants living in extreme poverty fell to 9.3% in 2017 from 42.7% in 1981.
This is similar to data collected by the Gates Foundation, reported graphically by The Guardian, 29 January 2019, in which Gates is quoted: ”This is one of my favorite info-graphics. A lot of people underestimate just how much life has improved and that free market capitalism has been great for everyone.”
So, yes, read them both for a better understanding of the brute force noise related to climate change, the deafening “absolute necessity” of breaking the back of the fossil fuel infrastructure with stubbornly less-reliable, more toxic renewables, and “what we must do now” to avoid burning on hell-on-earth because of the rising temperature or drowning because of the rising seas (even both simultaneously, if that’s possible).
Though both books ignore the evolving science investigating global warming and climate change, while they zealously call the science settled; while poorly exploring the economics of potential mitigation and ignoring the well being of the poor (who are not “average”) in squelching “demonic” carbon dioxide production; while neglecting the regional and local economic impact differences from climate change; and ignoring surprisingly the findings of the independent (not “consensus”) analysis of the potential environmental horrors of implementing green energy, read them nevertheless!
After all, you don’t want to miss the show, for the climate change/global warming theater will go on, with its bad science, bad economics, bad computer modeling, and bad social/environmental stewardship, all designed, if you are so inclined, to make you feel good that reducing humankind’s carbon impact will somehow reverse climate change.— Jim Scott
#1 NEW YORK TIMES BEST SELLER • In this urgent, authoritative book, Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical—and accessible—plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe.
Bill Gates has spent a decade investigating the causes and effects of climate change. With the help of experts in the fields of physics, chemistry, biology, engineering, political science, and finance, he has focused on what must be done in order to stop the planet's slide to certain environmental disaster. In this book, he not only explains why we need to work toward net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases, but also details what we need to do to achieve this profoundly important goal.
He gives us a clear-eyed description of the challenges we face. Drawing on his understanding of innovation and what it takes to get new ideas into the market, he describes the areas in which technology is already helping to reduce emissions, where and how the current technology can be made to function more effectively, where breakthrough technologies are needed, and who is working on these essential innovations. Finally, he lays out a concrete, practical plan for achieving the goal of zero emissions—suggesting not only policies that governments should adopt, but what we as individuals can do to keep our government, our employers, and ourselves accountable in this crucial enterprise.
As Bill Gates makes clear, achieving zero emissions will not be simple or easy to do, but if we follow the plan he sets out here, it is a goal firmly within our reach.
About the Author
Bill Gates is cochair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and founder of Breakthrough Energy. Bill founded Microsoft in 1975 with Paul Allen and led the company to become the worldwide leader in business and personal software and services. In 2008, Bill transitioned to focus full-time on his foundation’s work to expand opportunity to the world’s most disadvantaged people. As cochair, he leads the foundation’s development of strategies and sets the overall direction of the organization. Through his private office, Gates Ventures, he pursues his work on innovation in clean energy, Alzheimer’s disease and other healthcare issues, interdisciplinary education, and technology. At Breakthrough Energy, he’s putting his experience as an innovator and problem-solver to work to address climate change by supporting the next generation of entrepreneurs, big thinkers, and clean technologies. Bill uses his experience partnering with global leaders across sectors to help drive the policy, market, and technological changes required for a clean-energy transition. In 2010, Bill, Melinda French Gates, and Warren Buffett founded the Giving Pledge, an effort to encourage the wealthiest families and individuals to publicly commit more than half of their wealth to philanthropic causes and charitable organizations during their lifetime or in their will.
“Gates gathers advice from experts while laying out his vision for technological innovations that could reduce greenhouse gases and stop the warming of the planet. If even some of his plans work, this might be the most important book of the year.” —CNN
“One of the most accessible, practical, and interesting books on the topic to emerge since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.” —Oprah Daily
“The most comprehensible explanation for what’s driving our warming planet; how to measure the impact of the myriad contributions to this staggering and seemingly incalculable problem; and ultimately how to go about finding more effective approaches to each of them. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a how-to guide for addressing the climate crisis.” —Clinton Leaf, Fortune
“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster presents ideas with the methodical approach of a college textbook . . . Remarkably, given the state of the world, it is an optimistic, can-do sort of book, chock-full of solutions.” —Christina Binkley, The Wall Street Journal Magazine
“The most refreshing aspect of this book is its bracing mix of cold-eyed realism and number-crunched optimism . . . 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.” —The Economist
“The author’s enthusiasm and curiosity about the way things work is infectious. He walks us through not just the basic science of global warming, but all the ways that our modern lives contribute to it . . . Gates seems energized by the sheer size and complexity of the challenge. That’s one of the best things about the book—the can-do optimism and conviction that science in partnership with industry are up to the task.” —Richard Schiffman, The Christian Science Monitor
“In this wonklike and persuasive book, Gates takes his environmental activism a bridge further, laying out an ambitious plan to reduce greenhouse emissions to zero by 2050. Drawing on data from researchers, policymakers, and engineers, Gates advocates for solutions both scientific (like developing alternative fuels) and personal (like increasing civic engagement in environmental justice issues). If you feel a radical shred of hope reading these galvanizing pages, dare to let in—without hope, we’ll get nowhere.” —Esquire
“With the help of experts in fields such as physics, engineering, chemistry, finance and politics, the technologist and philanthropist offers a practical and accessible plan for getting the world to zero greenhouse gas emissions and averting climate catastrophe.” —Barbara VanDenburgh, USA Today
“How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is clear, concise on a colossal subject, and intelligently holistic in its approach to the problem. Gates may not be the perfect messenger, but he has written a fine primer on how to get ourselves out of this mess.” —Adama Vaughan, New Scientist
“Bill Gates has a plan to save the world . . . While acknowledging that the challenge is daunting, and how we make things, grow things, move around, keep cool and stay warm will all need to fundamentally change, Gates argues that wholesale transformation is possible while maintaining lifestyles in high income countries and continuing to lift billions out of poverty.” —Greg Williams, Wired
“His expertise . . . is apparent in the book’s lucid explanations of the scientific aspects of climate change. The solutions he outlines are pragmatic and grounded in forward-thinking economic reasoning. Although he does not avoid the hard truths we must face as our climate changes, Gates remains optimistic and believes that we have the ability to avoid a total climate disaster.” —Miriam R. Aczel, Science
“Concise, straightforward . . . Gates has crafted a calm, reasoned, well-sourced explanation of the greatest challenge of our time and what we must change to avoid cooking our planet.” —Jeff Rowe, Associated Press
“A persuasive, optimistic strategy for reducing greenhouse emissions to zero by midcentury . . . Though Gates doesn’t shy away from acknowledging the daunting challenges ahead, his narrative contains enough confidence—and hard science and economics—to convince many readers that his blueprint is one of the most viable yet . . . supremely authoritative and accessible.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Those looking for an accessible review of how global warming can be countered will find this a handy—and maybe even hope-inspiring—guide.” —Publishers Weekly
“Gates has put his considerable wealth behind global health, educational, and economic initiatives and now turns his laser-like attention to this most existential of issues . . . He provides illuminating contexts for [his] perspectives and offers a treatise that is imperative, approachable, and useful.” —Booklist