The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis (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
Bestselling authors of The Wife Between Us— From Staff Picks & Book Reviews
In The Future We Choose, Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac—who led negotiations for the United Nations during the historic Paris Agreement of 2015—have written a cautionary but optimistic book about the world’s changing climate and the fate of humanity.
The authors outline two possible scenarios for our planet. In one, they describe what life on Earth will be like by 2050 if we fail to meet the Paris Agreement’s climate targets. In the other, they lay out what it will be like to live in a regenerative world that has net-zero emissions. They argue for confronting the climate crisis head-on, with determination and optimism. The Future We Choose presents our options and tells us what governments, corporations, and each of us can, and must, do to fend off disaster.
About the Author
Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac are cohosts of the leading climate change podcast, Outrage + Optimism, and are cofounders of Global Optimism, an organization dedicated to changing narratives and beliefs and inspiring governments, companies, and citizens to protect what they love from the damages of the climate crisis. Figueres is the former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, where Rivett-Carnac served as her political strategist. They are known for a unique form of collaborative diplomacy, which led to the unanimous signing of the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change by 195 countries.
"Tom Rivett-Carnac, have penned a book that shepherds climate activism from changing mental states to changing the world...the authors recommend a mindset for climate activism that rests on three attitudes: radical optimism, endless abundance and radical regeneration."
"Inspiring... A practically minded manifesto for personal action in the face of climate change."
“The Paris Agreement was a landmark for humankind. In this timely and important book, two of the principal creators of that agreement show us why and how we can now realize its promise. I hope it is widely read and acted on.”
—Jane Goodall, author of In the Shadow of Man
“This is one of the most inspiring books I have ever read. The book takes a hard look at the frightening realities of climate change, but concludes that humanity can still deal with this threat. Moreover, the book presents the existential challenge of climate change as a unique opportunity to build a more just world and to make ourselves better people. Most importantly, the book adopts a very practical approach, and suggests 10 concrete actions that each of us can take in order to create a better future for all the residents of planet earth. I hope we all take this message to heart.”
—Yuval Harari, bestselling author of Sapiens and 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.
"There could not be a more important book."
"This could be the most important wake-up call of our times."
—Professor Klaus Schwab, CEO World Economic Forum
"Figueres and Rivett-Carnac dare to tell us how our response can create a better, fairer world."