How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

by Bill Gates 2021

Book Review by Ray Herrmann

Bill Gates starts by noting that the World emits 51 billion Tons of Greenhouse gasses each year, and that we need to reduce that to ZERO by 2050 in order to avoid a Climate Disaster. He says "one fifth of the CO2 emitted today will be here in 10,000 years", yet, globally, we have subsidized fossil fuels at $400 Billion in 2018. (Note that, even if we are able to reach ZERO emissions, we are at 418 parts/million of CO2, now and those amounts of CO2 will STILL BE HERE in 2050! …the earth will still be warming toward equilibrium!)

Gates prioritizes Greenhouse Gas emitters according to their magnitude (as percents). It surprised me to see that Making Things is the largest but Getting Around is only half that.

Here are his evaluations (pg 55) and ALL of them must find ZERO Emission alternatives:

Gates then methodically considers the parts of each category and what innovations are needed. There are very few items here in which we have current "carbon-free" solutions. There is a larger group here for which we can probably find solutions. But there remains a significant list where we currently have no way of mitigating (like Cement production, where essentially we heat Limestone to drive off the CO2 that these rocks sequestered millions of years ago. - Nature sequesters CO2 when volcanic rocks get eroded into Limestone …a process taking many 100,000's of years …and our making Cement reverses that process, dumping all that old CO2 into our present).

He suggests that the best way to solve the "Getting Around" emissions is to use Batteries for cars, but to find economical ways to make "bio-fuels" (liquids and gasses) for planes and trucks, because the best Lithium batteries weigh 35 times their gasoline equivalent, which would be way too heavy for Trucks and Planes needs. These bio-fuels would probably be made by fermenting crops or some new process that turns excess solar energy into liquid or gas fuels (This seams realistic).

In general, Gates sees our path to solutions as inherently Market-Driven (reasonable, given human nature). Thus, he proposes we compute a "Green Premium" for each item (where a Green Premium = the difference in cost between the current product and one that is made with "zero-emission" methods). This shows us what the (current) costs to switch are (and these costs change over time as we find better ways). He lists many current Green Premiums in this book.

It is noteworthy that, in the U.S. we could convert to Zero-Emission Electricity generation fairly soon at an average cost of only $18 per household. Gates lists 3 Steps we can take to decarbonize:

On page 200, Gates lists 19 Technologies needed (and to be running at full scale, before 2050) if we are to meet the stated goal of ZERO Greenhouse Gas emissions by 2050. While some technologies are well understood and feasible now, others are mostly just dreams and many may not come to fruition.

For many large-scale projects, we need Governments to invest in the research and to act as "purchasers" to create the demands that entice companies to engage in their production. Then, "economies of scale" usually lead to vastly reduced costs as competition leads to efficiencies.

Bill Gates is to be commended for his depth of consideration of the issues and for his honest attempt to state the problems involved. His book is very well documented (with much help from his organization) and it considers the many problems in fair detail. Many realistic solutions and methods are presented while places in need of imagination are also mentioned. This book points us to the enormity of our problems and proposes a barely reachable timeline for implementation. As such it is a much needed description of the work that needs to be done and of the urgency.

However I personally think Gates is perhaps guilty of wishful thinking (as most of us are when facing disasters) because the Earth's climate is already out of control (while being nowhere near at equilibrium). The efforts to mitigate Climate Disasters are yet few and will likely not come in time to prevent disasters too great to even fathom. Still, we MUST work on these purposed solutions because the longer we delay, the worse the earth's Climate gets and the worse off our lives will be.

I'll end with a couple useful LINKS: