Allen Lane, 2021
Reviewed by Ian Mowll
Firstly, a disclaimer. I did not agree with everything that Bill Gates says in his book and whilst I disagree with some of his stances, no one person has all of the answers. We need a whole variety of approaches and we need to build on the strengths of each strategy. Only if we do this, will there be any chance of meeting the huge challenge ahead to combat climate change.
With this disclaimer in mind, I found this book stimulating. It’s good to read about climate change solutions from someone who comes to the arena with a fresh view and a track record in technological innovations. The challenge of climate change is so huge that it is all hands to the pump and solutions from any source are, to my mind, welcome.
Whilst Bill Gates acknowledges that huge changes need to be made, he is refreshingly optimistic about the prospects of getting to zero carbon emissions by 2050 – his view is that zero carbon emissions by 2030 is not practical.
In his book, Bill Gates goes through the ‘lie of the land’ in terms of the technologies that are currently available and how useful or otherwise they are. And he then goes through many innovations from the obvious to the speculative. Batteries, wind, solar, hydroelectric and nuclear are all discussed, along with reducing carbon emissions in our society in areas such as food production and even non-obvious carbon emitters such as the production of concrete.
One of the main themes running through the book is the ‘green premium’. That is, how much extra people will have to pay for a zero carbon (or low carbon) product above the fossil fuel alternative. He often gauges the success or otherwise of an innovation against this benchmark. This is because he sees the economic uptake by the wider population as one of the big drivers for change. We can see this in the uptake of solar and wind power in recent years which, it is said, is at least partly due to the price of these coming down and starting to outstrip coal in terms of low-cost electricity production.
However, Bill Gates acknowledges that Government policies are needed to make sure that green alternatives are given the support they need to make them effective. Both in terms of funding research and supporting the implementation of new technologies. He also points out that those who buy energy produced by fossil fuels do not pay for the environmental damage that they cause.
Slowly, people around the globe are realising the need for immediate action on climate change and now Bill Gates is supporting this cause. I just hope that many, many others will follow to give us any chance of beating climate change for future generations.