Sunday, 22 May 2022
BILL GATES, not content with creating Microsoft, becoming the world’s wealthiest man and founding the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (the second largest charitable foundation in the world), has increasingly turned his attention and considerable resources to the problem of climate change.
His first book on the topic, How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have And The Breakthroughs We Need, is an excellent summary of where we are and where we need to get to.
Written for the layman, it’s an absorbing account of the innovations we need as we wean society off an overdependence on cheap fossil fuels to a more sustainable way of powering modern life.
The book begins with an overview of the scale of the problem. It’s daunting. Fossil fuels are essential to modern life as we know it, from generating electricity, making steel and cement and keeping ourselves warm and cool to making fertilisers without which we cannot feed ourselves.
As more of the world’s population becomes wealthier and aspires to the standard of living of people in wealthy countries, the consumption of fossil fuels will only increase without significant innovation.
The book is very strong on providing simple but enlightening analysis. For example, one number to remember is 51 billion — that’s the tonnage of greenhouse gases being added to the atmosphere each year.
So when new climate-friendly innovations are proposed, we need to consider how much of that 51 billion tonnes will be saved.
Is the effort worth the result or should we look elsewhere?
How do we know where change is most needed but also least likely to be adopted given current green technologies?
Bill introduces the Green Premium — put simply, the difference in price between doing something in a carbon-neutral way or with fossil fuels.
For example, jet fuel currently costs $2.22 a gallon, advanced biofuels for jets $5.35 a gallon. The Green Premium for jet fuel therefore is 140 per cent.
In contrast, in some parts of America, using an air source heat pump is cheaper than a gas boiler and air conditioner, a negative green premium.
Where green premiums are negative, we should implement these technologies straightaway.
Where the green premium is large with current technology but with massive potential for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we should concentrate our efforts on technology innovation.
Although Bill does not shy away from the challenges we face, the book is optimistic; the opportunities for green innovation are huge and will spur on economic growth and new industries.
The final chapter looks at what individuals can do and what governments must do.
For governments, crucially he says that much depends on increasing the demand for innovations while also increasing their supply.
Governments have an important role in supporting research and the commercialisation of risky new projects. They also need to drive up demand through policies such as a carbon tax or requirements for clean fuel, creating demand for products to meet new legal standards.
Bill’s final list of the new technologies we need is wide-ranging, from zero carbon cement and steel to nuclear fusion.
This is a deeply interesting book, setting out the enormous scale of the challenge but also the opportunities for those who can grasp them: it’s well worth a read.
I have two copies of How To Avoid A Climate Disaster to give away. If you would like one, please email me at email@example.com (First come first served).
28 March 2022
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