Think of any of the world’s problems, from carbon emissions to energy poverty, novel disease outbreaks to age-old neglected ailments, and chances are that Bill Gates has tried to resolve them. Right now, he’s investing heavily in zero-carbon technologies.
Carbon emissions aren’t just attributable to certain products or behaviours – they are ubiquitous, embedded deep within the supply chains of everything we do and interact with. This mind-boggling complexity has perhaps hindered climate progress and stoked justifiable fear. That is why Gates, with the calculating mind of an engineer, is here to dissect the problem.
Gates sets out the technologies that hold the most promise and describes their associated hurdles. Many are already fit for purpose, he points out; however, capacity, intermittency (the sun doesn’t always shine in northern Canada, for example), and energy distribution are areas where more innovation is sorely needed. To foster that innovation, we need the right kind of commercial environment. Gates argues that ‘green premiums’ – the higher price of cleaner technologies and products, shouldered by companies and consumers – must be driven down through creative economic stimuli. These will diversify the market and bring critical progress.
After all, current frameworks are outdated for our zero-carbon goals. For decades, energy infrastructure, both physical and financial, has been geared towards fossil fuels. As a result, developing nations such as Nigeria and India are still making cheap investments into them. Gates is clear on this point: these nations are following the West’s strategy and to vilify them for their rising energy demands and emissions would be short-sighted. While it’s true that as more people are lifted from poverty, food and energy requirements will soar, as will carbon-intensive products such as concrete and steel, ‘progress is a good thing’. His vision is one in which we continue to alleviate poverty and create more opportunities for the impoverished to use energy while also reducing global emissions.
This book, rather than drilling deep into the mechanics of climate change, reads as a guidebook for our times. Gates’s ‘big-picture’ view is effective. Considered, compassionate and candid, his book is accessible and an important contribution to climate literacy.