How To Avoid A Climate Disaster | Reflections & Notes

Bill Gates. How To Avoid A Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need. Knopf, 2021. (272 pages)

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I believe it was Bill Gates who said (and I think I’m paraphrasing here), “If anyone says it will be easy, they’re wrong. If anyone says it is impossible, they’re wrong.”

In a continual quest to eliminate as much “noise” from the climate change conversation to get to the “signal” of the truth, I now consider this a top recommendation for the following reasons.

First, it is simple, matter-of fact, and accessible for those seeking simply to understand. The vast majority of the noise around the socio-political discourse is a morass of complicated explanations, either around the physics of climate or the economics of our behavior. What Gates does here is provide simple explanations that help the reader grasp what is really going on, and he ensures that it’s not just limited to one aspect of the problem; simple economics, simple physics, and simple politics. You can walk away from this book with some basic understandings of all the areas that we need to consider with a confident grasp on the mechanisms at play, and how to leverage your life and voice in the right direction.

Second, the vision Gates casts here is just, as in “right” and “fair,” what we could call “good.” In line with the philanthropic work of the Gates Foundation, this book keeps an eye on the ethical reasons we need to do this work well. And as it should be, paying close attention to the ethics is the avenue by which we pay attention to the solutions. The two go hand in hand. In addition, Gates openly admits to being a rich white guy, and discloses where he benefits. While it is reasonable to critique a guy whose individual carbon footprint is most likely higher than anyone else in the United States, but by the same measures, his investments may do more than anyone else to reduce our carbon footprint overall. Regardless, the end result, if done in accordance with these efforts, will help bring equity to the poorest people in the world, and that, I applaud.

Third, we can do this! And this is not mere cheerleading. It is simply a thoughtful exclamation based upon the very real blueprint now set before us. In the face of feeling daunted, overwhelmed, and frequently frustrated, Gates offers measured encouragement. We really can accomplish net-zero carbon emissions.

Let’s do this!


Introduction: 51 Billion to Zero

But “if nothing else changes” is a big If. I believe that things can change. We already have some of the tools we need, and as for those we don’t yet have, everything I’ve learned about climate and technology makes me optimistic that we can invent them, deploy them, and, if we act fast enough, avoid a climate catastrophe. (4)

Everyone deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life – Gates Foundation mission


cf. Earth’s Changing Climate; Weather for Dummies

It was one thing to divest from companies to fight apartheid, a political institution that would (and did) respond to economic pressure. It’s another thing to transform the world’s energy system–an industry worth roughly $5 trillion a year and the basis for the modern economy–just by selling the stocks of fossil-fuel companies. (9)

| I still feel this way today. But I have come to realize that there are (9) other reasons for me not to own the stocks of fossil-fuel companies–namely, I don’t want to profit if their stock prices go up because we don’t develop zero-carbon alternatives. (10)

cf. Breakthrough Energy [Coalition]; Mission Innovation

This small decline in emissions is proof that we cannot get to zero emissions simply–or even mostly–by flying and driving less. Just as we needed new tests, treatments, and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, we need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm, and move people and goods around the world. And we need new seeds and other innovations to hep the world’s poorest people–many of whom are smallholder farmers–adapt to a warmer climate. (13)

The world is not exactly lacking in rich men with big ideas about what other people should do, or who think technology can fix any problem. … I plead guilty to all three charges. (14)

…the goal isn’t simply for any one person to make up for his or her emissions; it’s to avoid a climate disaster. So I’m supporting early-stage clean energy research, investing in promising clean energy companies, advocating for policies that will trigger breakthroughs throughout the world, and encouraging other people who have the resources to do the same. (15)

Here’s the key point: Although heavy emitters like me should use less energy, the world overall should be using more of the goods and services that energy provides. There is nothing wrong with using more energy as long as it’s carbon-free. The key to addressing climate change is to make clean energy just as cheap and reliable as what we get from fossil fuels. (15)

This book suggests a way forward,… (16)

I wrote this book because I see not just the problem of climate change; I also see an opportunity to solve it. That’s not pie-in-the-sky optimism. We already have two of the three things you need to accomplish any major undertaking. First, we have ambition, thanks to the passion of a growing global movement led by young people who are deeply concerned about climate change. Second, we have big goals for solving the problem as more national and local leaders around the world commit to doing their part. (17)

| Now we need the third component: a concrete plan to achieve our goals. (17)

1 Why Zero?

…”getting to zero” doesn’t actually mean “zero.” It means “near net zero.” (19)

A Little Is a Lot


…most people combine all the different greenhouse gases into a single measure known as “carbon dioxide equivalents.” (You might see the term abbreviated as CO2e.) We use carbon dioxide equivalents to account for the fact that some gases trap more heat than carbon dioxide but don’t stay around as long. Unfortunately, carbon dioxide equivalents are an imperfect measure: Ultimately, what really matters isn’t the amount of greenhouse gas emissions; what matters is the higher temperatures and their impact on humans. And on that front, a gas like methane is much worse than carbon dioxide. It drives the temperature up immediately, and by quite a bit. When you use carbon dioxide equivalents, you aren’t fully accounting for this important short-term effect. (22)

As you may recall from physics class, all molecules vibrate; the faster they vibrate, the hotter they are. When certain types of molecules are hit with radiation at certain wavelengths, they block the radiation, soak up its energy, and vibrate faster. (23)

| But not all radiation is on the right wavelengths to cause this effect. Sunlight, for example, passes right through most greenhouse gases without getting absorbed. Most of it reaches the earth and warms up the planet, just as it has been doing for eons. (23)


What We Do and Don’t Know

The earth is warming, it’s warming because of human activity, and the impact is bad and will get much worse. We have every reason to believe that at some point the impact will be catastrophic. Will that point come in 30 years? Fifty years? We don’t know precisely. But given how hard the problem will be to solve, even if the worst case is 50 years away, we need to act now. (25)

I have to give you one caveat: Although we can predict the course of broad trends, like “There will be more hot days” and “sea levels will go up,” we can’t with certainty blame climate change for any particular event. For example, when there’s a heat wave, we can’t say whether it was caused by climate change alone. What we can o, though, is say how much climate change increased the odds of that heat wave happening. For hurricanes, it’s unclear whether warmer oceans are causing a rise in the number of storms, but there is growing evidence that climate change is making storms wetter and increasing the number of intense ones. We also don’t know whether or to what extent these extreme events will interact with each other to produce even more serious effects. (25)

You’re always trying to catch up to where you were, instead of getting ahead. (27)

Climate change could cut southern Europe’s production of wheat and corn in half by mid-century. (29)

…not only are the seas getting warmer, they’re also bifurcating–developing some places where the water has more oxygen and others where it has less oxygen. … If the temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius, coral reefs could vanish completely, destroying a major source of seafood for more than a billion people. (30)

When It Doesn’t Rain, It Pours

…mosquitoes… (30)

Heatstroke… linked to the humidity,… Air can contain only a certain amount of (30) water vapor, and at some point it hits a ceiling, becoming so saturated that it can’t absorb any more moisture. Why does that matter? Because the human body’s ability to cool off depends on the air’s ability to absorb sweat as it evaporates. If the air can’t absorb your sweat, then it can’t cool you off, no matter how much you perspire. There’s simply nowhere for your perspiration to go. Your body temperature stays high, and if nothing changes, you die of heatstroke within hours. (31)

If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and then imagine spreading the pain out over a much longer period of time. The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world’s carbon emissions. (33)

Using data from the Spanish flu of 1918 and the COVID-19 pandemic and averaging it out over the course of a century, we can estimate the amount by which a global pandemic increases the global morality rate. It’s about 14 deaths per 100,000 people each year. (34)

By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 75 extra deaths per 100,000 people. (34)

| In other words, by mid-century, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly. (34)

In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every 10 years. And by the end of the 21st century, it will be much worse if the world remains on its current emissions path. [Here’s the math. Recent models suggest that the cost of climate change in 2030 will likely be between 0.85 percent and 1.5 percent of America’s GDP per year. Meanwhile, current estimates for the cost of COVID-19 to the United States this year range between 7 percent and 10 percent of GDP. If we assume that a similar disruption happens once every 10 years, that’s an average annual cost of 0.7 percent to 1 percent of GDP–roughly equivalent to the projected damage from climate change.] (34)

…we understand enough to know that what’s coming will be bad. There are two things we can do about it: (35)

Adaptation. We can try to minimize the impact of the changes that are already here and that we know are coming. (35)

Mitigation. …stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. (35)

I’ve heard people object to the idea that rich countries should go first: “Why should we bear the brunt of this?” It’s not simply because we’ve caused most of the problem (although that’s true). It’s also because this is a huge economic opportunity: The countries that build great zero-carbon companies and industries will be the ones that lead the global economy in the coming decades. (35)

[via: This multi-pronged rationale is exactly what I hope more would come to understand.]

2 This Will Be Hard

Fossil fuels are like water. (37)

The immediate point of the fish story is that the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about. – David Foster Wallace.

Fossil fuels are like that. They’re so pervasive that it can be hard to grasp all the ways in which they–and other sources of greenhouse gases–touch our lives. (38)

…fossil fuels are everywhere. Take oil as just one example: The world uses more than 4 billion gallons every day. (39)

What’s more, there’s a very good reason why fossil fuels are everywhere: They’re so inexpensive. As in, oil is cheaper than a soft drink. … A barrel of oil contains 42 gallons; the average price in the second half of 2020 was around $42 per barrel, so that comes to about $1 per gallon. Meanwhile, Costco sells 8 liters of soda for $6, a price that amounts to $2.85 a gallon. (39)

It’s no accident that fossil fuels are so cheap. They’re abundant and easy to move. … And their prices don’t reflect the damage they cause–the ways they contribute to climate change, pollution, and environmental degradation when they’re extracted and burned. (40)

It’s not just the rich world. Almost everywhere, people are living longer and healthier lives. Standards of living are going up. (40)

The global population is headed toward 10 billion by the end of the century, and much of this growth is happening in cities that are highly carbon intensive. … By 2060, the world’s building stock–a (40) measure that factors in the number of buildings and their size–will double. That’s like putting up another New York City every month for 40 years, and it’s mainly because of growth in developing countries like China, India, and Nigeria. (41)

| This is good news for every person whose life improves, but it’s bad news for the climate we all live in. … What will happen as more people live like the richest 16 percent? Global energy demand will go up by 50 percent by 2050, and if nothing else changes, carbon emissions will go up by nearly as much. Even if the rich world could magically get to zero today, the rest of the world would still be emitting more and more. (41)


| It would be immoral and impractical to try to stop people who are lower down on the economic ladder from climbing up. … Instead, we need to make it possible for (41) low-income people to climb the ladder without making climate change worse. (42)

History is not on our side. (42)

For most of human history, our main sources of energy were our own muscles, animals that could do things like pull plows, and plants that we burned. Fossil fuels did not represent even half of the world’s energy consumption until the late 1890s. In China, they didn’t take over until the 1960s. There are parts of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa where this transition still hasn’t happened. (43)

| And consider how long it took for oil to become a big part of our energy supply. We started producing it commercially in the 1860s. (43) Half a century later, it represented just 10 percent of the world’s energy supply. It took 30 years amore to reach 25 percent.


Natural gas followed a similar trajectory. In 1990, it accounted for 1 percent of the world’s energy. It took seventy years to reach 20 percent. Nuclear fission went faster, going from 0 to 10 percent in 27 years. (44)

Between 1840 and 1900, coal went from 5 percent of the world’s energy supply to nearly 50 percent. But in the 60 years from 1930 to 1990, natural gas reached just 20 percent. In short, energy transitions take a long time. (44)

It also takes us a long time to adopt new types of vehicles. The internal combustion engine was introduced in the 1880s. How long before half of all urban families had a car? Thirty to 40 years in the United States, and 70 to 80 years in Europe. (44)

| What’s more, the energy transition we need now is being driven (44) by something that has never mattered before. In the past, we’ve moved from one source to another because the new one was cheaper and more powerful. (45)

[via: I felt a twinge of curiosity on these adoption trends when thinking about the internet and cell phones and their rapid deployment and adoption over the last couple decades to their now near ubiquity, at least in the developed world. Gates is going to quickly put my curiosity in check, in the next header…]

Coal plants are not like computer chips. (45)

Consider that the first Model T that rolled off Henry Ford’s production line in 1908 got no better than 21 miles to the gallon. As I write this, the top hybrid on the market gets 58 miles to the gallon. (46)

When crystalline silicon solar cells were introduced in the 1970s, they converted about 15 percent of the sunlight that hit them into electricity. Today they convert around 25 percent. That’s good progress, but it’s hardly in line with Moore’s Law. (46)

| Technology is only one reason that the energy industry can’t change as quickly as the computer industry. There’s also size. The energy industry is simply enormous–at around $5 trillion a year, one of the biggest businesses on the planet. (46)

Society also tolerates very little risk in the energy business, understandably so. … We also worry about disasters. … Since the accidents at Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, America has broken ground on just two nuclear plants, even though more people die from coal pollution in a single year than have died in all nuclear accidents combined. (47)

| We have a large and understandable incentive to stick with what we know, even if what we know is killing us. What we need to do is change the incentives so that we can build an an energy system that is (47) all the things we like (reliable, safe) and none of the things we don’t like (dependent on fossil fuels). But that will not be easy, because… (48)

Our laws and regulations are so outdated. The phrase “government policy” doesn’t exactly set people’s hair on fire. But policies–everything from tax rules to environmental regulations–have a huge impact on how people and companies behave. (48)

We might as well try to create artificial intelligence using a 1960s mainframe computer. (48)

cf. CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) … adopted in the 1970s.

I believe that we can do this, but it will be hard. For one thing, it’s much easier to tinker with an existing law than to introduce a major new one. (49)

There isn’t as much of a climate consensus as you might think. (49)

There’s another challenge to building a climate consensus: Global cooperation is notoriously difficult. (50)

To sum up: We need to accomplish something gigantic we have never done before, much faster than we have ever done anything similar. To do it, we need lots of breakthroughs in science and engineering. We need to build a consensus that doesn’t exist and create public policies to push a transition that would not happen otherwise. We need the energy system to stop doing all the things we don’t like and keep doing all the things we do like–in other words, to change completely and also stay the same. (51)

| But don’t despair. We can do this. There are lots of ideas out there for how to do it, some of them more promising than others. (51)

3 Five Questions to Ask in Every Climate Conversation

1. How Much of the 51 Billion Tons Are We Talking About?

Whenever I read something that mentions some amount of greenhouse gases, I do some quick math, converting it into a percentage of the annual total of 51 billion tons. (53)

A gigaton is a billion tons (or 109 tons if you prefer scientific notation). (54)

Tip: Whenever you see some number of tons of greenhouse gases, convert it to a percentage of 51 billion, which is the world’s current yearly total emissions (in carbon dioxide equivalents). (54)

2. What’s Your Plan for Cement?

How much greenhouse gas is emitted by the things we do?

Making Things (cement, steel, plastic) 31%
Plugging in (electricity) 27%
Growing things (plants, animals) 19%
Getting around (planes, trucks, cargo ships) 16%
Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigeration) 7%

A megawatt is a million watts, and a watt is a joule per second. (56)

3. How Much Power Are We Talking About?

How much power does it take?

The world 5,000 gigawatts
The United States 1,000 gigawatts
Mid-size city 1 gigawatt
Small town 1 megawatt
Average American house 1 kilowatt

Tip: Whenever you hear “kilowatt,” think “house.” “Gigawatt,” think “city.” A hundred or more gigawatts, think “big country.” (57)

4. How Much Space Do You Need?

Power density is the relevant humber here. It tells you how much power you can get from different sources for a given amount of land (or water, if you’re putting wind turbines in the ocean). It’s measured in watts per square meter. Below are a few examples: (58)

How much power can we generate per square meter?

Energy Source Watts per square meter
Fossil fuels 500-10,000
Nuclear 500-1,000
Solar* 5-20
Hydropower (dams) 5-50
Wind 1-2
Wood and other biomass Less than 1

*The power density of solar could theoretically reach 100 watts per square meter, though no one has accomplished this yet.

5. How Much Is This Going to Cost?

Most of these zero-carbon solutions are more expensive than their fossil-fuel counterparts. In part, that’s because the prices o f fossil fuels don’t reflect the environmental damage they inflict, so they seem cheaper than the alternative. … These additional costs are what I call Green Premiums. [I consulted with many people about the Green Premium, including experts at the Rhodium Group, Evolved Energy Research, and climate researcher Dr. Ken Caldeira. For information on how the Green Premiums in this book were calculated, visit (59)

Which zero-carbon options should we be deploying now?
Answer: the ones with a low Green Premium, or no premium at all. (61)

Where do we need to focus our research and development spending, our early investors, and our best inventors?
Answer: wherever we decide Green Premiums are too high. (61)

Unfortunately, we can’t just wait for a future technology like DAC (direct-air capture) to save us. We have to start saving ourselves today. (64)

Tip: Keep the Green Premiums in mind and ask whether they’re low enough for middle-income countries to pay. (64)

Here’s a summary of all five tips:

  1. Convert tons of emissions to a percentage of 51 billion.
  2. Remember that we need to find solutions for all five activities that emissions come from: making things, plugging in, growing things, getting around, and keeping cool and warm.
  3. Kilowatt = house. Gigawatt = mid-size city. Hundreds of gigawatts = big, rich country.
  4. Consider how much space you’re going to need.
  5. Keep the Green Premiums in mind and ask whether they’re low enough for middle-income countries to pay. (65)

4 How We Plug In


I think if everyone stopped to consider what it takes to deliver the service we now take for granted, they would appreciate it more. And they’d realize that none of us want to give it up. Whatever methods we use to get to zero-carbon electricity in the future will have to be as dependable and nearly as affordable as the ones we use today. (68)

[via: It would also help us get to solutions. The distance between our awareness and the truth–our ignorance–is also part of the problem.]

Considering how ubiquitous electricity is today, it’s easy to forget that it only became an important factor in most American’s lives a few decades into the 20th century. And one of our early major sources of electricity wasn’t any of the ones that we think of today, like coal, oil, or natural gas. It was water, in the form of hydropower. (69)

When you cover land with water, if there’s a lot of carbon in the soil, the carbon eventually turns into methane and escapes into the atmosphere–which is why studies show that depending on where it’s built, a damn can actually be a worse emitter than coal for 50 to 100 years before it makes up for all the methane it’s responsible for. In addition, the amount of electricity you can generate from a dam depends on the season, because you’re relying on rain-fed streams and rivers. And, of course, hydropower is immobile. You have to build the dams where the rivers are. (69)


Today, the United States spends only 2 percent of it sGDP on electricity, an amazingly low number when you consider how much we rely on it. (70)

| The main reason it’s so cheap is that fossil fuels are cheap. They’re widely available, and we’ve developed better and more efficient ways to extract them and turn them into electricity. Governments also go to considerable effort to keep the prices of fossil fuels low and encourage their production. (70)

[via: I was disappointed Gates did not include any information on the government subsidies of fossil fuels, a number that surely is important in the calculations. Yes?]

…the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that government subsidies for the consumption of fossil fuels amounted to $400 billion in 2018–which helps explain why they’re such a steady part of our electricity supply. The share of global power that comes from burning goal (roughly 40 percent) hasn’t’ changed in 30 years. Oil and natural gas together have been hovering around 26 percent for three decades. All told, fossil fuels (71) provide two-thirds of the world’s electricity. Solar wind, meanwhile, account for 7 percent. (72)

As we approach 100 percent clean electricity, intermittency becomes a bigger and more expensive problem. (75)

| The clearest example of intermittency is when the sun goes down,… (75)

Seasonal intermittency and the high cost of storage cause yet another problem, especially for big users of solar power–the problem of overgeneration in the summer and undergeneration in the winter. (77)

It’s extremely difficult and expensive to store electricity on a large scale, but that’s one of the things we’ll need to do if we’re going to rely on intermittent sources to provide a significant percentage of clean electricity in the coming years. (79)

| And we’re going to need much more clean electricity in the coming years. Most experts agree that as we electrify other carbon-intensive processes like making steel and running cars, the world’s electricity supply will need to double or even triple by 2050. And that doesn’t even account for population growth, or the fact that people will get richer and use more electricity. So the world will need much more than three times the electricity we generate now. (79)

…completely decarbonizing America’s power grid by 2050 will require adding around 75 gigawatts of capacity every year for the next 30 years. (80)

| Is that a lot? Over the past decade, we’ve added an average of 22 gigawatts a year. Now we need to install more than three times that much each year, and keep up the pace for the next three decades. (80)

In other words, we’l save money by building renewables in the best locations, building a unified national grid, and shipping zero-emissions electrons wherever they’re needed. (82)

…burying power lines increases the cost by a factor of 5 to 10. (The problem is heat: Power lines get hot when they’re electricity running through them. That’ no problem when they’re aboveground–the heat just dissipates into the air–but underground there’s no place for the heat to go. If the temperature gets too high, the power lines melt.) (83)

Making Carbon-Free Electricity

Nuclear Fission. Here’s the one-sentence case for nuclear power: It’s the only carbon-free energy source that can reliably deliver power day and night, through every season, almost anywhere on earth, that has been proven to work on a large scale. (84)

Nuclear plants are also number one when it comes to efficiently using materials like cement, steel, and glass. (85)


There are real problems that led to those disasters, but instead of getting to work on solving those problems, we just stopped trying to advance the field. (86)

| Imagine if everyone had gotten together one day and said, “Hey, cars are killing people. They’re dangerous. Let’s stop driving and give up these automobiles.” (86)

Nuclear power kills far, far fewer people than cars do. For that matter, it kills far fewer people than any fossil fuel. (86)

| Nevertheless, we should improve it, just as we did with cars, by analyzing the problems one by one and setting out to solve them with innovation. (86)


TerraPower’s reactor could run on many different types of fuel, including the waste from other nuclear facilities. The reactor would produce far less waste than today’s plants, would be fully automated–eliminating the possibility of human error–and could be built underground, protecting it from attack. Finally, the design would be inherently safe, using some ingenious features to control the nuclear reaction; for example, the radioactive fuel is contained in pins that expand if they get too hot, which slows the nuclear reaction down and prevents overheating. Accidents would literally be prevented by the laws of physics. (87)

[via: Sounds too good to be true. Hurry up and build the damn thing! ;-)]

Instead of getting energy by splitting atoms apart, as fission does, it involves pushing them together, or fusing them. (88)

Offshore wind. (89)

Geothermal. (90)

Its energy density–the amount of energy we get per square meter–is quite low.

And geothermal is available only in certain places around the world; the best spots tend to be areas with above-average volcanic activity. (91)

Storing Electricity


Pumped hydro. … When electricity is cheap…you pump water up a hill into a reservoir; then, when demand for power goes up, you let the water flow back down the hill, using it to spin a turbine and generate more electricity. (92)

Thermal storage. …store the heat in molten salt. (93)

Cheap hydrogen.

Other Innovations

Capturing carbon.

When emissions come directly out of a coal plant, they’re highly concentrated, in the range of 10 percent carbon dioxide, but once they’re in the atmosphere, where DAC operates, they disperse widely. Pick one molecule at random out of the atmosphere and the odds that it will be carbon dioxide are just 1 in 2,500. (95)

Using less.

A solar farm needs between 5 and 50 times more land to generate as much electricity as an equivalent coal-powered plant, and a wind farm needs 10 times more than solar. We should do everything we can to incrase the odds that we can scale up to 100 percent clean power, and that will be easier if we reduce electricity demand wherever we can. (96)

There’s also a related approach called load shifting our demand shifting. (96)

If a genie offered me one wish, a single breakthrough in just one activity that drives climate change, I’d pick making electricity: It’s going to play a big role in decarbonizing other parts of the physical economy. (97)

5 How We Make Things

…concrete. (98)


Steel… (100

Plastics… (100) Plastics…account for as much as half of a car’s total volume, but only 10 percent of its weight. (101)

…glass… Aluminum… Fertilizer… …paper… (101)

In short, we make materials that have become just as essential to modern life as electricity is. We’re not going to give them up. If anything, we’ll be using more of them as the world’s population grows and gets richer. (101)

This progress is a good thing. (102)

But, to repeat another theme that comes up a lot in this book: This silver cloud has a dark lining. (102)

…coke. At those temperatures, the iron ore releases its oxygen, and the coke releases its carbon. A bit of the carbon bonds with the iron, forming the steel we want, and the rest of the carbon grabs onto the oxygen, forming a by-product we don’t want: carbon dioxide. Quite a bit of carbon dioxide, in fact. Making 1 ton of steel produces about 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide. (103)

livestone plus heat equals calcium oxide plus carbon dioxide–and there’s no way around it. It’s a one-to-one relationship. Make a ton of cement, and you’ll get a ton of carbon dioxide. (104)

Carbon, it turns out, is useful in creating all sorts of different materials because it bonds easily with a wide variety of different elements; in the case of plastics, its usually clustered with hydrogen and oxygen. (105)

When we make cement or steel, we release carbon dioxide as an inevitable by-product, but when we make a plastic, around half of the carbon stays in the plastic. … Carbon really likes bonding with the oxygen and hydrogen, and it isn’t inclined to let go. (105)

To figure the Green Premiums on materials, you need to understand where emissions come from when we make things. I think of it in three stages: We emit greenhouse gases (1) when we use fossil fuels to generate the electricity that factories need to run their operations; (2) when we use them to generate heat needed for different manufacturing processes, like melting iron ore to make steel; and (3) when we actually make these materials, like the way cement manufacturing inevitably creates carbon dioxide. (106)

Green Premiums for plastics, steel, and cement

Material Average price per ton Carbon emitted per ton of material made New Price after carbon capture Green Premium range
Ethylene (plastic) $1,000 1.3 tons $1,087-$1,155 9%-15%
Steel $750 1.8 tons $871-$964 16%-29%
Cement $125 1 ton $219-$300 75%-140%

There are different ways to bring the premiums down. One is by using public policies to create demand for clean products–for example, by creating incentives or even requirements to buy zero-carbon cement or steel. Businesses are much more likely to pay the premium for clean materials if the law requires it, their customers demand it, and their competitors are doing it. (108)

[via: Code, Laws, Norms, Markets]

To sum up, the path to zero emissions in manufacturing looks like this:

  1. Electrify every process possible. This is going to take a lot of innovation.
  2. Get that electricity from a power rid that’s been decarbonized. This also will take a lot of innovation.
  3. Use carbon capture to absorb the remaining emissions. And so will this.
  4. Use materials more efficiently. Same. (111)

6 How We Grow Things

With agriculture, the main culprit isn’t carbon dioxide but methane–which causes 28 times more warming per molecule than carbon dioxide over the course of a century–and nitrous oxide, which causes 265 times more warming. (113)

| All told, each year’s emissions of methane and nitrous oxide are the equivalent of more than 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or more than 80 percent of all the greenhouse gases in this ag/forestry/land use sector. (113)

cf. The Population Bomb by Paul Ehrlich.

None of this came to pass. (114)

The global population is headed toward 10 billion people by 2100, and we’re going to need more food to feed everyone. Because we’ll have 40 percent more people by the end of the century, it would be natural to think that we’ll need 40 percent more food too, but that’s not the case. We’ll need even more than that. (115)

| Here’s why: As people get richer, they eat more calories, and in particular they eat more meat and dairy. And producing meat and dairy will require us to grow even more food. A chicken, for example, has to eat two calories’ worth of grain to give us one calorie of poultry… A pig eats three times as many calories… For cows, the ratio is highest of all: six calories of feed for every calorie of beef. (115)


Assuming we don’t make any improvements in the amount of food we get per acre of pasture or cropland, growing enough to feed 10 billion people will drive up food-related emissions by two-thirds. (116)

enteric fermentation, bacteria inside the cow’s stomach break down the cellulose in the plant, fermenting it and producing methane as a result. The cow belches away most of the methane, though a little comes out the other end as flatulence. (117)

Around the world, there are roughly a billion cattle raised for beef and dairy. The methane they burp and fart out every year has the same warming effect as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for about 4 percent of all global emissions. (117)

When poop decomposes, it releases a mix of powerful greenhouse gases–mostly nitrous oxide, plus some methane, sulfur, and ammonia. (117)

There’s so much animal poop that it’s actually the second-biggest cause of emissions in agriculture, behind enteric fermentation. (118)

…one promising exception is a compound called 3-nitrooxypropanol, which reduces methane emissions by 30 percent. (118)

It turns out the amount of methane produced by a given cow depends a lot on where the cow lives; for example, cattle in South America emit up to five times more greenhouse gases than ones in North America do, and African cattle emit even more. If a cow is being raised in North America or Europe, it’s more likely to be an improved breed that converts feed into milk and meat more efficiently. It will also get better veterinary care and higher-quality feed, which means it’ll produce less methane. (118)

There’s one last way we can cut down on emissions from the food we eat: by wasting less of it. In Europe, industrialized parts of Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa, more than 20 percent of food is simply thrown away, allowed to rot, or otherwise wasted. In the United States, it’s 40 percent. … When wasted food rots, it produces enough methane to cause as much warming as 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. (121)

| The most important solution is behavior change–using more of what we have. (121)

…synthetic fertilizer (121) was a key factor in the agricultural revolution that changed the world in the 1960s and 1970s. It’s been estimated that if we couldn’t make synthetic fertilizer, the world’s population would be 40 to 50 percent smaller than it is. (122)


Why is fertilizer so magical? Because it provides plants with (122) essential nutrients, including phosphorus, potassium, and the one that’s especially relevant to climate change: nitrogen. Nitrogen is a mixed blessing. It’s closely linked to photosynthesis, the process by which plants turn sunlight into energy, so it makes all plant life–and therefore all our food–possible. But nitrogen also makes climate change much worse. (123)

The big breakthrough came in 1908, when two German chemists named Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch figured out how to make ammonia from nitrogen and (123) hydrogen in a factory. (124)

Here’s the rub: Microorganisms that make nitrogen expend a lot of energy in the process. So much energy, in fact, that they’ve evolved to do it only when they absolutely need to–when there’s no nitrogen in the soil around them. If they detect enough nitrogen, they stop producing it so they can use the energy for something else. So when we add synthetic fertilizer, the natural organisms in the soil sense the nitrogen and stop producing it on their own. (124)

| There are other downsides to synthetic fertilizer. To make it, we have to produce ammonia, a process that requires heat, which we get by burning natural gas, which produces greenhouse gases. … Finally, after the fertilizer is applied to soil, much of the nitrogen that it contains never gets absorbed by the plant. In fact, worldwide, crops take up less than half the nitrogen applied to farm fields. The rest runs off into ground or surface waters, causing pollution, or escapes into the air in the form of nitrous oxide–which, you may recall, has 265 times the global-warming potential of carbon dioxide. (124)

| All told, fertilizers were responsible for roughly 1.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2010, and the number will probably rise (124) to 1.7 billion tons by mid-century. Haber-Bosch giveth, and Haber-Bosch taketh away. (125)

There’s no equivalent of carbon capture for nitrous oxide. (125)

…some researchers are doing genetic work on new varieties of crops that can recruit bacteria to fix nitrogen for them. In addition, one company has developed genetically modified (125) microbes that fix nitrogen; in effect, instead of adding nitrogen via fertilizer, you add bacteria to the soil that always produce nitrogen even when it’s already present. (126)

Everything you’ve just read about–which I’d broadly describe as agriculture–accounts for roughly 70 percent of emissions from farming, forestry, and other uses of land. If I had to sum up the other 30 percent in one word, it would be “deforestation.” (126)

…because food is a global commodity, what’s consumed in one country can cause land-use changes in another. As the world eats more meat, it accelerates the deforestation in Latin America. More burgers anywhere mean fewer trees there. (126)

One study by the World Resources Institute found that if you account for land-use changes, (126) the American-style diet is responsible for almost as many emissions as all the energy Americans use in generating electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings. (127)

I wish there were some breakthrough invention I could tell you about that will make the world’s forests safe. (127)

But this isn’t primarily a technological problem. It’s a political and economic problem. People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone. (127)

You might’ve heard about one forest-related solution for climate change: planting trees… (127)

As is so often the case in global warming, you have to consider a number of factors… (128)

How much carbon dioxide can a tree absorb in its lifetime? It varies, but a good rule of thumb is 4 tons over the course of 40 years.

How long will the tree survive? If it burns down, all the carbon dioxide it was storing will be released into the atmosphere.

What would’ve happened if you hadn’t planted that tree? If a tree would’ve grown there naturally, you haven’t added any extra carbon absorption.

In what part of the world will you plant the tree? On balance, trees in snowy areas cause more warming than cooling, because they’re darker than the snow and ice beneath them and dark things absorb more heat than light things do. On the other hand, trees in tropical forests cause more cooling than warming, because they release a lot of moisture, which becomes clouds, which reflect sunlight. Trees in the midlatitudes–between the tropics and the polar circles–are more or less a wash.

Was anything else growing in that spot? If, for example, you eliminate a soybean farm and replace it with a forest, you’ve reduced the total amount of soybeans available, which will drive (128) up their price, making it more likely that someone will cut down trees somewhere else to grow soybeans. This will offset at least some of the good you do by planting your trees. (129)

Taking all these factors into account, the math suggests you’d need somewhere around 50 acres’ worth of trees, planted in tropical areas, to absorb the emissions produced by an average American in her lifetime. Multiply that by the population of the United States, and you get more than 16 billion acres, or 25 million square miles, roughly half the landmass of the world. Those trees would have to be maintained forever. And that’s just for the United States–we haven’t accounted for any other country’s emissions. (129)

| Don’t get me wrong: Trees have all kinds of benefits, both aesthetic and environmental, and we should be planting more of them. For the most part, you can get trees to grow only in places where they’ve already grown, so planting them could help undo the damage caused by deforestation. But there’s no practical way to plant enough of them to deal with the problems caused by burning fossil fuels. The most effective tree-related strategy for climate change is to stop cutting down so many of the trees we already have. (129)

[via: I concur with the conclusion, but would quibble–slightly–with the math and inquire about the argument. First, the kind of tree you use makes a big difference in the calculation, and Gates seems to be generous with the “4 tons over the course of 40 years.” This site suggests 1 ton. So, the numbers are more dispiriting. My inquiry would be around the ecological impact; are there other effects of trees on land, soil, air, etc., which may have calculable carbon impacts beyond the mere carbon capture of the tree?]

7 How We Get Around

  1. Which of these contains the most energy?
    1. A gallon of gasoline
    2. A stick of dynamite
    3. A hand grenade
  2. Which of these is the cheapest in the United States?
    1. A gallon of milk
    2. A gallon of orange juice
    3. A gallon of gasoline

As you read the rest of this chapter, keep these two facts about gasoline in mind: It packs a punch, and it’s cheap. (131)



Green Premium to replace gasoline with zero-carbon alternatives

Fuel type Retail price per gallon Zero-carbon option per gallon Green Premium
Gasoline $2.43 $5.00 (advanced biofuels) 106%
Gasoline $2.43 $8.20 (electrofuels) 237%

Pound for pound, the best lithium-ion battery available today packs 35 times less energy than gasoline. (141)

…an electric cargo truck capable of going 600 miles on a single charge would need so many batteries that it would have to carry 25 percent less cargo. And a truck with 900-mile range is out of the question: (141) It would need so many batteries that it could hardly carry any cargo at all. (142)

| Keep in mind that a typical truck running on diesel can go more than 1,000 miles without refueling. (142)

Green Premium to replace diesel with zero-carbon alternatives

Fuel type Retail price per gallon Zero-carbon option per gallon Green Premium
Diesel $2.71 $5.50 (advanced biofuels) 103%
Diesel $2.71 $9.05 (electro fuels) 234%

The best all-electric plane on the market can carry two passengers, reach a top speed of 210 miles per hour, and fly for three hours before recharging. [Air speed is usually measured in knots, but most people (including me) don’t know how much a knot is. In any case, knots are pretty close to miles per hour.] Meanwhile, a mid-capacity Boeing 787 can carry 296 passengers, reach up to 650 miles an hour, and fly for nearly 20 hours before stopping for fuel. In other words, a fossil-fuel-powered jetliner can fly more than three times as fast, for six times as long, and carry nearly 150 times as many people as the best electric plane on the market. (143)

Green Premium to replace jet fuel with zero-carbon alternatives

Fuel type Retail price per gallon Zero-carbon option per gallon Green Premium
Jet fuel $2.22 $5.35 (advanced biofuels) 141%
Jet Fuel $2.22 $8.80 (electrofuels) 296%

The best conventional container ships can carry 200 times more cargo than either of the two electric ships now in operation, and they can run routes that are 400 times (143) longer. (144)

Green Premium to replace bunker fuel with zero-carbon alternatives

Fuel type Retail price per gallon Zero-carbon option per gallon Green Premium
Bunker fuel $1.29 $5.50 326%
Bunker fuel $1.29 $9.05 (electrofuels) 601%

How to Lower the Green Premium

…government policies. (146)

It’s rare that you can boil the solution for such a complex subject down into a single sentence. But with transportation, the zero-carbon future is basically this: Use electricity to run all the vehicles we can, and get cheap alternative fuels for the rest. (147)

8 How We Keep Cool and Stay Warm

Back then, it was widely believed that malaria was caused not by a parasite, as we now know it is, but by bad air (hence the name, mal-aria). (148)


According to the IEA, the typical A/C unit sold today is only half as efficient as what’s widely available and only a third as efficient as the best models. (151)

Green Premium for installing an air-sourced heat pump in selected U.S. cities

City Cost of natural gas furnace & electric A/C Cost of air-sourced heat pump Green Premium
Providence, RI $12,667 $9,912 -22%
Chicago, IL $12,583 $10,527 -16%
Houston, TX $11,075 $8,074 -27%
Oakland, CA $10,660 $8240 -23%

Green Premium to replace current heating fuels with zero-carbon alternatives

Fuel type Current retail price Zero-carbon option Green Premium
Heating oil (per gallon) $2.71 $5.50 (advanced biofuels) 103%
Heating oil (per gallon) $2.71 $9.05 (electrofuels) 234%
Natural gas (per therm) $1.01 $2.45 (advanced biofuels) 142%
Natural gas (per therm) $1.01 $5.30 (electrofuels) 425%

NOTE: Retail price per gallon is the average in the United States from 2015 to 2018. Zero-carbon is current estimated price.

I hope three things are clear by now:

  1. The problem is extremely complex, touching on almost every human activity.
  2. We have some tools at hand that we should be deploying now to reduce emissions.
  3. But we don’t have all the tools we need. We need to drive down the Green Premiums in every sector, which means we’ve got a lot of inventing to do. (158)

9 Adapting to a Warmer World

I spend a lot of time with people who oversee the foreign aid budgets in rich-world countries. Even some very well-intentioned ones have told me, “We used to fund vaccines. Now we need to make our aid budget climate-sensitive”… (165)

I tell them, “Please don’t take away vaccine money and put it into electric cars. Africa is responsible for only about 2 percent of all global emissions. What you really should be funding there is adaptation. The best way we can help the poor adapt to climate change is to make sure they’re healthy enough to survive it. And to thrive despite it.” (165)

CGIAR is the world’s largest agricultural research group… (165)

To sum up: Rich and middle-income people are causing the vast majority of climate change. The poorest people are doing less than anyone else to cause the problem, but they stand to suffer the most from it. They deserve the world’s help, and they need more of it than they’re getting. (169)

Broadly speaking, you can think of adaptation in three stages. The first involves reducing the risks posed by climate change, through steps like climate-proofing buildings and other infrastructure, protecting wetlands as a bulwark against flooding, and–when necessary–encouraging people to relocate permanently from areas that are no longer livable. (17)

| Next is preparing for and responding to emergencies. (170)

Finally, after a disaster, there’s the recovery period. (170)

Cities need to change the way they grow. (171)

We should shore up our natural defenses. (172)

We’re going to need more drinking water than we can supply. (173)

Finally, to fund adaptation projects, we need to unlock new money. (174)

Here’s the problem we need to overcome: People pay the costs of adaptation up front, but its economic benefits may not come for years down the road. (174)

…the commission I’m involved with priced out spending in five key areas (creating early-warning systems, building climate-resilient infrastructure, raising crop yields, managing water, and protecting mangroves) and found that investing $1.8 trillion between 2020 and 2030 would return more than $7 trillion in benefits. TO put that in perspective, spread out over a decade, it’s about 0.2 percent of the world’s GDP, with a nearly fourfold return on investment. (175)

| You can measure those benefits in terms of bad things that don’t happen: civil wars that don’t break out over water rights, farmers who don’t get wiped out by a drought or flood, cities that don’t get destroyed by hurricanes, waves of people who don’t become climate refugees. Or you can measure them in terms of good things that do happen: children who grow up with the nutrients they need, families who escape poverty and join the global middle class, businesses and cities and countries that thrive even as the climate gets hotter. (175)

| Whichever way you think about it, the economic case is clear, and so is the moral case. Extreme poverty has plummeted in the past quarter century, from 36 percent of the world’s population in 1990 to 10 percent in 2015–although COVID-19 was a huge setback that undid a great deal of progress. Climate change could erase even more of these gains, increasing the number of people living in extreme poverty by 113 percent. (175)

| Those of us who have done the most to cause this problem should help the rest of the world survive it. We owe them that much. (175)

There’s one other aspect to adaptation that deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting: We need to be preparing for a worst-case scenario. (176)

Most approaches to geoengineering are based on the idea that to compensate for all the warming caused by greenhouse gases we’ve added to the atmosphere, we need to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting the earth by around 1 percent. [If you want to know the math: Sunlight is absorbed by the earth at a rate of about 240 watts per square meter. There’s enough carbon in the atmosphere now to absorb heat at an average rate of about 2 watts per square meter. So we need to make the sun dimmer by 2/240, or0.83 percent. However, because clouds would adjust to solar engineering, we would actually need to dime the sun a bit more, to about 1 percent of the incoming sunlight. If the amount of carbon in the atmosphere doubles, it would absorb heat at a rate of about 4 watts per square meter, and we would need to double the dimming to about 2 percent.] (177)

Another approach to geoengineering involves brightening clouds. …using a salt spray that causes clouds to scatter more light. And it wouldn’t take a dramatic increase; to get the 1 percent reduction, we’d only need to brighten clouds that cover 10 percent of the earth’s area by 10 percent. (177)

| There are other approaches to geoengineering; they all have three things in common. One, they’re relatively cheap compared with the scale of the problem, requiring up-front capital costs of less than $10 billion and minimal operating expenses. Two, the effect on clouds lasts for a week or so, so we could use them as long as we needed to and then stop with no long-term impacts. And three, whatever technical problems these ideas might face are nothing compared with the political hurdles they’ll definitely face. (177)

| Some critics attack geoengineering as a massive experiment on the planet, though as the proponents of geoengineering point out, we’re already running a massive experiment on the planet by emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases. (177)

…because the atmosphere is literally a global concern, no single nation could decide to try geoengineering on its own. We’d need some consensus. (178)

| Right now, it’s hard to imagine getting countries around the world to agree to artificially set the planet’s temperature. But geoengineering is the only known way that we could hope to lower the earth’s temperature within years or even decades without crippling the economy. There may come a day when we don’t have a choice. Best to prepare for that day now. (178)

10 Why Government Policies Matter


This police officer had to use a flare to direct traffic during the Great Smog of London in 1952.

cf. Environmental Protection Agency; U.S. Clean Air Act

Although air pollution is still a major cause of illness and death–it likely kills more than 7 million people every year–the policies we’ve put in place have undoubtedly kept the number from being even higher. (181)

I admit that “policy” is a vague, dull-sounding word. … But breakthrough wouldn’t even exist without a government spending tax dollars on research, policies designed to drive that research out of the lab and into the market, and regulations that created markets and made it easy to deploy at scale. (181)

…innovation is not just a matter of developing new devices. It’s also a matter of developing new policies so we can demonstrate and deploy those inventions in the market a fast as possible. (181)

1. Mind the Investment Gap

We’ll need government policies and financing to close the gap, focusing especially in areas where we need to invent new zero-carbon (184) technologies. (185)

2. Level the Playing Field

…we can also raise the cost of fossil fuels by incorporating the damage they cause into the prices we pay for them. (186)

…an externality: an expense that’s borne by society rather than the person or business who’s responsible for it. (186)

In short, we can reduce Green Premiums by making carbon-free things cheaper (which involves technical innovation), by making carbon-emitting things more expensive (which involves policy innovation), or by doing some of both. (186)

3. Overcome Nonmarket Barriers

Neither of these barriers, you’ll notice, has much to do with cost. They exist mainly because of a lack of information, or trained personnel, or incentives–all areas in which the right government policies can make a big difference. (187)

4. Stay Up to Date

…we can make sure the standards reflect the latest advances in technology and the urgency of getting to zero. (187)

5. Plan for a Just Transition

You don’t have to be a political scientist to think that national leaders who champion getting to zero will find more support for their ideas if they understand the concerns of families and communities whose livelihoods will be hit hard and if they take those concerns seriously. (188)

6. Do the Hard Stuff Too

7. Work on Technology, Policy, and Markets at the Same Time

11 A Plan for getting to Zero

Unfortunately, for all the reasons I’ve laid out in this book, 2030 is not realistic. (196)

What we can do–and need to do–in the next 10 years is adopt the policies that will put us on a path to deep decarbonization by 2050. (196)

Making reductions by 2030 the wrong way might actually prevent us from ever getting to zero. (196)

| Why? Because the things we’d do to get small reductions by 2030 are radically different from the things we’d do to get to zero by 2050. They’re really two different pathways, with different measures of success, and we have to choose between them. It’s great to have goals for 2030, as long as they’re milestones on the way to zero by 2050. (196)

For example, if “reduce by 2030” is the only measure of success, then it would be tempting to replace coal-fired power plants with gas-fired ones; after all, that would reduce our emissions of carbon dioxide. But any gas plants built between now and 2030 will still be in operation come 2050… (197)

Instead, we’re better off pursuing two strategies at the same time: First, going all out to deliver zero-carbon electricity cheaply and reliably; and second, electrifying as widely as possible–everything from vehicles to industrial processes and heat pumps, even in places that currently rely on fossil fuels for their electricity. (197)

So if you want a measuring stick for which countries are making progress on climate change and which ones aren’t, don’t simply look for the ones that are reducing their emissions. Look for the ones that are setting themselves up to get to zero. (197)

Innovation and the Law of Supply and Demand

Climate science tells us why we need to deal with this problem not not how to deal with it. For that, we’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, and engineering. (198)

[via: It is here that I would suggest that the why is even more fundamental, and for that, we need religion, ethics, and the humanities.]

Expanding the Supply of Innovation

Technologies Needed

Hydrogen produced without emitting carbon
Grid-scale electricity storage that can last a full season
Advanced biofuels
Zero-carbon cement
Zero-carbon steel
Plant- and cell-based meat and dairy
Zero-carbon fertilizer
Next-generation nuclear fission
Nuclear fusion
Carbon capture (both direct air capture and point caputre)
Underground electricity transmission
Zero-carbon plastics
Geothermal engeergy
Pumped hydro
Thermal storage
Drought- and flood-tolerant food crops
Zero-carbon alternatives to palm oil
Coolants that don’t contain F-gases

1. Quintuple clean energy and climate-related R&D over the next decade.

I think the National Institutes of Heatlh (NIH) is a good comparison. The NIH, with a budget of about $37 billion a year, has developed lifesaving drugs and treatments that Americans–and people around the world–rely on every day. It’s a great model, and an example of the ambition we need for climate change. And although quintupling an R&D budget sounds like a lot of money, it pales in comparison to the size of the challenge–and it’s a powerful indicator of just how seriously a government takes the problem. (200)

2. Make bigger bets on high-risk, high-reward R&D projects.

The real value of government leadership in R&D is that it can take chances on bold ideas that might fail or might not pay off right away. (201)

…consider the Human Genome Project (HGP). (201)

3. Match R&D with our greatest needs.

4. Work with industry from the beginning.

Accelerating the Demand for Innovation

Use procurement power. (203)

Create incentives that lower costs and reduce risk. (204)

Government policies should be technology neutral (benefiting any solutions that reduce emissions, rather than a few favored ones), predictable (as opposed to regularly expiring and then getting extended, as happens frequently now), and flexible (so that many different companies and investors can take advantage of them, not just those with large federal tax bills). (204)

Build the infrastructure that will get new technologies to market. (204)

Change the rules so new technologies can compete. (205)

Put a price on carbon. (206)

…putting a price on emissions is one of the most important things we can do to eliminate Green Premiums. (206)

Many economists argue that the money can be returned to consumers or businesses to cover the resulting increase in energy prices, though there’s also a strong argument that it should go to R&D and other incentives to help solve climate change. (206)

Clean electricity standards. (207)

Clean fuel standards. (207)

Clean product standards. (208)

Out with the old. …retire inefficient, fossil-fueled equipment… (208)

Who’s on First?

No single government body could fully implement a plan like the one I’ve outlined; the decision-making authority is simply too (208) dispersed. We’ll need action at all levels of government, from local transportation planners to national legislatures and environmental regulators. (209)

… make a goal … develop specific plans … make sure it’s on track … (209)

Federal Government

Two things are clear. First, the amount of money invested in (211) getting to zero, and adapting to the damage that we know is coming, will need to ramp up dramatically and for the long haul. To me, this means that governments and multilateral banks will need to find much better ways to rap private capital. Their coffers aren’t big enough to do this on their own. (212)

| Second, the time frames for climate investment are long, and the risks are high. So the public sector should be using its financial strength to lengthen the investment horizon–reflecting the fact that returns may not come for many years–and reduce the risk of these investments. It’ll be tricky to mix public and private money on such a large scale, but it’s essential. We need our best minds in finance working on this problem. (212)

State Governments

Local Governments

The problem is not that people in these countries want the climate to get hotter. The problem is that they’re worried about how much the solutions will cost them. (215)

| So how do we solve the free-rider problem? (215)

…a border adjustment–making sure that the carbon price on some product is paid whether that product was made domestically or imported from somewhere else. (215)

In essence, governments can say to each other, “If you want to do business with us, you’ll have to take climate change seriously.” (216)

12 What Each of Us Can Do

As a Citizen

…personal action is important for the signals it sends to the marketplace… (218)

But policy makers…decide what to do, what to prioritize, based on what they’re hearing from their constituents. (219)

What we do need to do, though, is to translate these calls for action into pressure that encourages politicians to make the tough choices and trade-offs necessary to deliver on their promises to reduce emissions. (219)

Sign up for a green pricing program with your electric utility. (221)

Reduce your home’s emissions. (221)

Buy and electric vehicle. (221)

Try a plant-based burger. (222)

As an Employee or Employer

Set up an internal carbon tax. (223)

Prioritize innovation in low-carbon solutions. (224)

Be an early adopter. (224)

Engage in the policy-making process. (224)

Connect with government-funded research. (224)

Help early-stage innovators get across the valley of death. Many researchers never turn their promising ideas into products because the process would be too risky or too expensive. (225)

One Last Thought

When we have a fact-based worldview, we can see that the world is not as bad as it seems–and we can see what we have to do to keep making it better. – Hans Rosling, Factfulness

When we have a fact-based view of climate change, we can see that we have some of the things we need to avoid a climate disaster, but not all of them. We can see what stands in the way of deploying the solutions we have and developing the breakthroughs we need. And we can see all the work we must do to overcome those hurdles. (226)

| I’m an optimist because I know what technology can accomplish and because I know what people can accomplish. I’m profoundly inspired by all the passion I see, especially among young people, for solving this problem. If we keep our eye on the big goal–getting to zero–and we make serious plans to achieve that goal, we can avoid a disaster. We can keep the climate bearable for everyone, help hundreds of millions of poor people make the most of their lives, and preserve the planet for generations to come. (226)

[vai: I call this “the discipline of hope.”]

Afterword: Climate Change and COVID-19

First, we need international cooperation. (227)

…helping other is not just an act of altruism, it’s also in our self-interest. We all have reasons to get to zero and help others do it too. Temperatures will not stop rising in Texas unless emissions stop rising in India. (228)

| Second, we need to let science–actually, many different sciences–guide our efforts. (228)

Third, our solutions should meet the needs of the people who are hardest hit. 9228)

About VIA


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