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How to avoid a climate disaster — the Bill Gates way

Tilak Doshi, Forbes

Bill Gates appeals to a world whose imminent end he prophesizes.

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corporation and one of the world’s richest men and philanthropists, has written a new book that hits the stores on February 16th. Unlike his two previous books, this one is not about software and the digital revolution. Mr. Gates’ new book covers grounds far beyond the author’s background in software engineering and his active philanthropic interests in global development, public health and US public education via the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (founded in 2000).

According to the blurb, “In this urgent, authoritative book, Bill Gates sets out a wide-ranging, practical — and accessible — plan for how the world can get to zero greenhouse gas emissions in time to avoid a climate catastrophe”. In the introduction, Gates explains how he got involved with the climate change field via the problem of energy poverty that he came across in looking at issues of public health in developing countries. In field visits to parts of India and Sub-Saharan Africa, the initial impression of “why is it so dark, where are the lights” naturally led to understanding that an essential part of poverty was the lack of reliable access to electricity for over a billion people in the world, half of them in Africa. Gates asks, “Where is the reliable and affordable electricity for offices, factories, and call centres, for lights to read by and for keeping vaccines chill in working refrigerators 24/7?”

The first parts of the book give readers an idea of Gates’ intellectual journey. He cites the Cambridge physicist David Mackay who showed the link between per capita income and per capita energy use. This historical correlation between energy use and standards of living led Gates “to think about how the world could make energy affordable and reliable for the poor”. The work of economist Vaclav Smil on the essential role of fossil fuels in the evolution of human civilization is also commended by Gates. […]

For Gates, the case for net zero is “rock solid”. The science is settled, and he is convinced that “the only way to avoid disastrous outcomes is to get to zero”. For readers already convinced of the “climate crisis” and the imperative to go to “net zero” by 2050, this book holds no surprises. For those more sceptical of popular discussions of climate change, what is most striking is that Gates – among the world’s most celebrated and successful data scientists — is so curiously unaware or indifferent to data that challenge many of the presumptions contained in the book.

Follow the Science

[…] Bill Gates appeals to a world whose imminent end he prophesizes. In the missionary style of exhortation, his book paints a catastrophic future which is convincingly described, even “proved”. After a sermon of warnings and threats which accompany the horror of a predicted Armageddon (rising sea levels, extinction of many species, extreme weather, food shortages, mass migration, etc.), a technophilic way forward is presented which offers the possibility of salvation. “Following the science”, as understood by Gates and his fellow illuminati, presents a clear way forward in a therapy of carbon conversion (“we can do it”).

Alas, ‘following the science’ is neither straightforward nor consensual. The diversity of scientific views on every aspect of climate change which one would have expected Bill Gates to be conversant with are not to be found in this book. Indeed, he dismisses contrarian arguments as products of “small and politically powerful groups not persuaded by the science”. In the meantime, the business of living by the vast majority of ordinary people of the world becomes inexorably more difficult as affordable fossil fuels become the target of “policy corrections”. Bill Gates’ proposed environmental salvation – forced by policy elites and activist businessmen in “an unnaturally speedy transition” towards decarbonization – will be a fearsome sight to behold, a road to hell paved with good intentions.

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