Climate change is a problem that we have to solve for our children’s sake. The problem is how. When Bill Gates is talking about addressing the issue, it’s interesting because he is part of the problem and he is known to prefer doing things on his own without care about the political aspects. Is it a good thing for climate change or not?
I like the premises of the book. I was quite skeptical at first, but Bill Gates is right, we need to go back to zero emissions. I don’t agree with him though on the fact that we can keep our way of life. But the presentation is chapter 1 is true and accurate. And if we manage to achieve this feat, it will be hard indeed. Unfortunately, Bill Gates doesn’t tell us on what aspects it will be hard. It almost looks like the difficulty will not be on us humans, but on the financial markets to invest there.
This shows more again in chapter 3. I think this is where Bill Gates has lost touch with science. It seems that for him, the God Almighty Market will figure out a way to solve all technological problems. With what we currently have, we cannot solve the problem, that’s true. Jean-Marc Jancovici speaks at length about this. But contrary to Bill Gates, he knows that the market theories are based on a lie: we cannot always find a solution. Still, Green Premiums would be nice to squash down some bad ideas, like using hydrogen as fuel. But… sacred money first.
There are next 5 chapters on what we can do to go to net zero, the first step tackling clean electricity. I agree with most of the issues developed in it, but not on the conclusions. Bill Gates is right in saying that we need to move to clean energy and that also our renewables are consuming far more materials per Wh than the traditional energy sources. But let’s start with the beginning. He says that it’s a truism that technology gets cheaper as it scales. I don’t agree. This is just like the orthodox axiom of the perfection of the market that will allocate capital to fix something. It’s an axiom that is obviously not true (and so not a truism). You cannot scale hydroelectric dams. There are just a finite amount of space to use. Same for wind or solar. The worst is that he says EXACTLY THAT just a few moments later, destroying his argument entirely. He does note that to get to net zero, we will have to build more power plants, and that’s why he pushes for nuclear fission and fusion, but let’s me realistic here: climate change is not the only issue. Just keeping on going on the same vicious cycle of even more doesn’t work. It’s actually the issue with Bill Gates. He’s a software engineer. Not a physicist. The kind that made his career during the free lunch dream. Let’s just get that sink for a while. Bill Gates has no clue about anything he is talking about. On top of that, he grew up in the US, where the only doctrine is the American dream, the self-made man and where we need more, always more without limits. That’s what I like with Europe, there is no right answer in how to grow up. None actually work and you can confront ideas and understand that your freedom stops where your neighbor’s starts. It may not always work, but I think Europeans are far more reasonable than Americans, especially when it comes to trying to see the big picture.
No Bill, your solution is not a solution. We don’t have enough to make all your power plants, whether it’s solar or wind (in terms of space and materials) or nuclear (where do the fissile materials come from?). It looks like Bill Gates thinks that there will be new solutions to the problem (typical orthodox finance guy thinking, see my previous remark), and at the same time he did note that oddly some domains have not followed Moore’s law. It’s not from a lack of investment. It’s because of physics laws. You have to get it out of your head that you can have everyone having infinite power (and of course infinite resources, so that Microsoft is even richer???).
The chapter on industry (cement and steel mainly) also identifies a crucial problem: they are a huge part of the greenhouse gas releases and they are difficult to reduce. Here again, Bill Gates doesn’t understand the problem. He says that we need to find new solutions, but the one that would be to reduce our reliance on cement (for buildings for instance! cement is very bad at thermal insulation, even if it’s a “dream” material) and steel. For him, we are bound to increase our production of these two, which is, once again, not mandatory. It is mandatory if you believe in infinite growth, but that’s a fallacy. Infinite growth doesn’t exist. On top of that, this means that we need to consume even more of the scarce resources no the planet, destroying beautiful landscapes and the magnificent ecosystems, all for the sake of your god Mamon (I was always amazed at the cognitive dissonance in American Christians that worship money as their only end goal in life even when it’s one of the first warnings Jesus ever gave to his followers…).
On the topic on agriculture, we get more of the same. Bill Gates identifies the right issues (farts, burps, manure), but not the proper solution. It’s still how to get more and more, even if we KNOW that we consume too much food, it’s one of the main health issues, especially eating too much meat. So instead of advocating for a change of way of life, Bill Gates insists on the American way as the only right solution (even if there is a small concession at the end, you can feel that it’s not something he will sacrifice). There is no solution for the soil pollution or the fact that arable lands are getting poorer and poorer. I suppose the market will find a solution…
On the topic of transports, it’s a very US centric view. Just one mention of trains to transport goods, and that’s just because you need to put it there. NOT ONE MENTION of short loops for food circuits, but lots of mentions of him wanting to eat avocados. Or travel a lot with agrofuels that will consume more arable land…
Then on the topic of heating/cooling, it’s also very US centric. He starts by saying that most developed countries have 50%+ AC systems in their house. That’s not true in Europe where it’s very seldom. Why? Because we have laws to design housing that is better insulated. Bill Gates talks very quickly about it for new buildings, but not once for older buildings, although it’s something that would be good to reduce the number of additional power plants to build…
Once this is settled, Bill Gates tackles the issues of what to do while we get to net zero. Obviously the increase in temperatures will have an effect on all people. Of course, some people will get more hit than other and they also need to be raised out of poverty. But he forgot that we need to restore also our ecosystems, not just the ones in hot climates. Flooding already happens in developed countries more because we have removed natural barriers to get more buildings or more farmland. This needs to be addressed. And geoengineering is not going to solve this, there are enough dystopian novels on geoengineering gone bad!
In the next chapter, we go into policies in general. Even if Bill Gates talks about technology and that companies need to develop these (firstly, why companies and not universities or states?), he still forgets about physical limits, for instance on solar efficiency. But I do agree that policies need to be put in place, and not just locally. Unfortunately they need also better social policies, otherwise you will end up with the solar fiasco, where Europe and the US had a good industrial ecosystem and where globalization relocated all production in China with worse solar panel efficiency, and of course no environment impact concerns… So once again, Bill Gates starts good, but fails short taking into account all concerns, and not just his own wallet.
I’m going to comment the last two chapters together, as they are the Bill Gates plan to go to net zero. It’s supposed to be ambitious, but it’s more of the same. It is still ambitious and should be what we go after, but to be fair, it’s something that is not enough and impossible to do in our current economic system. Why? Yes, it’s not enough, because as I’ve said several times, Bill Gates assumes that the market will find a solution. Yes, we need to look for getting to net zero in 2050 and just reducing in 2030 may get in the way. But it doesn’t mean that it’s actually possible with the current “constraints” that we have like, not reducing our level of living and the number of Earth inhabitants… What do we do if we end up in 2049 and we didn’t get to that? Yes, we all need to do our part (and Gates put in at the same level trying a plant-based burger and enhancing your home efficiency… just ridiculous). The US may be able to also use the state resources to fund research, but in Europe, we decided to go the pure orthodox capitalism way and not intervene on the market and decide that state debt needs to be reimbursed. What does this mean? That the American consumerism is screwing us big time for the future. We need to stop using this economic system and find a new one (not communism, of course). Not more of the same one that screwed us up.
To go to abide by the Paris accord, we need to limit the global warming to 1.5 degrees. Models show that it’s not possible. We may be able to limit it to 2 degrees. For that to happen, it’s not just net zero by 2050, it’s actually reducing EVERY YEAR our new greenhouse gas by 5%. That’s more than what COVID-19 did in 2020 (it was apparently 4%). Can you think about the impact that this had on our lives and the fact that we need to do the same for the next 30 years? This is the kind of sacrifice that we will have to do until 2050. Yes, science may help some aspects, but let’s be realistic considering the amount of material resources that we have at our disposal without screwing up the planet for the future: it’s not possible.
It’s very sad to see someone identifying all the right problems and failing at just every solution. If we follow Bill Gates, the only thing that we will get is more capitalism (more wealth for him, less for you and me, even less for the developing countries), and more importantly, we will get the next crisis even faster (the resource crunch).
Read if you want to understand the American school of thoughts, and then do everything he says, but better. Not for your sake, but for your kids’ and your neighbors’.