If your teenage children want to know what to do about the climate crisis, offer them Bill Gates’ How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.
The book is mercifully short and remarkably well written, thanks to his colleague Josh Daniel. No matter what you think of Gates (he is blamed for most of the evils in the world), his global philanthropy and this book make up for all that cranky MS-DOS software with which he tortured us in his youth.
Like a lot of simple writing on complex issues you can think there’s something missing from the 236 pages. This is because so much of what’s written about climate change is dense, academic and unreadable. Gates has the confidence and authority to ignore a lot of the noise, exclude extraneous issues, and provide an essential guide to what we must do to prevent disaster.
He does this in a systematic and repetitive way. He looks at what we need to live (cement, electricity, energy, food, steel, transport) and what we must do to eradicate the carbon we emit to get the world to net-zero emissions by 2050. This exposes the problems we face, as well as the myths that some peddle about how easy or hard it is to find solutions.
He uses data to support his arguments but limits the volume to ensure the text is easily understood. There are plenty of links to other sources for those who want to explore further.
Gates is a self-confessed geek and reveals his obsessions by occasionally scurrying down rabbit holes or by his word choice. For example, when talking about methane from cows, he commits to use “fart” as often as possible because in previous writings with his wife Melinda she only allowed the word to be used once. And herein lies his folksy charm: a 65-year-old behaving like a kid when mom looks away.
Although Gates attempts to provide an international perspective, the book is inevitably US-centric with much of the discussion about energy, transport and policy reflecting the US economy. He does not advocate any substantive lifestyle changes, other than eating plant-based burgers (in which he invests) and, of course, believes technical solutions will divert disaster.
Although he emphasises the need for good policy, his technocratic approach allows him to sidestep political issues on which he is unqualified to comment. It is of no matter – the shelves are full of books on the ghastly culture wars of climate change. Gates has written a good, short, optimistic book that will improve everyone’s understanding of something that affects everyone.
[HOW TO AVOID A CLIMATE DISASTER. The solutions we have and the breakthroughs we need. Bill Gates. Allen Lane]