2021/Week 9

Bill Gates has released his green manifesto in the book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. I haven’t read it yet and I am fairly confident that I won’t be able to come around to reading it either, but there’s enough on the internet to know what he wants. The key premise he talks about is what he calls the “green premium”—the additional cost of using clean fuel—and the need to make it near-zero for reaching a carbon neutral world by 2050. Not 2030, which he quite rightly feels is unrealistic. I don’t feel so confident about 2050 either, but thirty years is a long time—it’s three quarters of my lifetime and I was born in a time when there used to be one dial phone between a street of about fifty households, getting a landline connection from the national telecom company used to have waiting periods of at least a year and long distance phone calls were called trunk calls. For someone who built his fortune in the technology business, it is unsurprising that Gates feels innovations in technology will get us out of this crisis. But it is also probably here that optimism about the possibilities of technology leading the planet out of extinction might as well end. 

Technology development and adoption depends heavily on how well it integrates with existing patterns of hardwired behaviour without upsetting established value systems. As if this isn’t difficult enough to do for an individual consumer, the level of difficulty can only be imagined when both the development and adoption has to be done by complex global systems made of governments, industry and people. While it is true, that all three are the most aware of the problem of climate change and there is greater debate about it than any other time in our history, the fundamental truth remains that there needs to be a phenomenal amount of change in the way we behave – to some extent, even dismantling entire belief structures – if we want to have any real chance. 

Of the many lessons we have learned from the pandemic, many of which aren’t exactly new, one of the chief ones that will be remembered for a long time will be the ineffectiveness of governments – almost across the board, barring a handful – in tacking a crisis. And if this is how they behave in the face of an immediate emergency, what can be expected for something which is considered an impending disaster, and one which many still feel is a hoax?

Related readings

  • Bill Gates: My green manifesto (Financial Times)
  • Bill Gates has a plan to save the world. Will the world listen? (WIRED UK)
  • Gordon Brown: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates review – why science isn’t enough (The Guardian)
  • Yuval Noah Harari: Lessons from a year of Covid Free to read (Financial Times)