How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
51 BILLION TO ZERO here are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The other is zero.
Fifty-one billion is how many tons of greenhouse gases the world typically adds to the atmosphere every year. Although the figure may go up or down a bit from year to year, it’s generally increasing. This is where we are today.
Zero is what we need to aim for. To stop the warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change—and these effects will be very bad— humans need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.
This sounds difficult, because it will be. The world has never done anything quite this big. Every country will need to change its ways. Virtually every activity in modern life—growing things, making things, getting around from place to place—involves releasing greenhouse gases, and as time goes on, more people will be living this modern lifestyle. That’s good, because it means their lives are getting better. Yet if nothing else changes, the world will keep producing greenhouse gases, climate change will keep getting worse, and the impact on humans will in all likelihood be catastrophic.
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.
This book is about what it will take and why I think we can do it.— Two decades ago, I would never have predicted that one day I would be talking in public about climate change, much less writing a book about it. My background is in software, not climate science, and these days my fulltime job is working with my wife, Melinda, at the Gates Foundation, where we are super-focused on global health, development, and U.S. education. I came to focus on climate change in an indirect way—through the problem of energy poverty.
In the early 2000s, when our foundation was just starting out, I began traveling to low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia so I could learn more about child mortality, HIV, and the other big problems we were working on. But my mind was not always on diseases. I would fly into major cities, look out the window, and think, Why is it so dark out there? Where are all the lights I’d see if this were New York, Paris, or Beijing?
In Lagos, Nigeria, I traveled down unlit streets where people were huddling around fires they had built in old oil barrels. In remote villages, Melinda and I met women and girls who spent hours every day collecting firewood so they could cook over an open flame in their homes. We met kids who did their homework by candlelight because their homes didn’t have electricity.
I learned that about a billion people didn’t have reliable access to electricity and that half of them lived in sub-Saharan Africa. (The picture has improved a bit since then; today roughly 860 million people don’t have electricity.) I thought about our foundation’s motto—“Everyone deserves the chance to live a healthy and productive life”—and how it’s hard to stay healthy if your local medical clinic can’t keep vaccines cold because the refrigerators don’t work. It’s hard to be productive if you don’t have lights to read by. And it’s impossible to build an economy where everyone has job opportunities if you don’t have massive amounts of reliable, affordable electricity for offices, factories, and call centers
Introduction: 51 Billion to Zero
1 Why Zero?
2 This Will Be Hard
3 Five Questions to Ask in Every Climate Conversation
4 How We Plug In
5 How We Make Things
6 How We Grow Things
7 How We Get Around
8 How We Keep Cool and Stay Warm
9 Adapting to a Warmer World
10 Why Government Policies Matter
11 A Plan for Getting to Zero
12 What Each of Us Can Do
Afterword: Climate Change and Covid-19
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|April 23, 2021|
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