What I feared was confirmed: Bill Gates’ new book is a noncommittal plea for innovation, technology and economic growth. Sold as providing the ultimate solutions to our climate crises, the book doesn’t get much further than measures we already know and many platitudes about what should be done next. As I already wrote on twitter: don’t buy it, you will be misled. And since just a tweet might not be seen as very convincing, I bought the book to see if I was right. And indeed, you can save the cost, the effort and the time….
“The key do addressing climate change is to make clean energy just as cheap and reliable as what we get from fossil fuels.”
That pretty much sums it up: there is nothing wrong with our energy use, we happened to be using the wrong source. We make those alternative sources cheap and voila, problem solved. On top of that Gates compares everything to a ‘green premium’, the higher (financial) costs for a friendlier alternative. The climate problem has been relegated to a cost problem. So an evaluation with only 1 criterion: money, which is not based on anything that has a relationship (anymore) with what is physically possible or optimal.
He speaks highly of a new type of nuclear reactor, devised by one of his firms, but at the same time indicates that it is still years away, and only exists in computer models.
Regarding materials, the explosion in steel and concrete in Shanghai, for example, is cited as proof of progress and a good cause. That’s the level to think about.
And anyone who opposes that, Gates argues, forgets the power of innovation. That is why Ehrlich was wrong, and so the club of Rome will be wrong (although he does not say the latter literally).
We need to help farmers everywhere get more fertilizer to work just like the farmers in the US. (that again) Need I explain whats wrong with that?
Then there’s a bit of tree bashing, because ‘if you burn them, all ‘benefit is lost’, and if you would replace a soybean plantation with trees, fewer soybeans are grown, and the price goes up, making it again likely that someone else will cut down trees elsewhere to grow soy…..!?…?
It is the same reasoning that companies like Shell and the concrete industry also use: If you make it difficult for us, we will leave or someone else will do it. Fortunately, the judge made short work of that argument last week in the Netherlands in a law case against Shell. .
A next chapter in transport begins with Gates stating: “love grapefruits and want to eat them all year round, so how are we going to do that?” The solution is tarnsport innovation.
Arriving at the built environment it becomes really embarrassing: everything that is suggested in teh book, is already happening, and sometimes for decades. And even where he acknowledges that things are known but are progressing too slowly, he comes up with the same tune we’ve known for a long time, about governments that must take responsibility, innovations that must be given room to develop and more blah blah.
With buildings, the arguing is not much more as: “use energy more efficiently, electrify and decarbonize the grid”. It’s really of a simplicity that you wonder if his advisors are all dumb or just mimicking him ?
And of course, it couldn’t be missed:: Geo engineering can buy us time…
The book is nothing more as some fact free philosophizing about a innovations in the style of 20 years ago and of an indescribable naivety. With the current money system as the benchmark for decisions.
Not a single word about underlying problems, only investing, innovating, technology and breakthroughs, without even really naming these except in some general terms. “Zero carbon cement”, whatever it is. “ If only they were challenged!” Same for Nuclear fusion, Yes, but we’ve been looking for 50 years and will take at least another 50 years, if we ever succeed.
The problems is, we have made those people rich, and next they’re going to tell us that we are doing fine and should continue ; it’s all good as long as we get the space to innovate, and we consume all the new stuff again.
Similar like Musk, who wants to make us dependent on his satellite communication system, his batteries, his roof solutions, all innovations financed by us, Its just a smart ca salesman . That’s all.
If I may give some tips for reading some other books: from people who have done their own research, have no interests, and also know about it? For example, such a person is
Charles Hall, and his book: Energy return on investment, a unifying principle for biology, economics and sustainability.
Solid stuff, but in fact a simple story: more energy has to come out of a process as has gone into it , otherwise it will stop somewhere. Then the tank is empty. And that more energy can only come from one source, and that is the sun. You can calculate all that. It’s physics, Stupid! , you know. And that is even only talking about energy…. (there are also the materials…, read my book Broken Cycles 😉
But then again, if we do everything differently, can we avoid a catastrophe? No, that does nt work lime that anyway . Take Ugo Bardi, and his latest highly readable book: Before the Collapse. A guide to the other side of growth. The collapse will come, its ingrained in nature and evolution, which exists by the grace of the rise and fall of individuals, species and systems. However we decide for ourselves whether that blow will be hard and fast, or whether there will be a softer transition over a longer period of time. The chance of survival of the species in the latter case is greater. (and at least a little less bad for our children)
It looks like Gates’s book, and many other over-optimistic tech books, want us to accelerate into a big blow and fast collpase.