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How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, Bill Gates

"There are two numbers you need to know about climate change. The first is 51 billion. The other is zero."


"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."

p. 3

"I think more like an engineer than a political scientist, and I don't have a solution to the politics of climate change. Instead, what I hope to do is focus the conversation on what getting to zero requires: We need to channel the world's passion and its scientific IQ into deploying the clean energy solutions we have now, and inventing new ones, so we stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere."

p. 14

"Here's the key point: Although heavy emitters like me should use less energy, the world overall should be using more of the goods and services that energy provides. There is nothing wrong with using more energy as long as it's carbon-free. The key to addressing climate change is to make clean energy just as cheap and reliable as what we get from fossil fuels. I'm putting a lot of effort into what I think will get us to that point and make a meaningful difference in going from 51 billion tons a year to zero."

p. 15

"The earth is warming, it's warming because of human activity, and the impact is bad and will get much worse. We have every reason to believe that at some point the impact will be catastrophic. Will that point come in 30 years? Fifty years? We don't know precisely. But given how had the problem will be to solve, even if the worst case is 50 years aways, we need to act now."

p. 25

"How does that compare to climate change? By mid-century, increases in global temperatures are projected to raise global mortality rates by the same amount--14 deaths per 100,000. By the end of the century, if emissions growth stays high, climate change could be responsible for 75 extra deaths per 100,000 people."

p. 34

"Here's my reply to that argument: Unless we move fast toward zero, bad things (and probably many of them) will happen well within most people's lifetime, and very bad things will happen within a generation. Even if climate change doesn't rank as an existential threat to humanity, it will make most people worse off, and it will make the poorest even poorer. It will keep getting worse until we stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and it deserves to be as much of a priority as health and education."

p. 50

"Here's summary of all five tips:

  1. Convert tons of emissions to percentage of 51 billion.

  2. Remember that we need to find solutions for all five activities that emissions come from: making things, plugging in, growing things, getting around, and keeping cool and warm.

  3. Kilowatt = house. Gigawatt = mid-size city. Hundreds of gigawatts = big, rich country.

  4. Consider how much space you're going to need.

  5. Keep the Green Premiums in mind and ask whether they're low enough for middle-income countries to pay."

p. 64

"But this isn't primarily a technological problem. It's a political and economic problem. People cut down trees not because people are evil; they do it when the incentives to cut down trees are stronger than the incentives to leave them alone. So we need political and economic solutions, including paying countries to maintain their forests, enforcing rules designed to protect certain areas, and making sure rural communities have different economic opportunities so they don't have to extract natural resources just to survive."

p. 127

"Another drawback is that it takes an hour or more to fully charge an EV, yet you can gas up your car in less than five minutes. In addition, using them to avoid carbon emissions works only if we're generating electricity from zero-carbon sources. This is another reason why the breakthroughs I mentioned in chapter 4 are so important. If we get our power from coal and then charge up our electric cars with coal-fired electricity, we'll just be swapping one fossil fuel for another."

p. 137

"The cruel injustice is that even though the world's poor are doing essentially nothing to cause climate change, they're going to suffer the most from it. The climate is changing in ways that will be problematic for relatively well-off farmers in America and Europe, but potentially deadly for low-income ones in Africa and Asia."

p. 163

"Here's the problem we need to overcome: People pay the costs of adaptation up front, but its economic benefits may not come for years down the road. For example, you can flood-proof your business now, but it may not get hit by a big deluge for 10 or 20 years. And your flood-proofing isn't going to generate bankable cash flows; customers aren't going to pay extra for your products because you made sure sewage won't back up into your basement during a flood. So banks will be reluctant to loan you the money for your project, or they'll charge you a higher interest rate. Either way, you have to absorb some cost yourself, in which case you may simply decide not to do it.

Take that single example and multiply it across and entire city, state, or country, and you'll see why the public has to play a role in both financing adaptation projects and drawing in the private sector as well. We need to make adaptation an attractive investment."

p. 174

"Right now, it's hard to imagine getting countries around the world to agree to artificially set the planet's temperature. But geoengineering is the only known way that we could hope to lower the earth's temperature within years or even decades without crippling the economy. There may come a day when we don't have a choice. Best to prepare for that day now."

p. 178

"I admit that "policy" is a vague, dull-sounding word. A big breakthrough like a new type of battery would be sexier than the policies that led some chemist to invent it. But the breakthrough wouldn't even exist without a government spending tax dollars on research, policies designed to drive that research out of the lab and into the market, and regulations that created markets and made it easy to deploy at scale."

p. 181

"That's why markets, policy, and technology have to work in complementary ways. Policies, such as higher spending on R&D, can help spark new technologies and shape the market systems that will make sure they reach millions of people. But it works the other way too: Policies should also be shaped by the technologies we develop. If, for example, we came up with a breakthrough liquid fuel, then our policies would focus on creating the investment and financing strategies to get it to global scale, and we wouldn't need to worry as much about, say, finding new ways to store energy."

p. 190

"Second, the time frames for climate investment are long, and the risks are high. So the public sector should be using its financial strength to lengthen the investment horizon--reflecting the fact that returns may not come for many years--and reduce the risk of these investments. It'll be tricky to mix public and private money on such a large scale, but it's essential. We need our best minds in finance working on this problem."

p. 212

"And--this is a really important point--lowering the Green Premiums that the world pays is not charity. Countries like the United States shouldn't see investing in clean energy R&D as just a favor to the rest of the world. They should also see it as an opportunity to make scientific breakthroughs that will give birth to new industries composed of major new companies, creating jobs and reducing emissions at the same time."

p. 216

"When somebody wants toast for breakfast, we need to make sure there's a system in place that can deliver the bread, the toaster, and the electricity to run the toaster without adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. We aren't going to solve the climate problem by telling people not to eat toast."

p. 218

"I'm an optimist because I know what technology can accomplish and because I know what people can accomplish. I'm profoundly inspired by all the passion I see, especially among young people, for solving this problem. If we keep our eye on the big goal--getting to zero--and we make serious plans to achieve that goal, we can avoid a disaster. We can keep the climate bearable for everyone, help hundreds of millions of poor people make the most of their lives, and preserve the planet for generations to come."

p. 226

"The question now is this: What should we do with this momentum? To me, the answer is clear. We should spend the next decade focusing on the technologies, policies, and market structures that will put us on the path to eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050. It's hard to think of a better response to a miserable 2020 than spending the next ten years dedicating ourselves to this ambitious goal."

p. 230

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