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My First Impression After Reading Bill Gates's "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster"

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I have been following Bill Gates's activities against environmental problems since I watched Inside Bill's Brain on Netflix last year, and I just finished reading his latest book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster.

For those who are interested in the climate crisis but have no idea of what the current state is, just like me, the book can be a deeply satisfying beginner's guide to the global problem. Although I need to review the informative content again to flesh out my thoughts, I could share some of the key takeaways that lead us to immediate actions TODAY:

  1. Growing sensitivity and intuition about numbers (facts; data) is important, to begin with.
  2. We can be optimistic about technology, but the real challenge is in its management strategy relying on the government's policies and regulations.
  3. The next economic leader in the world is an innovator in the global environmental management field.
  4. Climate crisis is not somebody else's problem. It is our problem, and we can make a change.

First of all, Bill refers to many different numbers throughout the book, and having a better sense of these numbers and being able to quickly capture a big picture of individual problems would be an important first step to dig deep into a specific topic. For instance, a nuclear power source generates 500 to 1,000 watts per square meter, but...how big or small is it? The book (and this article) shows an intuition about the scale as follows:

  • The world: 5,000 gigawatts
  • The United States: 1,000 gigawatts
  • Mid-size city: 1 gigawatt
  • Small town: 1 megawatt
  • Average American household: 1 kilowatt

Here, a trivial action item for us is to collect the facts as much as possible and make a choice based on the data. Our World in Data can be a good place to play with, and I have personally explored a relevant dataset in "How Much CO2 Emissions Your Flights Made?", for example.

Secondly, the book demonstrates a wide variety of advanced technologies that bring us to the ultimate goal of net-zero emissions. It was impressive for me to read the following statement (modified by my own words):

Nuclear energy is highly promising, but it poses a huge safety concern. Then, why don't we develop new technology to make it safer? We don't stop riding a car because it causes an accident; we developed new technologies to make driving safer. We shouldn't stop thinking and improving.

As a Japanese person who knows how bad the nuclear accident is, it is certainly challenging to accept the suggestion. However, at the same time, as an engineer who believes in the possibility of technological innovations, the statement is completely fair and I can't agree more.

Speaking of innovation, "Innovation is a combination of new device and new way of doing this"—Gates says. That is, even if an appropriate technology does exist, a real challenge is how to deploy the solution on a global scale.

On one hand, the government must change their existing outdated regulations to make the new way possible. Otherwise, innovations won't be properly incentivized, and innovators cannot establish a sustainable supply chain infrastructure to massively deploy their solutions. Eventually, environmental management doesn't proceed as rapidly as we hope to hit the 2030-2050 milestone.

On the other hand, the rules don't change without a strong demand, and developing new technology simply ends up with unrewarded effort unless the demand exists. So, who is the person to construct the market demand?—That's us. The problem about government regulation is NOT irrelevant to ordinary citizens, and it does change when we omit an explicit signal from the market.

Take action, deliver our voice, and give pressure on the government. In practice, what we can do include but are not limited to:

  • Reduce the frequency of eating meat;
  • Buying an EV car;
  • Be an early adapter of new energy-conscious products.

As a follow-up action, I started learning more about the problems on Coursera by taking some relevant courses such as Global Environmental Management and Renewable Energy and Green Building Entrepreneurship. What would you do to change the world?




  See also

Updating My View of Nuclear Power
Environmental Problems Through the Lens of Business
How Much CO2 Emissions Have Your Flights Made?


Last updated: 2022-09-02

  Author: Takuya Kitazawa

Takuya Kitazawa is a freelance software developer, previously working at a Big Tech and Silicon Valley-based start-up company where he wore multiple hats as a full-stack software developer, machine learning engineer, data scientist, and product manager. At the intersection of technological and social aspects of data-driven applications, he is passionate about promoting the ethical use of information technologies through his mentoring, business consultation, and public engagement activities. See CV for more information, or contact at [email protected].

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