Bill Gates on the climate crisis: ‘I can't deny being a rich guy with an opinion’

- THE GUARDIAN - Feb 13, 2021 -

Bill Gates -

Bill Gates: ‘I’ve put more than a billion dollars into approaches that I hope will help the world get to zero emissions.’ Photograph: John Keatley/The Guardian

In an exclusive extract from his new book, the Microsoft founder explains why we need to cut carbon emissions to zero – even if he is an ‘imperfect messenger’

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

Fifty-one billion is how many tons of greenhouse gases the world typically adds to the atmosphere every year. Zero is what we need to aim for. To stop the warming and avoid the worst effects of climate change, humans need to stop adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The climate is like a bathtub that’s slowly filling up with water. Even if we slow the flow of water to a trickle, the tub will eventually overflow. Setting a goal to reduce our emissions won’t do it. The only sensible goal is zero.

This sounds difficult, because it will be. Take this past year: economic activity has slowed down so much, due to Covid-19, that the world will emit fewer greenhouse gases. But the reduction will probably be about 5%. In real terms, that means we will release the equivalent of 48-49bn tons of carbon, instead of 51bn.

Consider what it took to achieve this 5% reduction. More than 2 million people died and tens of millions were put out of work. To put it mildly, this was not a situation that anyone would want to continue or repeat. And yet the world’s greenhouse gas emissions probably dropped just 5%, and possibly less.

This small decline in emissions is proof that we cannot get to zero simply, or even mostly, by flying and driving less. Just as we needed new tests, treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, we need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool or warm, and move people and goods around the world.


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