🥇 5/5 How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

🖋️ By Bill Gates
📖 I read the Kindle version

These are summary notes of surprising information, written so I can better remember what I read.

The book in 3 sentences

  1. Getting to 0 is crucial (especially by 2050, just 29 years from now), and that can’t just be cutting back, which requires fundamental innovation to make energy cheap for developing countries, while always going to 0 (not Greenwashing cutting back, which hurts the mission of actually reaching zero).
  2. Contextualize every number in terms of 51 billion tons (of co2 equivalent standard units) per year, 500 million tons is 1% and that’s a worthwhile improvement.
  3. Think of the green premium: what would it cost to use the green zero-carbon tools we have now? How can we make the zero carbon option cheaper?
The whole book is organized around these topics: isolate what produces the most emissions, and go one by one to investigate the green premium of zero-carbon alternatives.


Many challenges in many areas. Impact is now imminent, so maybe we can motivate to solve it: this lifetime, and the next will feel it bad.

Number of days where temps reach 90deg or more will increase from occasional (14 per year) to the new normal (100 days per year).

Pay heavily to study the root cause, knowing that will guide you to the obvious solution.

Who should read it?

It’s a very approachable book, and quick read. Great value per word due to the author’s concision and a focus on data. Critical info to ask the right questions.

Most useful to policy makers, including CEOs or executives trying to improve their company’s impact.

5 CENTRAL QUESTIONS (to bring to every climate conversation)

  1. What percent of the 51 billion tons is that?
    1. Put changes in context of the whole.
    2. 500 million tons is 1%. That’s a significant milestone for a project.
  2. What’s your plan for cement?
    1. Steel + cement = 10% of all emissions (5 billion tons)
    2. 5 key activities. Solutions must address all 5.
  3. How much power are we talking about?
    1. Kilowatt = house. Gigawatt = smaller city. 1000 gigawatt = USA.
  4. How much space do you need?
    1. Power density ( per square meter)
    2. Given some power output, how much space is required for that?
  5. What’s the green premium?
    1. And is it low enough for middle income countries to pay?

Top quotes

No page numbers here, not included in my kindle version.

Fun facts: batteries are 35x heavier than gas for the same energy.

Today solar panels convert 25% of energy into electrons.

Also there’s a mysterious 10% efficiency loss very shortly after manufacturing panels. They work better for the first few hours/days, then get 10% worse. But that’s another story, told by Real Engineering below.

(18) The Mystery Flaw of Solar Panels – YouTube

Current US policy will nudge us down 5% in co2 emissions by 2030, which ain’t nothing, but not much either.

Paris is relevant primarily as proof of international cooperation. (and get 3-6 billion tons lower by 2030). 6 billion would be 12% of global emissions, not bad.

Globally, building a new New York City every MONTH.

Using current Direct Air Capture (DAC) of carbon, you could solve the climate problem for minimum $5.1 trillion per year, ever year, indefinetly while we’re producing emissions. That’s 6% global economy. That’s probably the most expensive way of solving anything, which gives me hope.

I didn’t realize: When you cover land with water (like intentional flooding created by a new dam), if there’s a lot of carbon in the soil, it will escape through the water and form METHANE!! Makes (some) dams much worse for the atmosphere. “depending on where it’s built, a dam can actually be a worse emitter than COAL for 50 to 100 YEARS before it makes up for all the methane it’s responsible for.”

  • Standing water releases carbon from soil as METHANE!
  • Methane is… ~thousands of times worse than CO2 (as a greenhouse).

Electrifying the grid is the most important part, solar + wind + nuclear must be the answer.

  • Gate’s Terrapower likes a “travelling wave reactor” design.

It’s amazingly cheap to TOTALLY green-ify the US electric grid, BUT ONLY IF WE NATIONALLY UNIFY IT. Piecemeil implementations could be much, much more expensive.

  • Other countries would be much more expensive to go zero-carbon grid.
  • Need national to make it easy to share electricity LONG DISTANCES; need more, new, high voltage, long distance lines.
    • Because distribution is responsible for more than 1/3 of energy cost.
  • Green premium of America’s entire electricity system: only 15% increase in price. That’s about %18 per month for average home.
  • BUT: need to triple our annual increase in energy capacity in the grid, from 22 gigawatts a year to 75 gigawatts a year of NEW GREEN ENERGY PRODUCTION.

R&D is severely underinvested. Just 0.3% of energy company revenue goes into R&D. Tech is 10%, pharma is 13% spend on R&D.

Policy Principles that are Timeless:

  • Technology neutral (don’t pick winners and losers, create incentives for the end result desired: reduced emissions).
  • Predictable (not regularly expiring and getting extended, as happens now, creating uncertainty)
  • Flexible (so anyone can take advantage, “not just those with large federal tax bills)

The impressive power of Mangrove forests. Mangroves = short tress grow along coastline, adapted to salt water.

  • Excellent cheap, effective breakwaters: prevent storm flooding, protect fish habitats.
  • All told, they do a great job already: saving some $80 billion a year in losses.

Let’s talk concrete

I’ve long been obsessed with concrete: it’s so essential to modern life, but it’s so harmful to create.

Per year (just in US), 600lbs of cement (not concrete) are made for every person. And 600 lbs of steel (iron + carbon).

Making concrete makes CO2 in the exact same quantities; it’s 1:1. For every bit of concrete we make, we make the same amount of CO2 via a chemical reaction between limestone and CO2. (Also technically I’m talking about cement here, a precursor of concrete, that is then combined with sand, gravel and water).

  • Cement relies on calcium, to get calcium we burn limestone (calcium + oxygen + hydrogen).

Steel, just as common as concrete, is even worse. It’s 1 : 1.8. For ever bit of steal we make, we also make 1.8 bits of CO2.

Cement and steel production make up 10% of total emissions, this cleaner production methods are necessary. Cement is hard to improve on due to the simple chemical reaction that’s impossible to work around (so we just do capture). Steel can be green, Gates’ has a company in that space.

Facts and Figures

More available land is required for renewables:

Figures showing the land area required for renewable energy versus fossil fuels.
A graph depicting global energy production sources where coal is dominant.
Putting energy consumption in perspective.
Finally, US house = 1 kilowatt.

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