Microsoft cofounder & a bunch of other things have a thesis: We will need numerous energy breakthroughs, he says, to clean up the world. Most of the book examines these technologies necessary to avoid a disaster and reduce emissions in "difficult" sectors: above all steel, construction and agriculture.
Gates points out that innovation will make it easier and cheaper for every nation to reduce or prevent emissions to avoid a disaster. The final chapters of the book (which is out February 23, 2021) present a long list of ways nations could accelerate change. Standards for clean electricity, carbon tax, clean fuels, funds for research and development. Many funds: for Gates, they must be quintupled.
Gates describes himself as an optimist, but I don't know whether to confirm this idea of himself. It constantly states that we can develop the necessary technology and avoid disaster, but there is no unshakeable confidence that we will make it.
Bill and the fate of the world
Gates invests personally or through Breakthrough Energy Ventures in many of the companies he mentions in the book. Among these, there are Beyond Meats, Pivot Bio, Carbon Engineering, Impossible Foods, Memphis Meats and more. Beyond interests, however, a convinced intention seems to emerge to find a link between innovation, a realm now largely private, and politics.
“If we can talk about innovation without getting involved in political issues,” he says, “I always prefer it. It is more natural for me to support approaches. more scientific. But in this decade I recognize that in order to have the impact we want and avoid a disaster we will have to work very intensively with governments ”.
My naïve point of view at the beginning was "Hey, I'll just create a vaccine against malaria and the others will think about distributing it." It was clearly not a good idea. For many diseases, including diarrhea and pneumonia, there were already vaccines. The biggest challenge was political, not scientific: getting better prices, raising funds, achieving the greatest coverage.
The importance of politics
There is no doubt that politics is of enormous importance. Let's take things like clean steel: it has no economic advantages. There is no market demand for clean steel. Even small carbon taxes are not enough to make clean steel. We need a mega tax on carbon of around 250 euros per ton. With the funds raised, then, we need to choose the right companies and support them so that they produce the transformation we need.
There will be more and more interaction between politics and innovation. There is no alternative, especially if it serves to avoid a disaster such as that caused by global warming. And it is on this that Gates shows a laconic realism.
Keep global warming below the 2 ° C mark? It would practically be the best case. We should be very lucky, and it would take an incredible commitment from many, many countries. That it gets better than this is not realistic. And perhaps even a 2 ° C rise isn't realistic. To limit the damage requires an enormous effort and other energy paths beyond the one that leads to producing more and more batteries. For example, nuclear fission and fusion are needed to have reliable sources of electricity.
The global challenge of food
Gates's book covers a wide range of hard-to-solve areas. The hardest of all (would you have expected it?) Is food. Gigantic difficulties, and we are only at the beginning. We must find systems that totally reduce emissions from agriculture and livestock. A huge thing.
Among the companies in the magnate's portfolio I mentioned one first, the Pivot Bio. Pivot Bio aims to significantly reduce the fertilizer needed in agriculture. Two avenues, both ambitious: improve photosynthesis and improve the conversion of nitrogen in the soil.
The current situation? Many solutions aim to feed animals products that reduce their methane emissions to avoid climate disaster. But it is likely that they will not take us far, because the bacteria that produce methane are used by animals to digest, they cannot be killed. For this reason, it is likely that the only possibility for more developed countries could be to focus on protein and synthetic alternatives.
La synthetic meat it is currently not very cheap, and it is not certain that it will become so quickly. Other plant-based approaches such as those of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are very competitive. Today the "alternative" meat does not reach 1% of the total, but it is growing. Gates' portfolio (Breakthrough Energy, the group of companies it supports) has 4 different investments in this branch.
I know, I'm unpopular, but I often say: we can't have more cows. I don't think the 80 poorest countries will eat synthetic meat, but I think that to avoid disaster all rich countries should switch to 100% synthetic beef. Motivation and laws can completely shift the demand for food.
Clean the air to avoid disaster
In the book, Gates talks a lot about the importance of carbon removal technologies, such as direct air capture. Among other investments made, the creator of Microsoft includes Climeworks, a Swiss company that removes carbon dioxide from the air and stores it permanently underground.
Gates does not believe in the “compensatory” approach of planting trees in place X to compensate for those cut in place Y and avoid climate disaster, but he is convinced that action is needed on several fronts. "I think it's wrong," he says, "the idea that there are all these places with good soil and good water, and just accidentally, the trees didn't grow there." In other words, he argues that many of these "compensatory" forests will not last for thousands of years, nor for the time it takes to get things right.
I omit other elements of the book so as not to pass from the general look to the spoiler. If you are interested in the world view of this guy who is slowly "poking his nose" into all the things that could be part of our future, read the rest for yourself.
What I can say to sum up Bill Gates' recipe for disaster is that according to him the future is not "compensatory". Or at least not just compensatory. Spending all our resources of time and money just to plug a "hole" made by human activity over the past two centuries will not save us, he says. It serves in part to heal some undeniable wounds (above all, emissions and microplastics, an incredible plague). In large part, however, it is necessary to direct all human activity towards totally new habits and behaviors.
Grow, like a sunflower, putting ourselves in the direction of the sun and nature. Building with clean steel, with clean concrete. Do not attack the planet with intensive farming, and do not upset the biology of animals to make them produce better, and more. Or to get better and more nutritious meat.
Science, although a rigorous discipline, has its mysterious ways. To say that he can or cannot do something is crazy: because in many cases he has done things that no one would have foreseen. Relying on her is a good choice, therefore. But it can only be done in two ways: by investing money and changing the policy in an environmental sense.
Otherwise, it will be disaster: and Bill Gates has a say, he knows very well the systems that crash: D
Gianluca Riccio, born in 1975, is the creative director of an advertising agency, copywriter and journalist. He is affiliated with Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists. Since 2006 he directs Futuroprossimo.it, the Italian resource of Futurology.
Futuroprossimo.it is an Italian resource of futurology opened since 2006: every day news about the near future. Scientific discoveries, medical research, prototypes, concepts and predictions about the future for free.
Gianluca Riccio, copywriter and journalist - Born in 1975, he is the creative director of an advertising agency, he is affiliated with the Italian Institute for the Future, World Future Society and H +, Network of Italian Transhumanists.