3 Things I Learned From “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” So Far

For the last couple of weeks I have been reading Bill Gate’s book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”. It is written in a very approachable way, and while in some cases very rudimentary in the explanations, it is an excellent book to bring the topic to a broader audience. It does a fantastic job laying out the challenges, as provides strong data points to re-enforce the urgency. There is also a good mix of optimism, which should energize each of us to double down on our climate change efforts. I am not an expert in the areas of the book drills into, so there were some great insights and facts that I took from the book.

I have not finished the book, but here are 3 things I have learned so far:

  • Emissions in US and Europe are going down
  • While electrification is critical, our infrastructure is not set up for the future electrical demand
  • How much the manufacturing of steel and cement contributes to emissions

The following is a brief summary on these topics.

Emissions Around the World

While it is encouraging that emissions have declined in US and Europe in the last 15 years, the bigger issue is that in China and India (and other emerging economies) they are increasing at a much faster rate. As more of the world’s third world nations strive to raise their standard of living the fastest & cheapest way will result in greater use of fossil fuels.

Electrification and Impacts on the Grid

Electrifying our life from cars, to heating, to energizing manufacturing will be important to reduce the overall impact of today’s fossil fuels. However, beyond just converting to renewable energy, we need to revamp the whole electrical grid. Most experts agree that as we electrify processes like making steel, and running cars, the world’s electricity demand will need to double or triple by 2050. As we shift from carbon-based generation, where plants for situated close to cities and consumption to wind and solar, we will need to send power across larger areas of the country. This is because the areas that can generate the power (southwest for solar, and great plains for wind) are not connected via the electrical grid to the largest cities on the coasts. Connecting the power sources with the consumers I not just an infrastructure investment question, but more importantly a political one. Building electrical lines over long distances impact so many businesses, and private land-owners.

Manufacturing of Steel and Cement

Most of the media and attention, and my personal focus has been on how we travel and what we eat. It is fashionable to drive an electric car, switch from oil heat, and eat less meat. These are important things, and what makes them appealing is that as individuals we can make an immediate impact ourselves by changing our behavior. However, the biggest contributors to emissions are manufacturing and generating electricity. If your electric vehicle consumers electricity generated from a coal power plant, how does that help?

Summary

Making a different in climate change comes down to making changes and choices in your lifestyle. The more you learn and understand the better equipped you are to act and also educate others. Solving climate change will be challenging, and Bill Gate’s book does a good job of education, but also highlights areas we need to innovate or suggests impacts our governments can take. Each chapter I read provides more context, and forces me to reflect on the actions I take.

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