Two Books on Climate Change Reviewed — RE: Bill Gates & Michael Mann

by admin on March 1, 2021

The Paris Accords were agreeded to by 196 parties to become effective on 4 November 2016

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates; The New Climate War by Michael E Mann

Book Reviews by Bob Ward, The Guardian (UK), February 14, 2021

Two eminent voices on the climate crisis present clear strategies for tackling emissions, deniers and doomsayers.

President Joe Biden has promised a new era of American leadership on global climate action, after four years of unscientific denial and misinformation under Donald Trump. Two important new books by prominent American authors, both written before the result of the presidential election was known, should help to capitalise on the new spirit of cautious optimism by laying out bold but well-argued plans for accelerating action against climate change.

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by presents a compelling explanation of how the world can stop global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions effectively to zero. Gates and his wife, Melinda, are well known for tremendous work on improving health and tackling disease around the world, particularly in poor countries. It is this concern for the most vulnerable people on the planet that has meant Gates has occasionally appeared equivocal about climate and energy policies that he thought could undermine the fight against poverty and illness.

However, this book lays out forcefully his understanding that the impact of climate change poses a far bigger threat to lives and livelihoods in developing countries – it is thwarting efforts to raise living standards because poor people, in every country, are the most at risk from droughts, floods and heatwaves.

Gates rightly emphasises the importance of improving the resilience of both rich and poor countries to current and future climate change that cannot now be avoided. But his book leaves no doubt that adapting to the impact is not a solution on its own – we must also eliminate global emissions of greenhouse gases.

His strategy for reaching zero emissions is laid out in a very straightforward way, using numbers to help guide the reader to the magnitude of the challenge. He notes that annual emissions of greenhouse gases before the Covid-19 pandemic were well over 50bn tonnes worldwide, and rising. Getting to zero within the next few decades will be no mean feat.

The book breaks down the sources of these emissions into a few broad categories – making things, plugging in, and getting around – and Gates knows how to frame issues in terms with which everybody should be able to engage, without dumbing down the material.

At its highest level, his strategy is simple: make power generation zero-carbon by replacing fossil fuels with renewables and nuclear power, and then electrify as much of our activities as possible. This works in theory, but creates significant challenges, such as how to manage the intermittency of supply from sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.

A key device used by Gates is to calculate the cost of clean alternatives relative to fossil fuels, and where they are currently more expensive, to quantify the difference as a “green premium”. He then explains how this premium can be reduced through innovation and government policies.

The credibility of the strategy is strengthened by references throughout to technologies in which Gates is investing his own money, such as novel ways to capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and then store it. He also acknowledges that his sincerity will be doubted by some because of his wealth and use of private jets, for instance. But I think readers will discover from his book that he is a serious and genuine force for good on climate change.

Prof. Michael Mann says that, far from needing a miracle, we could achieve 100% clean electricity with current renewable technologies!

The only major concern I have is that in emphasising, correctly, the importance of rich countries reaching zero emissions by 2050, he appears to suggest that cuts in greenhouse gases over the next 10 years are less important. In fact, the amount of warming we face depends on cumulative emissions, so countries such as the US and UK need to be cutting sharply from now, and for the next 30 years.

Gates is also caught in the crosshairs in Mann’s book, The New Climate War: The Fight to Take Back Our Planet, which criticises the 2016 edition of the billionaire’s annual letter, written with Melinda, for highlighting the challenges of cutting emissions and declaring “we need an energy miracle”. Mann, America’s most famous climate scientist, points out that many zero-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels are now cost-competitive with fossil fuels. He even suggests that, far from needing a miracle, we could achieve 100% clean electricity with current renewable technologies alone.

The main focus of Mann’s book is a call to arms in the new war against “inactivists” who are using new tactics of “deception, distraction and delay” to prevent the phase-out of fossil fuels. Mann is a robust character, and has fought off several disgraceful onslaughts against him and his work by climate change deniers in US politics and the media over the past 20 years.

Prof. Mann warns that vested interests and ideological extremists who oppose efforts to eliminate fossil fuels no longer deny outright the reality of climate change because people can now see the evidence for it all around them. Instead, opponents of action now rely on slightly subtler arguments, and Mann reveals how they are sometimes unwittingly assisted by clumsy communications from climate scientists and campaigners.

He cautions against highlighting in particular the need for action by individual citizens and consumers. As important as personal efforts are, they can distract attention away from the critical role of governments and companies in making systemic changes.

Mann criticises the practice of flight-shaming climate researchers, because it creates the false impression that experts have to experience personal sacrifice and deprivation to be taken seriously, regardless of how successful they are in persuading politicians to act. Despite the attention devoted to it, .

Mann also attacks “doomsayers”, including some members of , who claim that we have already passed the point of no return, condemning us all to imminent climate destruction. Such claims are not based on science and have the effect of making people give up on efforts to rid the world of fossil fuels.

Mann does not pull his punches, but his aim is usually strong and true. This book will no doubt prove controversial for some climate campaigners, as well as the deniers, but I hope it will be read by everybody who is engaged in making the case for action.

Both Mann and Gates appear optimistic that the world can stop climate change, but they are also under no illusions about the scale of the challenge we face and the many obstacles that lie in our way. They also show just how wrong those people are who think we cannot or should not succeed.

>> Bob Ward is policy and communications director at the at the London School of Economics and Political Science.


NOTE — The following TED TALK VIDEO by Bill Gates is still relevant although eleven years old ….

Bill Gates: Innovating to zero (TED Talk 2010) – February 2010


See also: DOE Awards $160M to TerraPower and X-Energy to Build Advanced Nuclear Plants, Jeff St, John, Green Tech Media, October 14, 2020

With up to another $3.2 billion earmarked for federal support, the race for smaller, more flexible nuclear reactor designs is heating up.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Mary Wildfire March 1, 2021 at 10:08 am

Dear Readers …..

Reading this makes me glad I’ve never donated to the Guardian. It used to be a good newspaper but has swung hard to the right. Gates as a climate hero, really? I consider him one of the most destructive and contemptible people on Earth — along with the other hyper billionaires, who are little different from their counterparts a century ago when oil was the monopoly commodity, or a century and a half ago when it was railroads. Gates and his “charitable” foundation are hard at work guiding public policy and public money into “solutions” that involve monopolies and fat profits for entrepreneurs and sharks like himself.

Gates is pushing hard for African farmers to adopt Green Revolution approaches like pesticides and artificial fertilizer and monocropping, along with GMO crops. You could say he’s “trying to fight hunger in Africa” but I don’t buy it. There are better, healthier, safer ways to expand production where needed, and to deal with the poverty and maldistribution that is the primary cause of hunger.

As for “sequestering carbon” via machines, that is nonsense. As was proven here in WV where we had a coal plant fitted with CCS equipment for awhile — when it looked like some kind of regulation would pass — but it was then abandoned because it failed to capture much of the CO2 and caused the plant to be less efficient so it needed to burn 30% more coal for the same power, and then you need to pipe the captured CO2 to places where you HOPE it will be sequestered forever–via pipelines not yet built, and we see how difficult and expensive it is to ram a gas pipeline from point A to Point B, why would this be different?

And now renewables have gotten cheap enough that coal can’t compete even without CCS. Soon this will be the case with gas as well. And they produce no wastes. CCS makes zero sense. It exists as an incantation, not a technology — a way to justify continued burning of fossil fuels.

As for nukes, they can’t compete with any other power source economically and there is no way to deal with the wastes which will be dangerous for the rest of the life of our biosphere — all so we can run our hair dryers? This is insane. And it is not mentioned that Gates is investing his own money in extremely dangerous “solutions”–geoengineering.

I have much more respect for Mann but I do disagree with two points. He rejects emphasis on personal lifestyle change, but in our capitalist system, as long as there is demand there will be supply, and scientists who jet about all the time are rightly considered hypocrites.

Yes, we have to have change at the governmental and corporate levels to pull away from catastrophic climate change — but we will not get it, ever, which means personal change is the best we can do. Not that we shouldn’t keep trying for policy change — even too little too late is better than nothing.

But some kind of collapse is pretty much baked into the system and some of the doomers are actually responsible people trying to get everyone to look at reality. Not McPherson — he skews the science to make it look like it’s already too late and we’ll all be dead in a decade. We actually could avert catastrophic change if we acted with tremendous immediacy, cooperatively, globally, accomplishing several simultaneous revolutions in power generation, agriculture, city layout /economic arrangements /transportation, and a few other lesser ones.

What are the odds of that actually happening? Zero, so our best chance is collapse coming sooner.


Duane Nichols March 3, 2021 at 6:58 pm

Guy R. McPherson is an American scientist, professor emeritus of natural resources and ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona. He is known for the idea of Near-Term Human Extinction (NTHE), a term he coined about the likelihood of human extinction by 2026.

McPherson’s career as a professor began at Texas A&M University, where he taught for one academic year. He taught for twenty years at the University of Arizona, and also taught at the University of California-Berkeley, Southern Utah University, and Grinnell College.

McPherson has served as an expert witness for legal cases involving land management and wildfires. He has published more than 55 peer-reviewed publications.

In May 2009, McPherson began living on an off-grid homestead in southern New Mexico. He then moved to Belize in July 2016. He moved to New York in October of 2018.

In November 2015, McPherson was interviewed on National Geographic Explorer with host Bill Nye. Andrew Revkin in The New York Times said McPherson was an “apocalyptic ecologist … who has built something of an ‘End of Days’ following.” Michael Tobis, a climate scientist from the University of Wisconsin, said McPherson “is not the opposite of a denialist. He is a denialist, albeit of a different stripe.”

David Wallace-Wells writing in The Uninhabitable Earth (2019) called McPherson a “climate Gnostic” and on the “fringe,” while climate scientist Michael E. Mann said he was a “doomist cult hero.”


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