Book Review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates

I was originally going to skip this book. I had seen some of the sponsored videos from a number of the eco lifestyles Youtubers (and Legal Eagle) and I wasn’t interested. I don’t really like Bill Gates. I appreciate that he does a fuck ton more philanthropy than any other Billionaire, but I don’t think that makes him a hero.

I ended up watching an unsponsored book review by Kristen Leo. I really enjoyed it, and I would recommend you watch it. She complained about how much he talked about concrete and fertilizer. Hi, my name is Zoe. My interests include knitting, crochet, concrete, and fertilizer. 

So I placed a hold on the book at the library, since I don’t think Bill needs my $. And here we are.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

Right off the bat, the introduction and a large majority of this book is pretty pretentious. Gates was talking about how, in 2015, people were asking him to disinvest in oil and he was like ‘nah’ until 2019. And we are supposed to be impressed that he did it? (Also, I don’t know when in 2019. It’s possible he saw Covid-19 spreading in China and dumped his oil stocks, anticipating a price crash due to possible shut downs. However, I have zero evidence to back that up.) Either way, although he does do a lot of charity and investments in riskier start ups, the dude is a product of ~Capitalism~.

So don’t get fooled by the fact that Billy Boy looks like your coworker who will try to dance in the lunchroom the latest Fortnight dance his grandkids taught him. He likely dumped his oil stocks because he suspected they would lose value, or because he was writing a book about the Climate and it would be bad public relations if he was still invested in oil at that point. I don’t know for sure, but I really wasn’t as impressed by this story of him not doing the bad thing as I think he was.

It was also weird how proud he sounded in the first few chapters about not being interested nor wanting to invest in green projects for a number of years, yet would attend meetings with experts. I just don’t understand the logic of why he would waste everyone’s time like that. Those experts and the likes could have used that time to further their work or have meetings with actual possible investors.

Anyways…

At one point later in the book, he calls out myths of people who don’t want to disinvest from oil… seems a bit close to home, Bill. It seems an awful lot like what he was doing less than two years ago.

Let’s move on beyond the introduction of the book. The tone of the writing is incredibly weird. Maybe this would be better as an audiobook. The writing is very informal, so it might sound less wrong in audio form. The book is written like a white mommy blogger turned New York Times bestseller’s debut self-help book. It gets a tad less painful as the book progresses and he focuses on the topic at hand, but his weird writing style will surprise you throughout. Example: when he talks about farts in the chapter about cows and factory farming. He mentions farts, and talks about enjoying saying the word fart far more often than needed.

The cows are judging you Bill… – Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Gates was right in commenting that reducing vehicle and air travel will not be the things that will stop emissions and prevent the Climate Crisis. This was proven last year when the world was as close to stopped as it will probably ever get. In 2020, global emissions dropped 5% – from around 51 to 48 billion equivalent tonnes of CO2. 

The rest of the book goes into each of the largest polluting sectors and suggests some ideas or technological advances that may reduce emissions.

Given Gates’ background, it’s no surprise that the book is all about emerging tech that can hopefully solve all our problems. But maybe instead of improving our technology, we can also work on reducing our needs overall (when I say our, I mean developed countries that have benefited from all the activities that emit carbon).

Despite Kristin Leo mentioning that Gates talked about concrete for too long, I personally found the materials chapter (particularly concrete) too short and vague. He mentioned carbon capture a number of times throughout the book and never really explained what it is. He went into so much detail about nuclear fusion and fission (which was relevant for one chapter), but added no details about carbon capture, like what it is and how it could improve the energy and construction/concrete industries.

One of the things that horrified me the most in this book was the suggestion that if we are behind schedule on dropping emissions, the worst case scenario is that scientists can geo-engineer the clouds to artificially cool the earth, which could buy us a few extra years. He does then admit it’s a bad idea. IF IT’S A BAD IDEA, WHY IS IT IN YOUR BOOK?

This just reinforces my feeling about the book being detailed in areas that don’t matter and vague in areas that might.

My friend Lillian edited this post for me and pointed out that Gates probably added geo-engineering into the book to sound cool and he wants to reminds the reader that he’s smart and hip. I agree with her assessment.  

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

I really didn’t like the way they cited sources in this book, it’s not MLA or the style guides that have the numbers after the concept so you can easily find the source. The back of the book is just a list of the chapters and sources. Not very intuitive if you wanted to look into the things he discussed in more detail.

He rarely discussed lifestyle changes. This does make sense, since lifestyle change has the smallest of small impacts on emissions compared to industry. But even then, his lifestyle suggestions don’t even feel as strong as they should. I think the most he suggested was LED lights and reducing meat consumption. Also to lobby. In this section he mentioned that he used to underestimate the power of Lobbying and wished he did it sooner with Microsoft.

The government basically prevented him from creating a monopoly. He pretty much admitted in that chapter that he wished he used his money and resources at the time to prevent that from happening. Why am I supposed to take this author seriously?

To conclude. I would give this book like 1.5/5 stars. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read but I’ve read so many better books that touch on industry and the effects on the planet (The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard and Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale by Adam Minter are both mostly about consumer goods but I really enjoyed them, there’s also my last book review of A Good War, specifically about Canada). Overall, I don’t believe that Bill Gates was the best person to deliver the message about emerging green tech, but maybe this book is a decent intro for tech bros to understand the Climate Crisis. Maybe there’s a small chance they will take some action.

Below are a bunch of things that I found more interesting than Bill Gates’ book. If you are going to waste time, I would strongly suggest any of these instead of giving more of your attention to a billionaire.

Article:

The Guardian – Bill Gates: ‘Carbon neutrality in a decade is a fairytale. Why peddle fantasies?’

Podcasts:

99Percent Invisible – Built on Sand

99Percent Invisible – The First Straw

Freakonomics – Two (Totally Opposite) Ways to Save the Planet

YouTube Videos

Kristen Leo – The AUDACITY of Bill Gates’s new book

My Green Closet – Which Ethical Brand has the Best Quality? 👕 Fabric, Fit, Price, Sustainability & Ethics of 5 Tees

Slidebean – Beyond Meat vs Impossible Foods: a fight to take away my steak

Sustainably Vegan – 100 ZERO WASTE SWAPS YOU HAVE TO TRY

The Story of Stuff Project – The Story of Stuff

NPR – Is Recycling Worth it Anymore? The Truth is Complicated

Although a bit on the intense side, particularly if you don’t like the sight of blood: Seaspiracy on Netflix