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  • Writer's pictureDavide Ferrari

How to avoid a climate disaster - The book review

This is a 2021 book by Bill Gates in which he tells and encodes what he learned about climate change within the last decade.

The interest of Bill Gates in climate change was not at the top position of his philanthropic activity as his wife and he dedicated all their strength to the Gates Foundation which support mostly education and health problems.

He quickly gave more and more importance to this very trending topic once he dove a bit into it within the last years and since then he supported climate change fight as much as health and education global programs.

Outline of the book

The engineering nature of Bill Gates is clear from the very beginning of the book because he outlines in a very schematic way the problem, from its definition to the suggestions he give to fight it.

There are 12 chapters, in the first 3 he introduces the problem and defines it with numbers and references that state the basic comprehension of the size of the problem and the main areas in which it spread.

In the chapter from 4 to 8 he describes and isolates the 5 main areas of interests that are causing global warming and talks about data that support his suggestion about how to plan the next steps.

In the last 4 chapters he outlines what are the actions to take in the future, what are the actors both at a global and local scale and describe the importance of everyone to do its own part.

There are finally few very specific and clear suggestion for everyone to give contribution to reaching the golden goal of zero greenhouse gasses emission by 2050.


Recent research published from universities and institution from all around the globe report an unequivocal relation between the human activity in the last couple hundred years and the negative impact that is recorded on climate.

There are two key numbers:

  1. 51 are the billions of tons of greenhouse gasses that we are putting into the atmosphere every year at a global scale

  2. 0 is the level we need to reach by 2050 to prevent irrepressible consequences on our planet and the people that populate it

There are five main areas that are responsible for this emission and they contribute differently to the overall balance:

  1. 31% - Making things (cement, steel, plastic)

  2. 27% - Plugging in (electricity)

  3. 19% - Growing things (plants and animals)

  4. 16% - Getting around (planes, trucks, cargo ships)

  5. 7% - Keeping warm and cool (heating, cooling, refrigerating)

Contribution of 5 main areas to global warming and climate change

Each of these fields has a unique and irreplaceable role in the modern world and the approach to every single action should be planned on the long term.

It is impossible to produce good results by removing any one of these because the world relies so much on all of them to go on and satisfy all human needs of this era, but one step at a time, if well planned, can bring us to the goal of zero emission by 2050.

The main path to follow is then not to reduce or remove any of the abovementioned areas, but to adapt each single step of each process and replace it with low/zero/negative emission alternatives that can produce the same result and lowering the emissions at the same time.

All those areas are extraordinarily complicated and there is no way to succeed with only one step, every enhancement and improvement made in one area must be propagated to the other one to take advantage of all the new technologies and speed up the whole process.

The most important concept in this book is called “Green Premium”, which is the extra cost that we are paying to get equivalent low emitting choices in all these areas, e.g., electric vehicles are now more expensive than combustion engine one, low emission processes for cement, fertilizers and steel production are more expensive, and we are not willing to pay so much when there are cheaper alternatives.

One main idea is how much of this extra cost is actually an investment, i.e., apparently the cost is higher on the short term, but the benefit on the long term of such solutions is way bigger than the initial extra cost.

Consequently, the second main idea is to devote every field of research and production to lower as much as possible these Green Premiums so that the eco-friendly alternatives become cheaper than the traditional one and become the most reasonable choice not only on the long run, but also on the short term.

The numbers are scary, but the good news is that it is still possible to succeed.

What to do to fight climate change?

As a citizen and a consumer

Every single person has the capacity to contribute fighting climate change by adopting solution that not only reduce the carbon footprint of the individual but send positive messages to the industries that are more prone to invest in producing low emission products if there is increasing demand of such products.

Common sense and a bit of reasoning can make the job done: try to use low emission transportation, chose LED lightbulb, install smart heating and cooling systems at home and at the office, eat less meat and try to substitute animal products with plant-based foods.

These are very simple, even if sometimes costly, alternatives, but they can pay out very high on the long term.

As an employee or employer

You could try to push your company to have a higher sensibility to the climate change problem and ask what their policies are about environmentalism before they accept the job.

Not only the behaviour of the company makes a difference, but also the products themselves, and so it is worth the effort to induce the firm to switch to products that have an intrinsic low carbon footprint both in their production and in their usage over time.

As a policy maker or government

Governments and the biggest institutions should use wisely their position to carefully plan the steps and rules for all the population and companies under their influence and control.

Being able to fund research project and to create policies on producers and consumers, this role should be used to induce and fund research to develop new theories and approaches to low greenhouses gasses alternatives to everything.

It will be necessary also to incentivize industries to adopt those new discoveries as fast as possible and replace older approaches and then induce consumers to choose low emission alternatives while buying products, choosing the new cars, buildings homes, etc.

My thoughts

As a scientist and researcher, I clearly understand that this global problem is way much more complicated than a book, or its review can explain.

This is actually so difficult that all the best minds around the world need to contribute to define the problem, identify the feasible thousands of paths that we can follow in all the main areas listed above and plan carefully the best steps to make.

This book is probably one of the best sources of information for the general public to start a journey of information and sensibilization about this topic.

There are many useful references about specific fields that can easily intersect with anyone lives and jobs, so I think everyone should try to approach this problem starting from this book. The process is indeed very long and will require much more study and information for everyone, but we must start somewhere.

There are many people that are not willing to perceive the complexity of the topic, that do not want to know and believe the real data and to understand the millions of different little actions that can lead to a successful result.

My strength will always be devoted to inducing those people not to think they already know everything and that few, apparently obvious action will not be sufficient to solve the problem.

As every complex process in our lives, it is not the matter of reaching the goal once and feel accomplished once and for all.

This is a matter of making our entire lives and presence on this planet effectively and consistently eco-friendly, not once, but daily as the new gold standard for everything we do.


This is a great, simple, and explanatory book. It depicts very precisely the problem definition, where are the main areas of application and the very specific behaviours that we should adopt from a local to global scale to achieve the result. This is not only a mission led by few, but a common interest as humankind.

I will suggest this book to literally everyone that can perceive and appreciate the content and the ideas that it tells.

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