Little Big Bill’s Techno Fix

Little Bill has lent his big billionaire voice to de-coupling, the idea that traditional capitalist growth can be cleansed of its polluting effects.  Better than denial or obstruction? Absolutely. Every little helps.   But de-coupling inside a political vaccuum is kids’ softplay. What matters in the adult world is the gravity of power.

Just follow the money…

relevant articles  updated 11/2021  book reviews + articles below  2016  Decoupling: A Key Fantasy of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda  by Rob Fletcher, Crelis Rammelt   gm pdf here gm pdf  2019  Decoupling_Debunked_Evidence_and_Arguments gm pdf  2019  by Timothée Parrique, Jonathan Barth, François Briens, Christian Kerschner, Alejo Kraus-Polk, Anna Kuokkanen, Joachim H. Spangenberg

HHpapers/gm  2021   Zur Überheblichkeit des verfügenden Geistes und der fiktiven Naturwissenschaft der Oekonomie.  von Heinrich Haferkamp  8/11/2021 Scientists pour cold water on Bill Gates’ nuclear plans –  Companies owned by billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are planning to launch the first so-called Natrium  nuclear reactor project. Many experts see the project as a misguided attempt to hit CO2 reduction targets.   by Jo Harper

nuclear energy, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Natrium reactor, CO2 emissions, climate

book reviews + articles 

Save the jetset   Bill Gates’s self-serving instructions for avoiding climate catastrophe   By Ann Pettifor

“… True to his original profession as a coder, Gates reduces the challenges the world faces to two numbers: 51 billion and zero; 51 billion tons, he writes, is the total annual emission of the flow of greenhouse gases – adding to the stock of emissions already out there. Half of emissions are captured by oceans and plants. The other half builds up in the atmosphere, hence the rising concentration of carbon. To avoid catastrophic weather events, and for humanity to survive on this planet, we need to reduce the flow of greenhouse gases to zero and tackle the concentration of CO2 stocks – urgently.

In explaining what “zero” means, Gates offers an analogy. The climate, he argues, is like a bathtub that’s slowly filling up with water. “Even if we slow the flow of water to a trickle, the tub will eventually fill up and water will come spilling out onto the floor.”  Gates avoids discussion on how to “pull the plug” on the flow of emissions by drastically cutting demand for fossil fuels. Instead, the book is mainly about the potential supply of technological solutions to “slow the flow to a trickle”.

Gates examines each share of the world’s total emissions – and finds that most are down to the way we, the people, plug in, make things, grow things, get around, keep cool and stay warm. His assumption is that it is almost impossible to expect us to change our habits. Instead, he offers alternatives and describes technological and potential breakthrough solutions to address those habits. In doing so, he puts his money where his mouth is and admits to having invested in many of the solutions outlined. The book can thus be viewed as a tour d’horizon of his own investment portfolio. …”

read whole article at tls

“Gates clearly prefers science to politics – “I think more like an engineer than a political scientist” – and his touching, admirable faith in science and reason reminds me of a similar faith, this time in economic rationality, held by the great prewar economist John Maynard Keynes. His breakthrough in economic thinking offered a way out of the world depression and mass unemployment of the 1930s. But he was unable to persuade the political leaders of the day, and in frustration decried politics as “the survival of the unfittest”. “The difficulty lies not so much in developing new ideas as in escaping from old ones,” he concluded.  Gates is modest enough to say: “I don’t have a solution to the politics of climate change,” but he too knows that the solution he seeks is inextricably tied up in political decisions.                                  Gordon Brown TheGuardian

The race to zero  Bill Gates has a plan to save the world  Tackling climate change, he says, requires governments and business to work together       “How many planets?” That question was posed by Mahatma Gandhi as he contemplated the environmental implications of India’s following the resource-intensive path of development pioneered by Britain. The inquiry still resonates. As the World Economic Forum, a think-tank, has put it, the global “food-energy-water nexus” is in trouble. Global warming is the most alarming crisis of all. How many planets would be needed if everyone in China lived in McMansions and drove gas-guzzlers, as many Americans do?”

BBCRadio4   Bill Gates: Seven things we learned from his book on climate change

“Gates divides warming activities into five categories: making things, powering things (electricity); growing things (animals and food), travel, and keeping warm or cool. He then goes through each of these methodically, describing the problem, progress made on reducing emissions, and outlining a plan to eliminate them. He does not always have a convincing solution, but it is very matter of fact and unless you are already particularly well informed, you will likely learn something from the book; I certainly did. There is little reason to be optimistic about this subject, but the reason I welcome this book is that Gates’ influence as something of a celebrity will help promote informed debate; and since getting consensus about the problems we face in this area is one of its most challenging aspects, that makes it very worthwhile, even it it falls short of its apparent goal of setting out a plan to overcome global warming.”      T Anderson GoodReads

Bill Gates, Climate Warrior. And Super Emitter. The billionaire’s new book, a bid to be taken seriously as a climate campaigner, has attracted the usual worshipful coverage. When will the media realize that with Gates you have to follow the money?  Affluent individuals can emit several ten thousand times the amount of greenhouse gases attributed to the global poor,“ the paper noted. “This raises the question as to whether celebrity climate advocacy is even desirable. As some authors suggest, celebrity climate advocates contribute to controversy, undermining efforts to politically confront climate change.”     Tim Schwab TheNation

“This is the Gates Rule: If given a choice of cutting emissions directly or reducing the cost of net-zero technology, the U.S. should choose the latter. American climate policy, in other words, should optimize for cost-reducing innovation, not for direct cuts in carbon pollution.  …

You do not have to love modern-day capitalism to understand that America is an engine of global technological adoption. The prime goal of American climate policy is to harness that machine for the planet’s sake—to reduce the cost of climate-friendly technologies so that the rest of the world can adopt them.

Which brings us to the central and, I suspect, most enduring idea in Gates’s book—something he calls a “green premium.” A green premium is the cost difference between a newer, no-carbon technology and its older, dirtier equivalent. The electric Chevrolet Bolt, for instance, costs 10 more cents a mile to drive than a Chevy Malibu. Gates predicts that this premium will go to zero by 2030.  …

And it is true that Gates’s politics are bloodless to the point of anemia. Near the end of our interview, I asked him: What should a young person do if they want to fight climate change? The “biggest contribution” they could make, he replied, is studying physics, chemistry, the economy, and the history of the industrial sector.”          Robinson Meyer   TheAtlantic

theguardian 14/2/2021  how-to-avoid-a-climate-disaster-by-bill-gates-the-new-climate-war-by-michael-e-mann-review by  Bob Ward     “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 Professor Michael E 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. …”     more here

Focusing on technological solutions to climate change feels like an attempt to dodge the harder political obstacles.           Leah C. Stokes  MITtechnologyreview. 

“In his new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, Bill Gates takes a technology-­centered approach to understanding the climate crisis. Gates begins with the 51 billion tons of greenhouse gases that people create every year. He slices this pollution into sectors by the size of their footprints—working his way from electricity, manufacturing, and agriculture to transportation and buildings. Throughout, Gates is adept at cutting through the complexity of the climate challenge, giving the reader handy heuristics to distinguish between the bigger technological problems (cement) and the smaller ones (airplanes).

At the Paris climate negotiations in 2015, Gates and several dozen other wealthy people launched Breakthrough Energy, an interlinked venture capital fund, lobbying group, and research effort. Gates and his fellow investors argued that both the federal government and the private sector are underinvesting in energy innovation. Breakthrough aims to fill some of this gap, funding everything from next-generation nuclear technology to fake meat that tastes more like beef. The venture fund’s $1 billion first round has had some early successes, like Impossible Foods, a maker of plant-based burgers. The fund announced a second round of equal size in January. …

These various endeavors are the through line for Gates’s latest book, written from a techno-­optimist’s perspective. “Everything I’ve learned about climate and technology makes me optimistic … if we act fast enough, [we can] avoid a climate catastrophe,” he writes in the opening pages.

As many others have pointed out, a lot of the necessary technology already exists; much can be done now. Though Gates doesn’t dispute this, his book focuses on the technological challenges that he believes must still be overcome to achieve greater decarbonization. He spends less time on the political obstacles, writing that he thinks “more like an engineer than a political scientist.” Yet politics, in all its messiness, is the key barrier to progress on climate change. And engineers ought to understand how complex systems can have feedback loops that go awry. …


Kim Stanley Robinson does think like a political scientist. The beginning of his latest novel, The Ministry for the Future, is set just a few years from now, in 2025, when a massive heat wave hits India, killing millions. The book’s protagonist, Mary Murphy, runs a UN agency tasked with representing the interests of future generations and trying to align the world’s governments behind a climate solution. Throughout, the book puts intergenerational equity and various forms of distributive politics at its center.

If you’ve ever seen the scenarios the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change develops for the future, Robinson’s book will feel familiar. His story asks about the politics necessary to solve the climate crisis, and he has certainly done his homework. Though it is an exercise in imagination, there are moments when the novel feels more like a graduate seminar in the social sciences than a work of escapist fiction. The climate refugees who are central to the story illustrate the way pollution’s consequences hit the global poor the hardest. But wealthy people emit far more carbon.

Reading Gates next to Robinson underlines the inextricable link between inequality and climate change. Gates’s efforts on climate are laudable. But when he tells us that the combined wealth of the people backing his venture fund is $170 billion, we may be puzzled that they have dedicated only $2 billion to climate solutions—less than 2% of their assets. This fact alone is an argument for wealth taxes: the climate crisis demands government action. It cannot be left to the whims of billionaires.

As billionaires go, Gates is arguably one of the good ones. He chronicles how he uses his wealth to help the poor and the planet. The irony of his writing a book on climate change when he flies in a private jet and owns a 66,000-square-foot mansion is not lost on the reader—nor on Gates, who calls himself an “imperfect messenger on climate change.” Still, he is unquestionably an ally to the climate movement.

But by focusing on technological innovation, Gates underplays the material fossil-fuel interests obstructing progress. Climate-change denial is strangely not mentioned in the book. Throwing up his hands at political polarization, Gates never makes the connection to his fellow billionaires Charles and David Koch, who made their fortune in petrochemicals and have played a key role in manufacturing denial.

For example, Gates marvels that for the vast majority of Americans, electric heaters are actually cheaper than continuing to use fossil gas. He presents people’s failure to adopt these cost-saving, climate-friendly options as a puzzle. It isn’t. As journalists Rebecca Leber and Sammy Roth have reported in Mother Jones and the Los Angeles Times, the gas industry is funding front groups and marketing campaigns to oppose electrification and keep people hooked on fossil fuels.

These forces of opposition are more clearly seen in Robinson’s novel than in Gates’s nonfiction. Gates would have done well to draw on the work that Naomi Oreskes, Eric Conway, and Geoffrey Supran—among others—have done to document the persistent efforts of fossil-fuel companies to sow public doubt on climate science. (I also tackled this subject in my own book, Short Circuiting Policy, which explains how fossil-fuel companies and electric utilities have resisted clean-energy laws in a number of American states.)

One thing Gates and Robinson do have in common, though, is the view that geoengineering—massive interventions to treat the symptoms rather than the causes of climate change—may be inevitable. In The Ministry for the Future, solar geoengineering, or spraying fine particles into the atmosphere to reflect more of the sun’s heat back into space, is used after the deadly heat wave with which the novel opens. And later, some scientists take to the poles and devise elaborate methods for removing melted water from underneath glaciers to prevent it from flowing into the sea. Despite some setbacks, they hold back sea-level rise by several feet. We might imagine Gates showing up in the novel as an early financial backer of these efforts. As he notes in his own book, he has been funding solar geoengineering research for years.

The title for Elizabeth Kolbert’s new book, Under a White Sky, is a reference to this nascent technology, since implementing it on a large scale could turn the sky from blue to white.

Kolbert notes that the first report on climate change landed on President Lyndon Johnson’s desk way back in 1965. This report did not argue that we should cut carbon emissions by moving away from fossil fuels. It advocated changing the climate through solar geoengineering instead, though that term had not yet been invented. It is disturbing that some would jump immediately to such risky solutions rather than addressing the root causes of climate change.

In reading Under a White Sky, we are reminded of the ways that interventions like this could go wrong. For example, the scientist and writer Rachel Carson advocated importing nonnative species as an alternative to using pesticides. The year after her 1962 book Silent Spring was published, the US Fish and Wildlife Service brought Asian carp to America for the first time, to control aquatic weeds. The approach solved one problem but created another: the spread of this invasive species threatened local ones and caused environmental damage.

As Kolbert puts it, her book is about “people trying to solve problems created by people trying to solve problems.” Her reporting covers examples including the ill-fated efforts to stop the spread of Asian carp, the pumping stations in New Orleans that accelerate that city’s sinking, and attempts to selectively breed coral so that it can withstand hotter temperatures and ocean acidification. Kolbert has a keen awareness of unintended consequences, and she’s funny. If you like your apocalit with a side of humor, she will have you laughing while Rome burns.

By contrast, though Gates is aware of the potential pitfalls of technological solutions, he still praises plastics and fertilizers as life-giving inventions. Tell that to the sea turtles swallowing plastic garbage, or the fertilizer-driven algal blooms destroying the ecosystem in the Gulf of Mexico.

With dangerous levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, geoengineering might indeed prove necessary, but we shouldn’t be naïve about the risks. Gates’s book has many good ideas and is worth reading. But for a fuller picture of the crises we face, make sure to read Robinson and Kolbert too.”                           Leah C. Stokes  MITtechnologyreview   26/3/2021  Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert review – the path to catastrophe  A damning survey, drawing on skilful and subtle reporting, that tracks the spiralling absurdity of human attempts to control nature with technology  Ben Ehrenreich

“Being alive these days means enduring a strange and perhaps historically unique sense of claustrophobia. If you’re paying attention – and if you’ve read Elizabeth Kolbert’s previous books on climate and the ongoing mass extinction – you know that the Earth, its atmosphere, and its oceans are transforming in ways that will mean unimaginable hardships for humans and for billions of other living beings. You also know that almost everything you might do will belch out carbon emissions that will blow us farther down the path to catastrophe. It’s like being stuck in a tunnel and, no matter which direction you attempt to dig, only going deeper.  Kolbert’s most recent book evokes another disquieting sensation, a novel breed of vertigo. In Under a White Sky, she tracks the spiralling absurdity of human attempts to control nature with technology. …” …

Bill Gates: ‘I’m not trying to take anything away from Greta Thunberg, but…’    Feb 16, 2021 AFTER PUTTING $100M INTO COVID RESEARCH, THE BILLIONAIRE IS TAKING ON THE CLIMATE CRISIS.    Emma Brockes  IrishTimes

Bill Gates appears via video conference – Microsoft Teams, not Zoom, obviously – from his office in Seattle, a large space with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Lake Washington. It’s a gloomy day outside, and Gates is, somewhat eccentrically, positioned a long way from the camera, behind a large, kidney-shaped desk; his communications manager sits off to one side.

If one had to stage, for the purposes of symbolism, a tableau of a man for whom a distance of 5,000km between callers still constitutes too intimate a setting, it might be this. “As a way to start,” says Gates’s aide, “would it be helpful for Bill to make a couple of comments about why he wrote his new book?” It is helpful, and I’m not ungrateful, but this is not how interviews typically commence.

The 65-year-old cofounder of Microsoft has the lofty, mildly long-suffering air of a man accustomed to being the smartest guy in the room, leavened by wry amusement and interrupted by the occasional peevish outburst – most memorably in 2014, when Jeremy Paxman, as host of Newsnight, on BBC Two, questioned him about Microsoft’s alleged tax avoidance. (“I think that’s about as incorrect a characterisation of anything I’ve ever heard,” he said, practically squirming in his seat with annoyance.)

… Gates has enjoyed a reputation as the Good Billionaire, dispensing a fortune through his foundation and overshadowing what his detractors would say is his biggest shortcoming: his unquestioning belief in progress as a function of capitalist growth.

All of these aspects come together in Gates’ new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, which, as he tells me, grew out of two things: his interest in the sciences and what struck him as an irresistible challenge …

Gates’s book is compulsively readable. His ambition was to ‘cut through the noise’ and give consumers better tools for understanding what works, an ambition he meets admirably …

His book encompasses wisdom from sources that range from less well-known climate scientists, such as Vaclav Smil and Ken Caldeira, to John D Cox, author of Weather for Dummies, which, says Gates, remains one of the greatest books about weather ever written. …

For example, the transport industry, on which so much attention is focused, accounts for only 16 per cent of global emissions – which is why, as air travel has ground to a halt, greenhouse gases have gone down by only 5 per cent or so. As Gates points out, the future of car travel lies in electric vehicles; but if the electricity comes from coal-fired power plants, the switch is of limited value. Cars are a minor part of the problem compared with the juggernaut of emissions generated by the global cement and steel industries. …

The biggest gesture most powerful authorities are willing to make involves divesting from polluting industries … strikes Gates as wholly inadequate; it diverts the focus from more urgent concerns, such as finding a carbon-neutral energy source to power the electricity grid. …

But there is no denying that Gates is alert to inequity. “It’s the rich countries that did all the emissions,” he says, “but it’s these poor countries [that will suffer] . The injustice of this on a global basis is pretty mind-blowing.” Still, he is often at odds with other climate campaigners, particularly those on the left. Of the Green New Deal, the proposal backed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that raises the goal of carbon neutrality in a decade, he is flatly dismissive. …

The goal of carbon neutrality in a decade is a fairytale. …

And Greta Thunberg? “To some degree the resonance of the issue – if climate change wasn’t important, she wouldn’t be on the front page.” I quite like Gates for this. One can imagine him having a pop at Malala Yousafzai, too; popular sentimentality is not something that interests him. “I’m not trying to take anything away from her. And every movement needs iconic leaders who speak, and that’s a pretty good thing. But there’s probably some teenager who believes that the Rohingya should be treated better, and another who thinks we’re not investing enough in good education. So the world has sought her out to speak in this clear, almost innocent way about a cause that we’re trying to orchestrate our energy around, and say, hey, can we maintain this and convince people to make sacrifices? And how big do these sacrifices need to be? So I’m glad: you can’t have a movement without high-visibility figures. I hope she’s not messing up her education. She seems very clever.”

Well, hang on, I say: you’re a college drop-out yourself.

“That’s true. Teaching yourself stuff works very well for some people, and probably for her.”

Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard in 1975, to form Microsoft with Paul Allen. For the next 20 years, he focused solely on building the company; by 1996, it had a market cap of $100 billion. Gates, meanwhile, became the world’s richest man in 1995, a spot he held intermittently until he was bumped by Jeff Bezos in 2018.

But it wasn’t until he turned 40, he says, that he started to think about philanthropy, even though it was always there in his upbringing. …

Instead his version of survivalism is to fund innovation. “I’m putting money into carbon capture and nuclear fission. …

… “there is no single breakthrough that can solve all those things”.

Emma Brockes  IrishTimes 2021/Energy/How-to-Avoid-a-Climate-Disaster-giveaway

For The Economist on climate change visit the climate-change hub  2016  Decoupling: A Key Fantasy of the Post-2015 Sustainable Development Agenda  by Rob Fletcher, Crelis Rammelt   gm pdf here gm pdf  2019  Decoupling_Debunked_Evidence_and_Arguments gm pdf  2019  by Timothée Parrique, Jonathan Barth, François Briens, Christian Kerschner, Alejo Kraus-Polk, Anna Kuokkanen, Joachim H. Spangenberg

GaiaMoney on Growth!What Growth?

GaiaMoney on Climate Crisis

GaiaMoney on DeGrowth