Most scientists who study the topic agree that Earth's climate is changing and that human activity significantly impacts the direction and rate of that change.
Bill Gates's 2021 book "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" addresses this issue. Gates sets the ambitious goal of eliminating greenhouse gases by 2050. This goal means more than just stopping emissions but also includes cleaning up the pollutants already released into the atmosphere.
In Gates's view, much of the solution lies in technological advances, such as creating more efficient machinery for meeting our needs, cleaning up the carbon in the air, or improving the manufacturing processes of our products. We should invest in alternatives to carbon-based fuels, such as coal, used to generate electricity. Biofuels, nuclear power, wind power, and solar power are all viable alternatives with varying short-term costs.
He also recommends policy changes: for example, more government investment in clean energy research and development. Governments can set regulations and incentives and be purchasers of green technologies.
The key is a combination of technologies, policies, and market structure. Gates writes, "...markets, policy, and technology have to work in complementary ways."
The behavioral change will come about either through economic pressure or regulation. Many solutions today have a "Green Tax" - the relative cost of implementing a financial solution relative to the current solution. Often that tax/cost is 2-3 times as high as what we are doing now, which is a significant disincentive for consumers or companies to go green. Governments can enact legislation, but legislation that increases short-term monetary cost is never popular and is challenging to pass.
I like that Gates explained the causes of climate change in clear language. This is not a scientific paper, but an education for the common man.
I like that Gates did not hide his financial interest in the technologies he advocates. He divested himself of fossil fuel investments and is now financially supporting alternative fuels.
I like that Gates acknowledges the complexity of the issue. When considering a product's carbon emissions, we must consider the entire lifecycle of the product. Electric cars and solar panels emit far less carbon into the atmosphere, but they still use carbon in their manufacturing process, which needs to be part of the equation.
Legislation is also tricky when multiple countries are involved. Does it help the world if the United States reduces emissions but other countries do not? And is it fair to penalize poorer, less-developed countries that have not yet reaped the benefits of the industrial revolution that led to many of these pollutants?
Most of the proposed solutions in this book are directed at governments and corporations. But there are ways that individuals can have an impact on climate change. By writing and calling their government representatives and demanding action, we can help influence their legislative priorities. By purchasing green products, such as an energy-efficient thermostat or an electric car, we can reduce emissions and move the market to encourage more investment in green products. By reducing our meat and dairy consumption, we can reduce the demand for methane-producing cattle.
Ultimately, it is in our self-interest to address these issues now before they become a disaster.