Review: “How to Avoid Climate Catastrophe” by Bill Gates, “The Ministry of the Future” by Kim Stanley Robinson and “Under White Skies” by Elizabeth Kolbert


These various efforts are the guiding principle of Gates’ latest book, written from a techno-optimist’s point of view. “Everything I have learned about climate and technology makes me optimistic … if we act fast enough, [we can] avoid a climate catastrophe, ”he wrote in the first few pages.

As many others have pointed out, much of the necessary technology already exists; much can be done now. While Gates does not dispute this, his book focuses on technological challenges that he believes still need to be overcome to achieve further decarbonization. He spends less time on political obstacles, writing that he thinks “more like an engineer than a political scientist”. Yet politics, in all its mess, is the biggest obstacle to progress on climate change. And engineers need to understand how complex systems can have feedback loops that go wrong.

Yes minister

Kim Stanley Robinson thinks like a political scientist. The beginning of his last novel, The ministry of the future, takes place in just a few years, in 2025, when a massive heat wave hits India, killing millions of people. The book’s protagonist, Mary Murphy, heads a United Nations agency tasked with representing the interests of future generations and trying to align the world’s governments with a climate solution. Throughout the book, the book places intergenerational equity and various forms of distributive politics at its center.

If you’ve ever seen the scenarios that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is developing for the future, Robinson’s book will sound familiar. His story asks questions about the politics needed to solve the climate crisis, and he’s certainly done his homework. While this is an exercise in the imagination, there are times when the novel feels more like a graduate social science seminar than a work of escape fiction. The climate refugees who are at the heart of the story illustrate how the consequences of pollution hit the world’s poor hardest. But rich people emit a lot more carbon.

Reading Gates next to Robinson highlights the inextricable link between inequality and climate change. Gates’ climate efforts are commendable. But when he tells us that the combined wealth of the people backing his venture capital fund is $ 170 billion, we can be astonished that they’ve spent just $ 2 billion on climate solutions – less than 2%. of their assets. This fact alone is an argument in favor of wealth taxes: the climate crisis demands government action. It cannot be left to the whims of billionaires.

As billionaires, Gates is arguably one of the good guys. He tells how he uses his wealth to help the poor and the planet. The irony of writing a book about climate change as he flies in a private jet and owns a 66,000 square foot mansion is not lost on the reader – nor on Gates, who qualifies him. – even an “imperfect messenger of climate change”. Yet he is unquestionably an ally of the climate movement.

But by focusing on technological innovation, Gates underestimates the material interests of fossil fuels that stand in the way of progress. The denial of climate change is oddly not mentioned in the book. Leaving his hand on political polarization, Gates never makes the connection with fellow billionaires Charles and David Koch, who made their fortunes in petrochemicals and played a key role in manufacturing denial.

For example, Gates is surprised that for the vast majority of Americans, electric heaters are actually cheaper than continuing to use fossil gas. It presents the inability of people to adopt these economical and climate-friendly options as a puzzle. It is not. As reporters Rebecca Leber and Sammy Roth reported in Mother Jones and The Los Angeles Times, the gas industry funds front groups and marketing campaigns to oppose electrification and keep people hooked on gas. fossil fuels.

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