In summary this is an accessible look into the current climate situation and the global quest to reach net carbon zero. It explains what getting to net carbon zero means and what the areas of our lives are that we need to change in order to get there. The book focuses on how we use energy, how we manufacture things, how we grow things, how we travel and how we heat/cool ourselves. Bill Gates concludes by offering a plan for getting there and setting out what each of us can do to play our part.
The particular part of the book which resonated with me was the section about how we make things – the manufacturing sector. I will explain why.
My interest in this book was sparked by the ‘why’ which I have recently written for my team. Heading up a team dealing with subsidence claims I was very aware of the fact that subsidence occurs in hot dry weather and that is becoming more common with global warming and yet we seek to solve the claims by removing trees (which cause the subsidence), contributing towards making global warming worse. Thereby causing a worsening problem. At the same time, other issues regarding vegetation have cropped up in my work world. Ash Dieback is a fungal tree disease which arrived in the UK in 2012 and has been called a ‘tree pandemic’, with alarming similarities to Covid 19 in its spread and the fact that we are learning about it and trying to tackle it as it’s spreading around the UK. The stark facts are that 95% of the UK’s Ash trees will likely die and have to be cut down in the next decade. The claims I am likely to see involve trees failing and causing damage to property or to human life. The book estimates that a tree captures 4 tonnes of carbon in its 40 year lifetime, thereby losing 95% of the UK’s 185m Ash trees is an enormous loss of carbon capture.
So why does this mean that the ‘how we make things’ section interested me? This is because construction contributes to 31% of the 51 billion tonnes of carbon released into the atmosphere per year. We have insurer clients who are committing to their net zero carbon targets yet how will that sit when then deal with subsidence claims involving tree removal, Ash Dieback claims involving ash tree removal on a huge scale and repair solutions involving carbon-heavy construction. I was so interested to read about plans to make a low carbon concrete, whether you can truly replace lost carbon from tree removal by replanting and reflect on how changes in the construction world are likely to impact on the price of repairs and thereby price of insurance cover in the short to medium term. There are no easy answers here.
I wasn’t sure how far I’d get in my understanding with only a GCSE science qualification behind me but the book provided an understandable explanation of the science behind climate change and how we are in the situation that we are in at the moment. It also flagged the huge unfairness that it is the poorest people in the world who will be affected most significantly by climate change rather than those in the developed world who have been the greatest contributors to climate change. However, the book doesn’t have a tone of deprivation as I thought it might. Bill Gates refers to the use of energy being a good thing. There is a direct correlation between those countries that use more energy and those which have a higher income per person. You need energy to power schools to educate children and to power hospitals to provide healthcare, for example. This isn’t about depriving people of their need for energy but about providing a sustainable source of energy to benefit all.
Also throughout the book runs the theme of innovation. During the Covid 19 period there seems to have been a lot of reframing of ‘failure’ as steps to success and how daring to fail is something we all need to do in order to grow and succeed. The tone of innovation runs loud and clear through this book. Gates is a huge innovator and invests in projects which look to provide innovative solutions to the global crisis. Some fail and some succeed. Gates frames all as a success and empowers and encourages innovators to provide a pipeline of ideas to be tried and tested for us all. In order to stand a chance of getting us to net zero we need brave innovations to be suggested and supported.
This book has had a significant impact on me. I read it in one sitting and when I finished it I turned back to page 1 and am starting it again. The book has left me with a thirst to find out more and has moved me on to watching net zero podcasts and webinars. I would highly recommend this as a critical read for those interested in what’s undeniably unfolding in front of us as the world is in the grips of the climate crisis.