Based on its title alone — apocalyptic and unproductive — Bill Gates’s new How to Avoid a Climate Disaster is not a book I would normally recommend to Both True readers. But it is precisely that apocalyptic framing that will attract readers to How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. And that is something — believe it or not — that you will want to celebrate.
Game-changing oil and gas leaders will read this book because they like to explore energy and climate conversations from every angle. I recommend that every oil and gas leader read this book because it presents the science-based, pragmatic conversation on climate that we as an industry have been requesting for a decade. And I recommend you read this book urgently because the windows to have thoughtful, pragmatic, science- and resource-based conversations about energy and climate only stay open for brief periods of time.
Both of these things are true
- Magical thinking about climate change solutions abounds.
- Serious leaders are looking at the complexity, expense, and tradeoffs of addressing climate change urgently.
Gates’s book presents the conversation about climate that we in oil and gas have forever said we’ve wanted to have — in many of the terms we’ve wanted to have it:
- Science-based. Gates looks at the actual wide-ranging sources of emissions, reframes them into manageable buckets, and tackles each one systematically.
- Pragmatic. In his third chapter, Gates presents “Five Questions to Ask in Every Climate Conversation” to ensure these exchanges occur in a relevant context and consider the inevitable tradeoffs.
- Realistic. And speaking of tradeoffs, Gates consistently presents needs and opportunities in the context of the tradeoffs they require. He addresses components such as energy density, land required, water use, and — the always relevant — cost.
- Optimistic. Unsurprisingly, Gates is bullish on innovation and presents addressing climate urgently as “a huge economic opportunity.”
- Respectful. Fossil fuels, and oil and gas in particular, are represented realistically and respectfully. Gates addresses the historically important role fossils have played, lays out why they are so difficult to replace, and tackles the realities of arenas like steel and cement to demonstrate their ongoing importance.
- Cost-conscious. For each solution to a current emission challenge, Gates lays out what the “green premium” cost is, so that solutions can be compared and needed innovations prioritized.
Game-changing leaders may also genuinely enjoy this book, as I did. There were several interesting surprises:
- A science-based sense of urgency is conveyed. I reject apocalyptic thinking about climate in my own knee-jerk response to climate absolutism. That’s why I was surprised at how effectively Gates convinced me of the urgency of sweeping action with his set-up and descriptions of the difference between an increase of 1.5 and 2 degrees Celsius in global mean temperature.
- Both of these things are true. Gates presents a roadmap that is itself a paradox: We need to act quickly, but to do so, we must perform steps that are inherently slow. As a society, we want our entire energy system to change while also not changing at all. Our industry has been navigating this paradox for decades, and thus I was surprised at how easily I could envision our leadership in this roadmap.
- The door is open for the oil and gas sector to lead. There are both leadership and technology vacuums in Gates’s roadmap, and he does not express a preference on who fills it.
- Innovation is being disrupted. Besides new technology, there will be a new way of operating. The oil and gas business model in terms of how we develop, grow, and transport products is changing.
- Fun facts abound. For you geeks like me, the book is peppered with fun facts. (Example: Did you know that molecules with two copies of the same atom let radiation pass straight through them?!)
Seize the day
I love Gates’s book for more than just the fun facts. How to Avoid a Climate Disaster sets up the science-based, pragmatic conversations we have been wanting to have inclusive of tradeoffs and costs. This means we have to:
- Stop making excuses. There’s no us and them in this conversation about climate and the energy future. There are leaders, followers, and those who are sidelined and irrelevant.
- Integrate this thinking into your risk analysis. If Bill Gates’s innovation and policy support objectives come to fruition, the energy system is going to change much faster than conventional wisdom would dictate. How should this impact your risk assessment and mitigation strategy? Call us to work on your ESG strategy.
- Engage in policymaking. One of the world’s most influential thinkers has set the table for conversations about technical reality, tradeoffs, and cost. We need to show up again and again for meaningful conversations with policymakers on a) what the world will need to embrace innovation and b) how we keep flexibility available to the future energy system. Wondering where to start? Reach out. Adamantine’s policy expertise has become even richer with the addition to our team of Kayla Dolan, a former adviser to Senator Bill Cassidy.
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Wishing you a great day!