How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

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How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need
How to Avoid a Climate Disaster (Bill Gates).png
First edition cover
AuthorBill Gates
Audio read byBill Gates
Wil Wheaton
CountryUnited States
SubjectClimate change
PublisherAlfred A. Knopf
Publication date
February 16, 2021
Media typePrint (hardcover and paperback), e-book, audio
ISBN978-0-385-54613-3 (hardcover)
LC ClassQC903 .G378 2020

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need is a 2021 book by Bill Gates. In it, Gates presents what he learned in over a decade of studying climate change and investing in innovations to address global warming and recommends strategies to tackle it.[1]


The book's five parts[edit]

The book is organized into five parts. In part one (chapter 1), Gates explains why the world must completely eliminate greenhouse gas emissions ("getting to zero"), rather than simply reducing them. In part two (chapter 2) he discusses the challenges that will make achieving this goal very difficult. In part three (chapter 3) he outlines five pragmatic questions a reader can ask to evaluate any conversation they have about climate change. Part four (the longest part of the book, or chapters 4 through 9) analyzes currently-available technologies that can be utilized now to adapt to and mitigate climate change ("the solutions we have") and those areas where innovation is needed to make climate-friendly technologies cost competitive with their fossil fuel counterparts ("the breakthroughs we need"). In the final part (chapters 10 through 12) Gates suggests specific steps that can be taken by government leaders, market participants and individuals to collectively avoid a climate disaster.

Electricity generation[edit]

Gates thinks that decarbonizing electricity should be a priority, because it would not only reduce emissions from coal and gas used to produce electricity, but also allow an accelerated shift to zero emission transportation like electric cars. He advocates increased innovation and investment in nuclear energy, and warns against overly focusing on wind and solar generation, due to their intermittent nature.

Roles for government and business[edit]

Gates argues that both governments and businesses have parts to play in fighting global warming. While he acknowledges that there is a tension between economic development and sustainability, he posits that accelerated innovation in green technology, particularly sustainable energy, would resolve it. He calls on governments to increase investment in climate research, but at the same time to incentivize firms to invest in green energy and decarbonization. Gates also urges governments to institute a carbon pricing regime that would account for all externalities involved in producing and using carbon-emitting energy.

Get to zero rather than simply reducing emissions[edit]

The book describes strategies for achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, and emphasizes that many efforts to reduce emissions are actually counter-productive. For example, one can reduce CO2 emissions in 2030 by replacing a coal-fired electrical power plant with a new natural gas power plant (since coal combustion emits twice as much CO2 as natural gas, per unit of electricity). However, the natural gas plant will still be emitting CO2 in 2050. Alternatively, Gates prefers we spend money on infrastructure that does not emit CO2 in 2050. Gates warns, "Making reductions by 2030 the wrong way might actually prevent us from ever getting to zero."[2]

Gates' plan to get to net zero emissions[edit]

Gates introduces a plan for getting to net zero greenhouse gas emissions in Chapters 11 and 12 with several key points:

  • The world needs to get to zero emissions, not just reduce.[3]
  • The world needs to accelerate the development of technology that helps to resolve the climate change problem.[4]
  • The world needs to reduce the additional cost of green energy, which he refers to as the "green premium".[5]
  • Federal, state and local governments can play a role to reduce emissions; in addition to private citizens.[6]


How to Avoid a Climate Disaster was published in hardcover by Alfred A. Knopf on February 16, 2021. An audiobook narrated by Gates and Wil Wheaton was released the same day. A large-print paperback edition was published on February 23, 2021.[7]

The book debuted at number one on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list for the week ending February 20, 2021.[8]


In its starred review, Kirkus Reviews called it a "supremely authoritative and accessible plan for how we can avoid a climate catastrophe."[9] Publishers Weekly agreed, calling it a "cogent" and "accessible" guide to countering climate change. However, the publication wrote that "not all of his ideas strike as politically feasible.".[10] British newspaper The Economist praised Gates for the book's "cold-eyed realism and number-crunched optimism."[11]

Climate activist Leah Stokes described the book as largely "technology solutionism" when compared to other books published at a similar time such as Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert.[12]


  1. ^ Cooper, Anderson (February 15, 2021). "Bill Gates: How the world can avoid a climate disaster". 60 Minutes. CBS News. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  2. ^ Gates, Bill (2021). How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. pp. 196–197. ISBN 978-0593215777.
  3. ^ Gates, Bill (2021). How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. p. 196. ISBN 978-0593215777.
  4. ^ Gates, Bill (2021). How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. p. 199. ISBN 978-0593215777.
  5. ^ Gates, Bill (2021). How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. p. 214. ISBN 978-0593215777.
  6. ^ Gates, Bill (2021). How to Avoid a Climate Disaster. pp. 210–216. ISBN 978-0593215777.
  7. ^ "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates". Penguin Random House. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  8. ^ "Combined Print & E-Book Nonfiction - Best Sellers - Books". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2021.
  9. ^ "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates". Kirkus Reviews. December 15, 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  10. ^ "Nonfiction Book Review: How to Avoid a Climate Disaster: The Solutions We Have and the Breakthroughs We Need by Bill Gates". Publishers Weekly. November 23, 2020. Retrieved February 26, 2021.
  11. ^ "Bill Gates has a plan to save the world". The Economist. February 20, 2021. Retrieved March 1, 2021. The most refreshing aspect of this book is its bracing mix of cold-eyed realism and number-crunched optimism.
  12. ^ "Reviewed: "How to Avoid a Climate Disaster" by Bill Gates, "The Ministry for the Future" by Kim Stanley Robinson, and "Under a White Sky" by Elizabeth Kolbert". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved March 8, 2021.