Greer Jackson, Howard University News Service
Rising temperatures, melting icebergs, raging wildfires, and extreme weather conditions in places that have never experienced them before: this is the face of climate change.
Following the Feb. 16 launch of his new book “How To Avoid A Climate Disaster,” business magnate and philanthropist Bill Gates sat down with CBS national correspondent and Howard alumna Michelle Miller to discuss the increasingly observable effects of the earth’s slow but sure warming, as well as what needs to be done to reduce carbon emissions. This book talk was organized in partnership with four members of D.C.’s consortium of universities: Georgetown, American, George Washington and Howard University.
During the hour-long conversation, Gates discussed everything from his climate work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to how important messaging is when getting people to take climate change seriously. He also answered both pre-recorded and live questions from students.
Gates explained that it was his travels to the continent of Africa that sparked serious concerns about the climate crisis. Despite only being responsible for about 3.7 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, Africa remains the most vulnerable continent to the threat of the climate crisis.
Gates went on to do independent studies on the issue and started to engage in climate change dialogue via platforms like Ted, and has since been inspired by young people’s activism.
“It’s only recently that I’ve seen the commitment of the younger generation, and the commitment to this goal of getting to zero emissions,”he said, adding that he was further spurred on by the lack of a plan that accounts for all sources of emissions.
Recent data from the Environmental Protection Agency suggests that in the United States, transportation creates the highest amount of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for 28 percent, followed by electricity (27 percent) and industry (22 percent).
Increasingly, green technologies such as electric cars and solar panels have become popular, and as a technologist himself, Gates believes that these are the key to reducing emissions. Still, one question raised by Howard University senior Tyler Colón addressed a concern that many people have about green solutions: their cost.
“The costs alone prevent many individuals from reducing their carbon emissions, though they may want to,” he said. “How can we offset the green premiums that hinder everyday individuals from purchasing green technologies?”
Gates highlighted strategies like applying significant tax credits to green purchases as an incentive, but admitted that there is still much work to be done to ensure that these technologies are accessible.
“Affordability is the metric we’ve got to win on,” he said.
Policies are just as important in the bid to reduce emissions, and this is where good leadership is needed. In 2017, former President Donald Trump came under much scrutiny after announcing his intention to leave the Paris Agreement; Gates described this move as a ‘tragic’ one. Adopted in 2015 to address the negative impacts of climate change, this agreement has since been endorsed by 197 of the world’s nations. Since taking office, President Biden has committed to rejoining it.
On the consumer side, communicating the necessity of climate action has been a challenge. Gates believes that we need to be realistic about climate change’s negative effects – the wildfires, the coral reefs, the species die-offs, and the threat to agriculture- but at the same time, show that there is hope. Ultimately, this is what he hopes to convey with his book.
“The book just raises people’s awareness of the breadth,” Gates said. “I think that’ll help them not think this is going to be easy to do. But my goal is also that people know that it’s doable. It’s not impossible, but it requires a lot of innovation to bring these costs, these green premiums, down over 95 percent.”