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In a note penned by Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, investor and philanthropist warns the world that the climate crisis could bring about even more destruction than the current coronavirus pandemic. We must learn the lessons of this current public health emergency in order to respond to future global threats, Gates warns.
On August 4, Gates published an article on his website urging for a concerted global effort to fight climate change – because the alternative could be worse than the coronavirus crisis that the world is facing today, which has upended economies, kept millions at home and taken the lives of over 700,000 people.
Below are six takeaways from Gates’ blog post:
1. Climate change isn’t some distant threat
Acknowledging that climate change seems like a far away problem at the moment and that for many, the coronavirus appears to be a much more immediate danger, Gates warns that global heating isn’t slowing down and is going to affect us much sooner than we think. “The fact that dramatically higher temperatures seem far off in the future does not make them any less of a problem,” he says, adding that “as the world works to stop the novel coronavirus and begin recovering from it, we also need to act now to avoid a climate disaster”.
2. The pandemic isn’t reducing our emissions enough & it’s not a sustainable solution
According to the global energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency (IEA), carbon emissions will dip around 8% this year. While meaningful, Gates reminds people that this reduction is “being achieved at, literally, the greatest possible cost,” from the hundreds and thousands of lives lost to lockdowns forcing cars off the road.
“To put it mildly, this is not a situation that anyone would want to continue,” he writes. “And yet we are still on track to emit 92 percent as much carbon as we did last year. What’s remarkable is not how much emissions will go down because of the pandemic, but how little.”
What’s remarkable is not how much emissions will go down because of the pandemic, but how little.
3. We’re looking at far more damage if we don’t take climate action
From the loss of lives to the economic downturn that the world is going to have to brace for, we’re looking at far worse outcomes than the coronavirus pandemic if we continue on our current trajectory. “If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at Covid-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time,” explains Gates. He cites a recent study that found that global warming is going to be more deadly than all infectious diseases combined – and that’s just deaths. “In the next decade or two, the economic damage caused by climate change will likely be as bad as having a Covid-sized pandemic every ten years.”
4. Coronavirus has shown us we need to take a science & innovation-led approach
Climate science and other forms of innovation are going to inform us in terms of how we are to combat global climate change. It’s an enormous issue that will affect the entire planet, so appropriately, we’re going to need all the tools we can get. “So just as we need new tests, treatments, and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, we need new tools for fighting climate change,” Gates says.
We’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering, and other sciences.
On top of all the obvious technologies we’re going to need – clean energy, food tech, green building infrastructure, electrical vehicles – we’re going to need many more innovative solutions from all disciplines. “We need new seeds and other innovations…we’ll need biology, chemistry, physics, political science, economics, engineering, and other sciences.”
5. The pandemic has also taught us we must make solutions work for the world’s poorest
Just as coronavirus is disproportionately affecting the poorest countries and communities, so will the burden of climate change. Again, he references the Climate Impact Lab study that finds that the death toll from global heating will first and foremost hit the poorest countries, particularly those situated near the equatorial belt. In his post, Gates writes: “The effects of climate change will almost certainly be harsher than Covid-19’s, and they will be the worst for the people who did the least to cause them.”
6. There is no quick and fast vaccine for the climate emergency
“Unlike the novel coronavirus, for which I think we’ll have a vaccine next year, there is no two-year fix for climate change,” explains Gates. The Microsoft co-founder then goes onto remind us that we’re going to need to prepare and create a long-term plan for the climate crisis, or else we might end up in a pandemic-like situation where the world absolutely did not do enough.
The world did not do enough to prepare, and now we are trying to make up for lost time. This is a cautionary tale for climate change, and it points us toward a better approach.
“Health advocates said for years that a pandemic was virtually inevitable. The world did not do enough to prepare, and now we are trying to make up for lost time. This is a cautionary tale for climate change, and it points us toward a better approach.”
Lead image courtesy of Lacy O’Toole / CNBC.