Greenhouse Gas Mitigation: Fast or Slow

From a Google Image Search – Dmitry Anikin

Having read The Ministry for the Future by Kim Stanley Robinson, a science fiction description of how we might have to tackle greenhouse gases and global warming, and How to Avoid a Climate Disaster by Bill Gates, a nonfiction step-by-step analysis of where excess carbon dioxide and methane gas is coming from and what it will take to get emissions to zero, it is impossible not to compare the two plans.

Robinson has little confidence that millionaires and billionaires, especially those who produce and guzzle fossil fuels, will be willing to switch to the alternatives we have available so far, or even put the kind of money into research and development which will offer better choices. He imagines that we will have to use a guerilla/ terrorist approach along with less militant ones. 

He creates in his writing an angry group of victims of a climate disaster who take matters into their own hands, who shoot private jets out of the sky, who create a frightening weapon called ‘pebble mobs’ to target people for assassination or just cause random chaos. 

He designs an entirely new economy that offers those who emit carbon both a carrot and a stick to incentivize change. When he is done currency no longer exists. When he is done airplanes are replaced by dirigibles. 

Robinson offers us a sense of urgency; a sense that we must act right now and in big ways. Robinson is never reluctant about messing with our minds and helping us change old mindsets. In 2031 he either predicted or caused the sexual/gender revolution that offers us as many genders and sexual combinations as humans need or want. In his novel, The Ministry of the Future, Robinson blows up stodgy mindsets once again, this time in terms of ways we can lower excess carbon dioxide levels and lower them right away. He is pugilistic and angry, tired of waiting for capitalists to commit to science and sustainability.

Bill Gates in his nonfiction book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, takes the dispassionate man of science approach. He offers a sense of urgency but is more optimistic about both the time frame and the ways he already sees industry beginning to accept alternatives to practices that produce excess carbon. 

He parses all the problem areas and gives everything a green premium by comparing the cost of using an alternative to the low costs of using gas and oil. He predicts that change will not occur until we can keep the society we have and have alternatives energies that are as cheap or cheaper than things like the current big carbon producers that we love, like steel and concrete and plastic, and meat, and heating and cooling and refrigerating and shipping and traveling long and short distances, and which will get us to zero carbon emissions. 

He calls for innovation and says that solar and wind alone will not get us to zero. He wants modern nuclear, which controls the dangers far better than older nuclear power plants. He wants better batteries. 

After reading both books you can’t help but wonder if Gates’ slow, methodical approach of building on what we already have and looking at 2050 as our target date will change global warming in time, or if we will end up using tactics that are harsher, bolder and single out the wealthiest people on earth for terrorist attacks to intimidate them into changing their ways. Both authors agree that wealthy nations are the biggest greenhouse gas producers, but poorer nations will bear the brunt of climate change. Climate migration could trigger more fear and chaos. If Gates’ approach doesn’t work, and earth is in terrible danger, if climate disasters are powerful enough and frequent enough to trigger mass anger, and there is no Planet B, what might we be capable of doing?  

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