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How do we cut down on emissions from steel, cement, and plastic? (gatesnotes.com)
124 points by Reedx 47 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments



My climate change plan is simple: a ratcheting carbon fee with dividend[1], together with a carbon tariff as part of a climate club[2]

The industries where it's easy will take the easy way to avoid the carbon fee.

The industries where it's hard will pay the fee but will see the ratchet coming and will be furiously researching alternatives. Worse come to worse, at some point the fee will be more than sequestration costs so they'll take that option.

I don't have to talk about any specific industry like steel because there is always sequestration as a backstop.

edit: of course my plan only works because there are lots of people like the companies Bill Gates linked to working on the details.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_fee_and_dividend 2: https://issues.org/climate-clubs-to-overcome-free-riding/


Agreed on both points. If you want to help make Carbon Fee and Dividend a reality, check out citizensclimatelobby.org


"Fee"? "Dividend"? That's not a plan to stop and reverse climate change, that's a plan for financiers and capitalists to trade in the blame for continuing climate change.

No no, emissions need to be cut - for real. There need to be schedules and (tax-based) funding to help make this happen. And - an expropriation of intellectual property so that technologies developed to help this happen aren't controlled by any single company or cartel - or nation.


You seem to be agreeing violently. A carbon fee + dividend takes money away from people who pollute, and gives it to people who don't. That's essentially tax funded emissions reduction - pollute less and the government will give you money. And schedules? The ratchet covers that.

You make a good point about the intellectual property, though. The system will still work without such precautions, though - eventually if polluting became expensive enough, relevant technology would be licensed.


The plan takes from the rich and gives to the poor. It could also be called a "Carbon Tax & Benefit". But instead we use right-friendly words for a very left-friendly plan.


You can take from the rich and give to the poor all day long - but that in itself doesn't reduce emissions. The rich will pay some taxes, or more probably, evade them, offshore stuff etc, and emissions will continue.


The rich can hide money, but it's a lot harder for them to hide consumption, and the carbon tax is a consumption tax.


So what? So they'll pay consumption tax. They're rich, after all, they can afford it.


> that's a plan for financiers and capitalists to trade in the blame for continuing climate change.

Are you confusing fee& dividend with cap&trade?


No, but also kind of yes. That is, if there's a carbon task, the financial system may very well distribute its load among many people (perhaps even indirectly onto regular people through their retirement benefits or what-not). If the plan does not absolute positively require emission reduction, period, then it's not good enough.


Cool, now the price of steel skyrockets and brings up the cost of everything that uses steel. Maybe we can find a way to do this in a less economically violent way?


Maybe we can find a way to do this in a less economically violent way?

If you accept that we need to lower carbon emissions then that means we will need to stop doing some things. Yes some people will be worse off, others better off. Given that change is coming anyway we might as well be on top of it rather than dragged along screaming and kicking.


You can spend trillions on reduction or you can spend trillions on adaptation or you can die. There's no cheap option.


This is the less economically violent way. The earlier we take action the cheaper it is going to be in the long term.


No, just no. adding extra taxes will not do anything to solve the climate problem. It will only put first world countries at a disadvantage to 2nd and third world who will continue along using coal and other cheaper forms of energy.

Why would I pay more taxes just to have them come back to me? No. Just no!


> It will only put first world countries at a disadvantage

My second link is a plan to avoid this free-rider problem


Technically the oil company or steel importer would be paying the taxes, you would just be paying increased prices for consumer goods and electricity.

And think about it: if I fly across the country on a private jet, or heat my mansion to 80 degrees throughout the new England winter, or build a million cars to sell overseas, I am doing harm to you and your loved ones. I should reimburse you. And that's exactly what this policy is.


> Some industrial processes can’t easily be electrified because they require too much heat. One possible alternative is to get the heat from a next-generation nuclear plant.

Glad to see this. I take any future large-scale green energy initiative as unserious if it doesn’t take an honest look and consideration at new nuclear energy power plants.


There's three necessities I see in a green scale initiative: carbon tax, nuclear, and sequestration (CC).

I also have a hard time taking anyone serially if they don't talk about how we need a diversified energy portfolio nor understand the difficulties of energy density. I feel like many repeat popular points but do not spend time trying to understand. I think that's how we get politicians that consider climate change as one of their top priorities saying that geoengineering and CC are "false solutions". I also don't know any climatologist who isn't pro nuclear (which means nuclear + renewables, not nuclear vs renewables).

The IPCC endorses the use of nuclear power too[0]. Being anti nuclear seems to me, as a scientist, anti-scientific. Since it is against what the scientists studying this are recommending.

[0] https://www.world-nuclear.org/press/press-statements/the-ipc...


Anti-scientific, or we learned from our mistakes? We can barely build a bridge that lasts for 50 years, but somehow we are going to magically build containment units for waste which last 1,000s?

The science has shown us that Nuclear electricity is incredibly dangerous, and that humans are mostly too incompetent to maintain it safely. I say this as the child of a Nuclear Physicist who spent half of his life working on weapons, and half at a power plant. Dad didn't think we were up to the responsibility either.

I was just in Belarus, a friend of mine told me that since Chernobyl 20 members of her family have died of cancer. Cancer isn't fun, I will tell you from experience.

There's more to consider than "does it work in the lab?" and "will it be cheaper"?.


Options for death are basically either heart attack, cancer or other [0]. Cancer is horrible, but that isn't a very telling example without more detail.

> We can barely build a bridge that lasts for 50 years, but somehow we are going to magically build containment units for waste which last 1,000s?

We've had nuclear power for ~70 years. There is a very high likelihood that if we push on with nuclear power we will either be reprocessing that 'waste' for fuel at some point or it will be inert enough that it doesn't really matter.

The idea that we in 2019 need to take responsibility for the next 15 generations is absurd. Anyone who tried that at any point in the past would have been at best wasting their time; technology has moved too quickly. Our ancestors might as well have worried that by 2019 we'd look back on them with contempt for not leaving us a strategic 10t reserve of bronze for forging our swords and shields.

The biggest risk is that in 60 years they will dig it up and hurl it at their enemies, on purpose, as a dirty bomb.

[0] https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm


>Anti-scientific, or we learned from our mistakes?

I would say that when you are valuing the opinion of the public and/or political groups over the opinion the scientific consensus (i.e. the IPCC and other) then that is the definition of anti-scientific. (As to Chernobyl, I would also call building a positive void coefficient reactor is also anti-scientific, considering it was against recommendation).


Coal based power causes 800,000 premature deaths every year, can we shut them down for their incompetence?


Nuclear for power no longer makes sense; wind, solar and batteries are just too cheap.

Nuclear for heat makes more sense.


Can you explain more about why they don't make sense?

My understanding is that they're extremely desirable. They're a drop-in replacement for millions of hydrocarbon plants. They can scale up/down with demand. They produce enormous amounts of energy and emit no C02.

Think of the materials and industrial waste to produce 1 nuclear power plant versus all of the battery, solar cells, and turbines to equal the same in power and scalability.

Besides, why do the technologies need to be exclusive? Shouldn't we be using them all where it makes sense?


>They can scale up/down with demand.

For something as capital intensive as a nuclear power plant, throttling their output makes them uneconomical. They have almost zero opex so you barely save a penny.


That's not the point of scaling up and down with energy generation. You need to match the demand. Generate too much and don't have demand? Not good.


>Think of the materials and industrial waste to produce 1 nuclear power plant versus all of the battery, solar cells, and turbines to equal the same in power and scalability.

Please, also think of the carbon footprint of those materials. Every ton of cement produces 1 ton of CO2. Every ton of steel produces 1.8 tons of CO2. The mere process of building a hydroelectric dam and wind turbine involves emitting CO2 into the environment. Even the process of growing silicon crystals and doping them with ions to create a solar panel produces CO2 that must be offset over the lifetime of that solar panel. Carbon capture solutions, on the other hand, can involve simply planting trees. Each acorn that is dug into the ground will capture a ton of CO2 over the course of a decade.


I do want to say that nuclear does have lower life cycle emissions compared to solar [0][1].

[0] https://www.world-nuclear.org/uploadedFiles/org/WNA/Publicat...

[1] there's also an IPCC study that's bigger than this and shows the same thing but I'm on my phone.


Carbon capture with trees might work but it definitively will require a lot of manual work. The trees have to be cut down, stored in old mines and replanted periodically.


Cost [1]. Time from breaking ground to "permission to operate" as well (even if you cut red tape and systemize manufacturing of nuclear generators, you will not be as fast as wind, solar, and batteries).

Solar PV Thin Film Utility Scale: $36-$44/MWh | Onshore Wind: $29-$56/MWh | Nuclear: $112-$189/MWh

Can you build nuclear faster than the rest of the world can build and install PV solar and onshore/offshore wind turbines? Unlikely. Tesla installed the Hornsdale Power Reserve in 90 days. Bigger utility scale battery systems will take longer, but no where near 10 years.

[1] https://www.lazard.com/perspective/levelized-cost-of-energy-...


You conveniently forgot to list the costs of storage from the source you linked. The costs range from $108-$471 for utility scale storage. So nuclear is the clear winner in cost because it doesn't require this.


I just want to break in here because that's a large range in prices. To explain those, they are because the different amounts of storage capacity. These very drastically in location. So somewhere like SoCal needs less than in the Bay area because SoCal is almost always sunny and windy. The Bay has plenty of shady days (go talk to the people at LLNL, there's plenty of people there working on this problem). Alternatively, places like Seattle have long periods of low sun and wind so need extremely high amounts of storage.

This is the argument for a nuclear substitute, specifically in places where renewables are difficult. You don't replace renewables in SoCal with nuclear, you replace coal in Seattle with nuclear (and continue the expansion of renewables and storage).

The underlying reason the IPCC promotes nuclear is that it is the only existing technology that can fill in the gap for renewables. It can handle load balancing, reduce storage costs/vulnerability, and helps with the duck curve (which has to this date not been solved by batteries). This isn't a "fund nuclear vs fund battery research" argument (seriously guys, stop with this!). This is a "well this works and we can start building it right now. Let's do that while we keep inventing new solutions because things are too bad to not have a backup plan. We also need to increase the total funding and use every feasible option on the table" kind of argument. I'm not sure why this is so difficult to see. No pro nuclear person is anti renewable. If they are I'll call them anti-scientific too.

No pro nuclear person is anti-renewable. Come on. Let's stop having this debate. It's not a VS game, we have to use every available option.

Edit: I want to reiterate what I said in my original comment. Not following the expert advice of those working in climate is anti-scientific. You may be as smart as them but you sure aren't as close to the data and have access to tons of other people working on the same problem. Trust the scientists. If you don't give a good reason, but you're going to have to go into as much detail as they do. You don't argue with scientist about dark matter, which we know less about than climate. It's just shocking to me that people here get all up in arms and ignore the expert advice.


> No pro nuclear person is anti-renewable.

I've seen plenty of anti-renewable and pro-nuclear (and often pro-fossil fuel, from the same source) advocacy from people in the US Right. It is simply false to say “no pro-nuclear person is anti-renewable.”

It is accurate to say that some pro-nuclear people are also pro-renewable.

> It's not a VS game

When it comes to resource allocation, it absolutely is. There aren't infinite resources to allocate.


> I've seen plenty of anti-renewable and pro-nuclear (and often pro-fossil fuel, from the same source) advocacy from people in the US Right.

I've seen this from politicians but not people. The people are really just against the subsidies, at least that I've seen. Which is fair, but I'd still consider dumb.

I'll also add, like I said I would, that I'll call those people anti-scientific as well. Because they are ignoring the expert advice on an extremely nuanced and complicated problem.

> When it comes to resource allocation, it absolutely is. There aren't infinite resources to allocate.

I think both camps can agree that we need to spend more. That's a big part to the argument. You can't say "this is a catastrophy happening, we have only so many resources" when we clearly do have more. They need to be reallocated to the high importance problems at hand (I'd argue climate is in fact a military issue, and there have been plenty of high ranking generals that agree. So let's allocate some of those funds). So I get the argument, but I don't think it's the right argument to make. Because the resources are there to do both, just not currently. Shifting the argument to the zero sum argument doesn't address the underlying issues. (We have enough resources that we'd run into problems of how to effectively spend them long before we ran out).


> I've seen this from politicians but not people.

(1) Politicians are a subset of people, so if you've seen it from politicians, you've seen it from people.

(2) I've seen it from people who are not politicians (mostly people who are both highly partisan and politically engaged, but then, those people are overrepresented in public policy discussions of all types. They are also disproportionately influential in government since they are reliable voters and provide the foot soldiers for political campaigns.)


> When it comes to resource allocation, it absolutely is. There aren't infinite resources to allocate.

The pro nuclear people want to allocate resources away from fossil fuels. The pro renewables want to allocate away from fossil fuels.

Nobody has run the numbers on how much environmental damage renewables do. Given the sheer orders of magnitude involved in nuclear power, I'd bet it turns out to be more environmentally friendly even after waste is considered. It would certainly be competitive; we actually try to rehabilitate nuclear plants. Solar panels just get dumped afaik.

The pro nuclear types are just more scientific about how to get to the goal than the wind-and-solar-or-coal-before-nuclear types.


>This is a "well this works and we can start building it right now."

I have never heard this argument. The problem with nuclear power plants is that you always need the next generation plant design that solves the flaws of the previous generation. Almost every pro nuclear strategy involves new types of reactors that by definition haven't been proven. Of course we can always just build more current or old generation nuclear power plants which then strengthens anti-nuclear fears again.


We could make wide progress with current generation plants. Evidence? France. Also a ton of research studies. I'm not sure why you think we need gen IV reactors. Sure, that'd be nice, but gen III is good enough. I've never heard the argument that we "need" new l newer designs. The argument I've heard there is that it's safer and cheaper so probably easier to get public opinion on the side of the scientific consensus.


My comment within this thread communicates my belief that batteries will get cheaper faster than nuclear (solar and wind are fast approaching 1 cent/kwh; as that cost continues to decline storage will be the bulk of the cost of utility power). If you think I'm wrong, invest in nuclear. If nuclear was a clear winner, it would be funded and built. But it seems there are better ways to replace the last 100GW of US nuclear generating capacity, based on market participant actions.


Nuclear is being funded and built all around the world. There's 50 reactors under construction right now[1]. My original statement was that the aversion to it is political, not economical and certainly not scientific.

There is no panacea. We need a well-rounded, safe, stable, and diversified energy portfolio and it must include nuclear. It also needs wind, solar, and high-density energy storage (batteries and other such strategies).

1. https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/current-an...


Except that nuclear is running 24/7 even if it is not windy (minus the costly maintenance). As long as we don't have a superconductor grid around whole hemisphere, it seems to be the best way to generate power at night.


If it was the best, the entire US commercial generator fleet wouldn't be on death's door due to the economics.

If you want to subsidize the last 59 US nuclear plants based on their low CO2 emissions, extending their operating license (if it can be done safely) until cleaner base load arrives, that's a sound decision. Building more nuclear is not. I question if we even have the fortitude to fund safe cleanup of existing decommissioned plants (spent rod casks have been sitting onsite in Zion, IL 19 years after that nuclear generator has been shut down, with nowhere to go [1]).

Batteries will get cheaper faster than nuclear ever will, considering every automaker is moving to electric vehicles [2].

[1] https://www.chicagotribune.com/resizer/8tYxXLAlIOkm61zbZmVII...

[2] https://about.bnef.com/blog/energy-storage-investments-boom-... (Energy Storage Investments Boom As Battery Costs Halve in the Next Decade)


> Batteries will get cheaper faster than nuclear ever will

That's a bold claim. Batteries could also suffer from law of diminishing returns. It might not be physically possible to store energy much more densely, without catastrophic failures.


> That's a bold claim.

I don't think it is [1] [2]. Regardless of cell and pack density, there's plenty of open land to install outdoor enclosures. Utility storage isn't cars, where density is terribly important.

[1] https://i2.wp.com/evobsession.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06...

[2] https://cleantechnica.com/2018/06/09/100-kwh-tesla-battery-c...


I fear you do not sufficiently appreciate the gravitas of the energy storage problem.

The big Hornsdale power reserve in Australia is 130 MWh. Say you want to store 6 hours of US average energy consumption. That's 1 500 000 MWh, or 11 000 Hornsdale stations. Just for 6 hours of electricity storage.


It's ~6000 Tesla Megapack stations [1], along with HVDC transmission lines (if we're upgrading transmission lines from AC->DC, drop those aerial lines underground while you're at it for reliability and to stave off the NIMBYs). I entirely appreciate the scale of the problem we're facing regarding energy storage (climate change keeps my up at night), hence my arguments for solutions available today, not those that might (might!) start producing power in a decade. You can buy these battery stations today (Tesla quotes a 3 month deployment cycle). You can recycle their battery cells today.

There are over 7,000 power plants in the United States run by over 3,000 companies. There are over 55,000 substations and over 450,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines. I don't believe what I'm proposing is unreasonable. Hard? Sure. But unreasonable? Absolutely not. Going to the Moon was hard, and we still went to the Moon.

[1] https://www.tesla.com/blog/introducing-megapack-utility-scal...


Why is energy density necessary for cheap batteries? Economies of scale can result in far greater cost reductions than are possible simply by reducing the amount of needed materials for a given capacity.


> Why is energy density necessary for cheap batteries?

So you can put them in cars, boats, planes, and other things.

Yeah, I know, we have Teslas. But do you know it's twice the weight of an ICE alternative? Weight matters a lot. While we've made a lot of progress in the last few decades, the best research batteries are still 100x below any fossil fuel in terms of energy density.


Which Tesla is twice the weight of an equivalent ICE car?

The Model S (2019) appears to look roughly the same and appears to be roughly the same size as the Audi A7 (2019), and is just a bit heavier (Tesla curb weight 4883 lbs, Audi 4332 lbs).

https://www.cars.com/research/compare/?acodes=USC90TSC024F0,...


I was comparing with ranges, sorry should have specified. Equivalent cars with ranges. Though maybe this isn't the best because a model S is a sports car (I guess they are heavier than I thought). To better compare I think that Audi is a good comparison (price, style, luxury).

So though they're weights are similar the Audi has a range of 424.6/559.9 and the Tesla has 285. That's 50.1%-67.2% of the range (let's say 60%).

Yes, ~300mi is a mostly comfortable range, but it's the same weight for 60% the range (and 5k more). To get the same range we'd have to add a ton of weight, which would probably push us to 2x (maybe the original comparison was decent enough?).


Model S and X range is close to 370 miles with the long range battery and Raven drivetrain (in production for several months), not 300.

With Supercharger stations being no more than 150 miles apart (and that distance shrinking as more stations keep coming online), home charging, and per mile costs half that of internal combustion vehicles you mentioned, it’s a no brainer even considering the vehicle is somewhat (but not outrageously) heavier.

https://supercharge.info/map


> If it was the best, the entire US commercial generator fleet wouldn't be on death's door due to the economics.

This is an extreme oversimplification of the issues in nuclear. I'll suggest it's as extreme of an oversimplification as saying "the only reason we don't have nuclear is because public FUD".


Bill Gates explains that batteries are still orders of magnitude too expensive to be a complete solution: https://youtu.be/d1EB1zsxW0k?t=520


He says that Steel (and some other materials) are the most important issue because we don't yet have any proven good or easy way to reduce the CO2 impact of their production.

That leads me to the opposite of Gates' conclusion.

At this point there are many low hanging fruit, so until we have a good way to address steel production, we should keep the focus on those other measures.

We should certainly be doing research on the issue that he is focused on, but we shouldn't let ourselves get distracted by it.

Getting to zero carbon emissions overall (the goal he brings up to justify his focus) is a great long-term goal but I think our success in this challenge will be determined in the short and medium term.


He doesn't say it's the most important issue.

He says it's "an important subject that deserves a lot more attention".


This isn’t something more research will solve. Metals exist in ores as oxides. To get pure metal you have to reduce them, and that oxygen had to go somewhere, bound to something. There is no net zero process that will magic away those pesky atoms.


Eh, its perfectly doable to make those atoms wind up as O2, it is just expensive. All we need to do to solve climate change, today, is accept a drastically lower standard of living. Hence why it isn't happening, (and won't happen until people start dying).


Judging from history, we are perfectly willing to let masses of people suffer and die in the streets rather than give up the luxuries the few can afford. We're already seeing this with increasing inequality, which should really be called decreasing equality since the trend has reversed direction, and we're on track to resume the norm of a small privileged class with a tiny middle class and masses of working and dying poor.


> accept a drastically lower standard of living

With sequestration costs at $100 - $300 per tonne for worst-case industries, climate change will cost trillions world-wide. That's a lot of money, but hardly a "drastically lower standard of living". Compare with Iraq war, or Apollo + Vietnam. Much less sacrifice than WW2.


Even at those optimistic costs that is $2-6,000 dollars per person (20 tonnes/American-year), 8 to 24k per family of four. I'd call that a drastically lower quality of living for an average American, to say nothing about a working person in the 3rd world who probably doesn't make 2,000USD in a year.

I'm not suggesting sequestering is going to be the end of society or the economy, just that people won't start sequestering until something is imminently threatening them.


> Making steel and other materials—such as cement, plastic, glass, aluminum, and paper—is the third biggest contributor of greenhouse gases, behind agriculture and making electricity

While I agree in broad terms that eliminating greenhouse gases in the materials sector is important medium-term, I agree with other posters here that we need to focus hard on implementing solutions we DO have now - specifically, in the electricity and transportation sectors.

> these materials are everywhere in our lives, and we don’t yet have any proven breakthroughs that will give us affordable zero-carbon versions of them

This is at least partially misleading - for aluminum. There are a number of hydroelectric-powered aluminum smelters in Quebec and British Columbia, that produce very-low-carbon aluminum. And there are technologies approaching market for zero-carbon aluminum[1].

[1] https://www.elysis.com/en


It’s not the source of power. It’s the chemical process itself. You get oxygen out of a metal oxide by binding it with carbon and releasing the CO2. Canadian smelting is just as dirty in this respect.

The only other alternative is electrolyzing water to get hydrogen, which binds with the metal oxide’s oxygen to make water again.

But not only is this really inefficient by comparison, but now you’re adding O2 to the atmosphere at industrial scale.


I understand that the process itself uses carbon. The site I linked is a carbon-free production process (which would result in zero carbon in combination with hydro power)


O2 is roughly two orders of magnitude more abundant than atmospheric CO2. Industrial scale O2 release in this manner is still relatively negligible.


Is using hydrogen for that an actual process or just an idea?

There's the problem that hydrogen can make metals brittle, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hydrogen_embrittlement


It's an actual process. The ability of hydrogen to reduce hot iron oxides to metallic iron has been known at least since the early 19th century. But it has not been done on an industrial scale before because using fossil fuels is cheaper, and reducing GHG emissions has not been a significant priority until recently.

EDIT: Joseph Priestley actually discovered that iron oxide ("calx of iron") could be reduced to the metallic state by hot hydrogen ("inflammable air") in the late 18th century.

https://archive.org/details/b22281824/page/n57


Thanks!


To answer the spirit of your question: yes, replacing carbon containing reducing agents in metal foundries etc is very much something that is being developed.


It’s how pure silicon is made today for the transistors in the device you are reading this on.


> we need to focus hard on implementing solutions we DO have now - specifically, in the electricity and transportation sectors.

You should understand that there are no good enough solutions for electricity yet, so not much is going to change on electricity wrt greenhouse gases on the global scale, and the solution to transportation is to essentially stop making cars for personal use, but we only see the opposite happening.


German steel makers aiming to go carbon neutral by 2050. Hydrogen is an important element in this: https://www.handelsblatt.com/today/companies/green-energy-th...


Aiming to is a meaningless word. It requires fundamental discoveries we by definition can't know when or if we are going to find.

Edit: Downvoted for what exactly?


We can't even estimate next week's sprint properly.


If we have cheap reliable renewable electricity, then we can generate hydrogen from electrolysis, and use the hydrogen as fuel for steel production. Hydrogen burns even hotter than methane and it's clean. So, the key is we need renewable electricity.


I'm not super knowledgeable about this, but my understanding is that there are significant losses during electrolysis and probably when burning hydrogen. I expect just using an electric furnace would be more efficient.


Steel can be produced using hydrogen. This plays extremely well with renewables and storing energy. Produce hydrogen from electricity when energy is cheap (sun + wind), don’t do that when its expensive.


I think his first point about carbon capture probably deserves more attention. It's likely the most sellable strategy and it also doesn't depend on the location where it is carried out. It has the benefits of possibly producing some goods that can be used and there is prior history of this working. If we look at the Paleocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum we see a similar increase in global temperatures due to carbon dioxide release, albeit over a much longer timeline. But we also see a drastic reduction of those carbon dioxide levels. One theory as to how the global CO2 levels were reduced is algal biosequestration. Can we duplicate this at an industrial scale? We're already promoting the growth of algae unintentionally with fertilizer runoff, could we do this intentionally in a location that would minimize harm in order to offset carbon emissions?


There has been quite a bit of work on ocean fertilization, to increase phytoplankton photosynthesis, but no killer app yet:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ocean_fertilization


I am glad to see Bill Gates being more vocal about this. There has been an unrealistic optimism when it comes to how easy it is to find alternatives to what we are currently using.

What people forget is that things like plastic ever-present not because of some evil conspiracy by oil companies to push an inferior material on the market but because it's superior to all other materials we know of.

The problem isn't product innovation but fundamental science and we have had no new discoveries since oil to fundamentally change how we approach progress.

Having listened to a lot of pitches by claimed alternative to plastic it's been very obvious to me that we simply need improvements in fundamental science not just in technology. I.e we lack fundamentally new discoveries to truly change our ways.

Nanotech might help us some of the way but we are nowhere near the utopia a lot of people seem to be thinking.


Superior except that it would not be superior in all these cases if the unaccounted for externalities were considered.


The externalities include positive ones so yes it would be superior by far.

There literally is no realistic alternative to plastic right now.


Excuse me what are those? I can list just a few negatives just off the top off my head, hormonal dysfunction in humans and animals, microplastics in the sea, no way to know if plastic contains carcinogens, are safe for food or not, contain heavy metals, litter, and new problems we don't even know about yet, because there is a never ending stream of new products and materials getting shoved out in our lives.

And what a defeatist attitude - what about enumerating the plastics we, standardising and regulating additives etc? Today it's total chaos with a very thin veneer of recycling.


How do you think we do most modern operations and healthcare, how do you think we manage to have cars be extremely lightweight and i could go on.


Fine, but are these unaccounted positive externalities? Don't you choose plastic exactly because you want its nice properties? But looking back the next day I think I may have over-reacted a bit to your comment. Of course plastic is in many ways very nice. Let's keep a fair subset. But we could benefit from paring down the variations, and the volume, a lot, IMHO.


It's not just nice it's crucial for our survival. Keep in mind plastic can be as soft as velvet and as durable and hard as diamonds. No other material does that and that allow us to make things that would be impossible otherwise. We simply have no alternatives to them yet.

The unaccounted externalities are that fossil fuel and thus ex. plastic makes modern life possible with everything from increased age, to the ability to cure the sick, to lowered childbirth, to increased living standards, food production, cleaner environments and so on.

Of course there are negative externalities too and we need to deal with them but all in all plastics and thus fossil fuels improve our lives tremendously IMO.

Ironically the problem the modern society is facing is how to deal with abundance rather than scarcity.


Now I really feel like a strawman argument is going on.

Do you believe I advocate remove all plastic?

Do you advocate keeping all plastic? None of the plastic can be replaced with other materials or designed away altogether?!

I hope you are not, because that is ludicrous.


I don't believe anything about you. I am simply telling you what I consider to be the reality.

Some parts of the plastic industry can and will be replaced but far less both short term and long term than people want to think, unless; some new fundamental scientific discoveries are done.


Bill Gates has become-- against all odds-- one of my most respected sources of information when he blogs. I don't always agree with him, but I like his thought processes and writing style.


Agreed. I often disagree with him but at least he makes an effort to present ideas based on facts and well thought out ideas. This makes finding solutions much easier.

I am always horrified by the debate about US healthcare we’re almost nobody makes an effort to think it through and also listen to other opinions and experiences.


I think a lot of this comes down to resources and innovation.

As more money is invested and spent on research and development of new ideas, I think some things will eventually start to work providing a solution to these issues.

For more money to flow into the ecosystem, we need people to see value from being carbon neutral personally.

If you'd like to become carbon neutral, I'd suggest you check out https://projectwren.com/


Unpopular opinion: adaptation is best (only?) solution.


Adapting to +8C will be a lot more expensive than reducing moderately to hit +4C and adapting to that.

And the only way to limit to +4C IMO is to try and limit to +2C and inevitably missing.


+8c means the end of life on Earth as we know it. Maybe rich San Francisco VCs can live in underground bunkers with labor slaves fed on soylent tending to their hydroponically grown crops, but 99.9% of Earth’s population will be (quite literally) toast.

“Only” +4 is already going to be a very, very rough situation rife with positive feedback loops that may well make +5, then +6, etc inevitable.

http://globalwarming.berrens.nl/globalwarming.htm


Wouldn't civilization move further towards colder climates before the end? Is the feedback loop to get hotter or colder?


Depends how fast it happens. And it looks like it's happening very fast in geological terms. You can't move the whole New York north overnight.


We can try to live in the now very hot Antarctica but modern society will be a shadow of its former self.


On the other hand, if the economy grows at 3% per year, then humanity will be 12 times richer by 2100 than if the economy slows down to 2% growth due to heavy government interference.

Compounding interest and economic growth has been the primary driving force for lifting people out of poverty, and increased wealth can be used to build seawalls, sequester carbon, and implement climate control on a large scale.

There is still plenty of debate to be had about whether the economic growth from acclimation outweighs the potential climate benefits from mitigation.


This is asinine, there is no "other hand" here. At +8C, most of humanity is dead. You can be "12 times richer", it won't save you or anyone else.

> and increased wealth can be used to build seawalls, sequester carbon, and implement climate control on a large scale.

This is fantasy. The elites having captured that much wealth will never give it up for free. Populations will have to take it from their dead hands, which is very costly.

Rest assured: if the status quo is not moved, there will be violent uprising from people feeling the heat (figuratively: it will be water wars and famines). The economies will tank then, with or without mitigation in place.


Adaptation is key to any solution, but there is a wide spectrum between "prevention only" and "adaptation only." There's no reason not to have both, and they complement each other. And, if nothing else, adaptation has to be funded somehow, and most modern solutions aimed at prevention generate revenue. Some or all of that revenue can be used to fund adaptation efforts.

One issue with adaptation is that the people being asked to adapt aren't the same as the people being asked to prevent. It's all fine and good for the USA to say, it's most economically efficient to adapt, because prevention is expensive! But you don't see the USA dedicating a large portion of that profit stream enabled by their externalities to fund adaptation efforts in Bangladesh.


At some point we have to realize that neither this planet nor the universe cares much about the human species. There is no compassion built into the material universe. Living off the land - in a bigger context - means learning how to live in self-sustaining biospheres on but in particular off planet. Part of the exercises of having a smaller footprint is conducive to this end - while other self-mutilating and progress restricting suggestions are contra-productive and regressive. I am sure reason will prevail and we’ll strike the right balance.


I am not serious at all.

I live in an area that will still be habitable even with 4°C warming. The problem is that the vast majority do not live in this area. They aren't going to die in their hometown. They will have to move and I don't have a lot of space. So the person living here will either be me or them. A lot of people are willing to risk their lives in overloaded smuggling boats and it's not uncommon for them to sink by accident. If necessary, a single shot from a destroyer is enough to prevent them from crossing the sea at all.


It's been argued that a hose pipe, a helium balloon, and a bit of sulphur could easily cool the planet as much as we want.

But of course, people get mad about "playing god" or "using pollution to fight pollution". Kinda like a bad parent who refuses to ever punish their child, because they're afraid of being responsible if things go wrong (despite them already being responsible for things having gone wrong).

There's also the risk that eventually carbon will acidify the oceans too much, so clearly there's a limit to how much we can have.


I recommend you ask your parents where the acid came from when we last blew tons of sulfur into the atmosphere...


No it's closer to letting your child become a slasher because the hospital can just fix the victims up.


There's no such thing as adapting to runaway climate change.


Of course there is.


Depends on your definition of "runaway". If runaway = Venus, then no, there is no adapting to that.


Humans are really good at adapting to new situations; even if climate change causes a massive reduction in population and standard of living, I’m confident that some humans will survive.

I don’t know what the solutions will look like, but sci-fi authors have shown us some semi-plausible solutions: domed, climate controlled cities here or elsewhere in the solar system; generation ships that aren’t dependent on any planet; a reversion to small tribal societies.


>I’m confident that some humans will survive

Well yes, at our current technology levels ecological and climate based collapse has almost no chance of making humans 100% extinct. But I don't think that anyone is arguing the opposite.

The moral calculus for addressing climate change isn't that affected by differences in the survival rate of 0% vs 5% vs 50%. All of the above would be catastrophically bad in human terms.


Every single species that has ever gone extinct was really good at adapting until suddenly it wasn’t.


“even if climate change causes a massive reduction in population and standard of living, I’m confident that some humans will survive.”

I agree with that. Humanity will go on. But we may have a lot of wars and suffering while adapting to the new world.


Unpopular opinion: adaptation at +4C is genocide


Yes. A lot of wars and displaced people. The question is whether rich countries or people can isolate themselves from the upheaval or will suffer themselves.


That seems likely. But (yet another unpopular opinion): "Zero emissions now" is also genocide, or at least large-scale death.


I don't know why this is being downvoted. If we went zero carbon tomorrow we'd have no replacement for the Haber process which produces the massive amounts of fertilizer needed to feed the human population.


Or for most of the tractors and combines that work the farm fields, or the trucks, trains, and ships that transport the food. Or for the power plants that run the air conditioning that keeps some people from literally dying in the summer, or for the natural gas that keeps some people from dying in the winter.


"Zero carbon" is short for "net zero carbon". Sequestration can compensate for the few cases were emissions are truly unavoidable.


Where I live is probably already 4C higher than where you live. No genocide here.


> bridges are so sturdy and last so long

What a joke, when you see how all the bridges built in the 60s and 70s are crumbling apart.


That's actually solvable by using another product of high-heat processes, basaltic rebar. The main problem with concrete infrastructure is that water eventually infiltrates down to the rebar and wire mesh used to add tensile strength causing it to rust and expand which breaks apart the concrete. If you use something with equivalent tensile strength that doesn't rust then you get construction that lasts many, many decades longer.


> Some industrial processes can’t easily be electrified because they require too much heat [...] We also might be able to get the heat using hydrogen fuels, which can be made using clean electricity

I don't quite get it, as this ends up electrifying the production process. Unless he talks about directly heating with electricity (induction?). I was under the impression that there was no real limit to electric heating (induction, microwave, etc.). Of course, a complex hydrogen production plant shipping hydrogen to the factories could end up being much cheaper than installing microwave heaters, I guess.

> Carbon capture

At the very least, I'd like to see those processed if they can't be eliminated or sequestrated. Run the exhaust trough some algae containers, and transform the resulting biomass into biofuels. At least, that would lessen the carbon impact due to burning those fuels.

Taking the idea to its limits to judge the impact: If every factory was to do this, if we take current emissions as (24% agriculture, 25% electricity, 21% manufacturing, 14% transportation) [1] we would in theory be able to fully supply transportation with biofuels, cutting it entirely. Do the same with electricity, and you can remove as much emissions as the entire "manufacturing" budget, so 21%. Not that bad. In parallel, you can continue cleaning up electricity generation, and replacing carbon-intensive manufacturing processes with electricity-based ones.

Actually, there is no reason why this couldn't be almost a closed-loop system: Hydrocarbons burned in Manufacturing -> CO2 -> Capture + Algae + processing -> Biofuels (Hydrocarbons)

The energy input ends up being solar energy (or equivalent) necessary for photosynthesis. Algae could also be replaced by chemical processes that take electricity as an input.

This could be expensive to install, but the fuel could be an extra source of revenue as well (or savings, if closed-loop). That's also why we need the right incentives (carbon tax?) There are multiple research projects being conducted in this area [2]

[1]: https://www.gatesnotes.com/Energy/We-should-discuss-soil-as-...

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Algae_fuel#Carbon_dioxide


Couldn't we just put a dome around manufacturing plants that is air tight and collects the carbon? For breathable air we can use hospital grade air systems.


> "Whenever I hear an idea for what we can do to keep global warming in check—whether it’s over a conference table or a cheeseburger"

You're discussing global warming prevention and eating meat??


You're discussing global warming prevention and using a computer??




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