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Climate change is such an irresistible and systematic problem, it is easy to feel that a person can do nothing to fight it.
But Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates offered some specific advice at Reddit’s online Q&A session on Thursday.
Buy climate-friendly products to help reduce costs
As a consumer, if you prefer to buy a more expensive product that contributes to lower carbon emissions, it may feel like a drop in the bucket. But if enough people buy these products, it will increase demand, which will lead to a wider range and lower the price of those climate-conscious alternatives, he said.
“Green products such as electric cars or synthetic meat or heat pumps for heating / cooling the house will cost a bit more. By buying these products you will increase the scale which will lead to lower prices so the ‘green premium’ will be reduced,” Gates said. Said on Reddit.
The concept of a “green premium” is one that Gates often discusses. This is the price difference between a conventional product and a climate-friendly alternative.
Governments can help reduce the green premium by implementing policies that reduce the cost of climate-conscious alternatives and make conventional diversification more expensive, Gates said in a 2020 blog post about the green premium. Companies and investors can help reduce the green premium by spending on climate-friendly alternatives, investing in innovation and supporting the government.
But even individuals can make a difference in developing markets for new, cleaner product options.
“When you buy an electric car or a plant-based burger even though it costs more than the option, you tell the companies that make these products: ‘These items are in demand. Make more and we’ll buy them,'” Gates wrote in a blog post: “It will drive investment in research, which will help reduce costs and ultimately make clean products more affordable and accessible to all.”
Of course, for some, the more expensive option is not financially feasible, and Gates acknowledged this in his blog post.
Voting, and local start
In addition to supporting new green industries, individuals can help fight climate change where they work and vote for elected officials who will prioritize climate policy, Gates said.
In his Reddit reply, Gates linked to a 2021 blog post quoting a chapter from his book “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster” where he emphasized the importance of voting, which, unlike buying green products, does not require spending money.
“Getting involved in the political process is the most important single step that can help people of all walks of life to avoid climate change,” Gates wrote in his book.
Politicians are constantly working on countless priorities and if their material expresses their concerns about the climate problem, politicians are more likely to focus their energy there, Gates wrote.
“Whatever your other assets, you can always use your voice and your vote to make change work,” Gates wrote in his book. “Call, write, join the town hall. What you can do to help your leaders understand that thinking about the long-term problems of climate change is just as important to them as thinking about jobs or education or health care.”
Also, when using your voice politically, be specific and start local, Gates says.
“In the United States, for example, electricity is primarily regulated by statewide public utility commissions, consisting of elected or appointed commissioners. Find out who your representatives are and keep in touch with them,” Gates wrote in his book.
And if you’re ready for it, run for political office, Gates wrote.
Also on Thursday at Reddit, Gates focused on the industry, the infrastructure-grade changes that need to be made to tackle climate change.
“The price is to be able to produce things like electricity, steel, cement and meat without any emissions but at a cost equal to or less than today’s costs,” Gates said. He is investing in entrepreneurs and start-ups working in the sector through his Climate Investment Fund, Breakthrough Energy Ventures.
He hinted at his support for nuclear power, including time-tested divisions – “if it could solve cost, safety and waste concerns” – and future fusion, although there is more to commercialize and scale that technology, he said. But he acknowledged that he was “biased” because he was an investor in nuclear energy. He founded Terrapower, a company that works to commercialize advanced nuclear fission reactors.
It’s impossible to ignore the fact that Gates is one of the richest people in the world, and with his big house and private jet, he’s a heavy carbon emitter, and he admits it. He said in his 2021 blog post that he offset his emissions and considered his investment in climate innovation as a deterrent to his high emissions.
“Investing in companies doesn’t diminish my carbon footprint. But if I choose a winner, they will be responsible for removing far more carbon than I am responsible for creating,” Gates wrote.