More concerning: Conventional jet fuel costs $2.22 a gallon but advanced biofuels cost $5.35, he says. This means aviation carries a green premium of 141 percent, so it requires more attention. Cargo ships pose an even bigger challenge: Electrifying their fuel source, a murky oil called “bunker fuel,” has a green premium of more than 600 percent.
While zeroing out a green premium will “by and large” resolve that industry’s climate problem, Gates writes in the book, that shift isn’t automatic. “There is usually a lag between the introduction of a new technology and its being deployed—particularly for something like home furnaces, which we don’t replace very often,” he writes in his book.
Green premiums allow a restatement of the Gates Rule: The goal of American climate policy should be to zero out green premiums as fast as possible, in as many industries as possible. To reach that goal, he is calling for government spending on energy and climate-related R&D to quintuple.
Now for the asterisks. In The New York Times this weekend, the climate activist (and the inventor of climate journalism) Bill McKibben criticized Gates for failing to grasp that wind and solar energy are now cheaper than fossil alternatives, meaning they carry negative green premiums—and yet are not being deployed anywhere near fast enough. Gates overlooks the importance of fossil-fuel opposition to net-zero energy, alleges McKibben.
And it is true that Gates’s politics are bloodless to the point of anemia. Near the end of our interview, I asked him: What should a young person do if they want to fight climate change? The “biggest contribution” they could make, he replied, was studying physics, chemistry, the economy, and the history of the industrial sector.
As for activism, he told me he sometimes jokes about the ultimate good that climate activism might do.
“Somebody asked me if these Extinction Rebellion people—you know, they cause traffic jams, fortunately not in the U.S. as much, but sometimes in the U.K.: Is that helpful? And I say, well, sure.
“If there’s a guy in that traffic jam who happens to have a pencil and a piece of paper, and he takes his time to invent a new way of making steel, then it’s just brilliant,” he said. “Because we forced the guy to sit there, and not drive, but work on this problem.”
Someone Else’s Weather
Our reader Nic Hawbaker shared these photos of a controlled burn of forest debris in Arizona.
“I live in Flagstaff, Arizona, where fortunately the forest service has been aggressively thinning the forest around our city,” he writes. “These slash piles sat in the forest for the past 2 to 3 years, and they finally burned them after a heavy snowfall when fire risk is lowest. It’s an eerie, beautiful sight seeing hundreds of bonfires burning in the winter outside your window for days on end.”