In their annual letter, Bill Gates and his wife Melinda home in on what he says are the “five grand challenges” to combating climate change and global warming: agriculture, buildings, electricity, manufacturing, and transportation. Gates wrote that Breakthrough Energy Ventures, the $1 billion fund he’s a partner in, will be using the “five challenges” as a guide for all future investments they make, which will focus on where emissions come from.
“It’s important that people know that electricity, it’s only a quarter of the emissions,” Gates said in a promo video for the letter. “Things like cement, steel, meat—there’s a lot of other activities that are generating 75 percent of it.
“Solar panels are great, but we should be hearing about trucks, cement, and cow farts too,” he wrote.
Gates isn’t the first to concentrate on new solutions for the climate crisis that go beyond solar panels and wind turbines. In Paul Hawken’s 2017 book Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming, the number one suggestion for eliminating 85 percent of emissions was ‘Refrigerator management.’ And the Special Report on Global Warming by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released just this year calls for deep reductions in methane emissions—like those aforementioned cow farts.
One area of improvement Gates zeroed in on in his letter was cement used in manufacturing and construction. Cement is responsible for 8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to a 2018 report from British think tank Chatham House.
“The number of buildings in the world is going to double by 2060. It’s like we’re going to build a new New York City every month for the next 40 years,” Gates said. “It’s a gigantic amount of materials: steel, cement, wood... all emitting greenhouse gases. We’re going to have to figure out how to make all these things in a different way. We’re going to need a lot of change, a lot of innovation, to bring the emissions from all those areas down to zero.”