5 Questions to Ask in Any Climate Conversation

Noelle Ihli

How to Avoid a Climate Disaster Author Bill Gates Offers Five Questions To Cut Through Climate Confusion and Arrive at Solutions

Engaging in a conversation about climate change solutions often requires wading through a sea of competing proposals, opinions, and arguments. Add an overload of statistics, data, and jargon to the mix, and even the most productive discussion can go nowhere.

That’s why Bill Gates has created five questions the average person can use to kick-start valuable conversations and get us closer to net-zero by 2050.

Question 1: What Is the Impact as a Percentage?

The numbers involved in climate conversations can be unwieldy and difficult to comprehend. What does it mean if a proposed solution eliminates 100,000 tons of greenhouse gases? That sounds like a lot, but is it? 

Gates recommends contextualizing that number as a percentage of the total problem. For example, if the world produces 51 billion tons of greenhouse gasses yearly, a technology that eliminates 100,000 tons of emissions only solves 0.0002% of the problem. A positive step forward? Sure. The answer to all of our climate concerns? Not quite—especially when the ultimate goal is zero.

Question 2: How Comprehensive Is The Solution?

A lot of climate solutions focus very narrowly on one slice of the climate crisis. But, Gates reminds readers, “If you’re trying to come up with a comprehensive plan for climate change, you have to account for much more than electricity and cars.” 

Humans create significant carbon emissions in five primary ways. So any climate solution that aims to be comprehensive should address the following:

  • How we consume electricity.
  • How we manufacture and process goods and materials.
  • How we grow food and cultivate the land.
  • How we get around.
  • How we stay cool (or warm).

Question 3: What Is the Wattage?

A clear picture of electrical consumption is vital to developing effective climate solutions. In any discussion of conserving electricity, individuals must distinguish between kilowatts, gigawatts, and hundreds of gigawatts. If those words have you scratching your head, Gates offers this helpful breakdown:

  • Kilowatts quantify electricity consumed on a household level.
  • Gigawatts quantify electricity consumed on a city-wide level. 
  • Hundreds of gigawatts quantify electricity consumed on a national level. 

Question 4: How Much Space Will Green Tech or Renewables Require?

Some renewable energy solutions or green technologies sound promising—until you consider how much physical space they need to function. Compare how much carbon a wind farm or solar field will offset versus how much space it will take up. Again, look at percentages (rather than numbers) to gauge effectiveness in your city or state. 

Question 5: Is This Solution Financially Accessible? 

Price makes a significant difference in whether or not consumers will adopt a change or product. If the change will cost more, the likelihood of adoption is very low. Therefore, realistically, climate solutions must be financially accessible to the average buyer. 

For example, only when a significant portion of the population can afford an electric vehicle will adoption be high enough to make a difference.

Turning Climate Questions into Climate Action

The big-picture of climate change can be overwhelming, but knowledge is power. When you know which questions to ask about proposed climate solutions, you can cut through the confusion and create plans to make a measurable difference. 

As consumers, voters, and leaders around the world evaluate and engage with potential solutions in meaningful ways, that goal of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 becomes a possible reality instead of an impossible dream. 

What are your local leaders doing to reduce the carbon footprint in your state? Start a conversation with one of the questions you learned in this article on Twitter, using #HowtoAvoidaClimateDisaster

About the author

Noelle is a content creator, author, and editor. She lives in Idaho with her husband, two sons, and two cats. When she's not writing, she's either reading a good book or scaring herself with true-crime documentaries.

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