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Billionaire Bill Gates wants the United States to treat climate change with the "same sense of urgency" with which it has responded to COVID-19, arguing that the impacts of the former will be much worse without corrective action.
"If you want to understand the kind of damage that climate change will inflict, look at COVID-19 and spread the pain out over a much longer period of time," the Microsoft co-founder wrote on his blog Tuesday.
"The loss of life and economic misery caused by this pandemic are on par with what will happen regularly if we do not eliminate the world’s carbon emissions."
Gates estimated that the death toll from climate change would match that of the pandemic by 2060, and exceed it fivefold by 2100. The economic impact of climate change over the next two decades, he added, could be "as bad as having a COVID-sized pandemic every ten years."
Early in the pandemic, some drew comparisons between the virus and climate change, and credited economic shutdowns with reducing carbon emissions. Gates acknowledged this effect, but said such temporary restrictions aren't nearly enough to address rising emissions.
“What’s remarkable is not how much emissions will go down because of the pandemic, but how little," he said, pointing to a July report estimating the cost of emissions reductions.
"Has closing off major parts of the economy avoided emissions at anything close to $100 per ton?" Gates asked. "No. In the United States, according to data from the Rhodium Group, it comes to between $3,200 and $5,400 per ton. In the European Union, it’s roughly the same amount. In other words, the shutdown is reducing emissions at a cost between 32 and 54 times the $100 per ton that economists consider a reasonable price."
At the end of his blog post, Gates called for drastic change and noted that flying or driving less wasn't going to cut it.
"So just as we need new tests, treatments, and vaccines for the novel coronavirus, we need new tools for fighting climate change: zero-carbon ways to produce electricity, make things, grow food, keep our buildings cool and warm, and move people and goods around the world," he said.
"And we need new seeds and other innovations to help the world’s poorest people — many of whom are smallholder farmers — adapt to a less predictable climate."
Meanwhile, a Duke University professor told lawmakers Wednesday that the U.S. could prevent 4.5 million premature deaths if it worked towards to keep temperature increases below two degrees Celsius.
Conservatives have generally argued that climate fears are overblown, citing apocalyptic predictions from prior decades. The cost of implementing large-scale reform, they claim, would be unsustainable and inflict massive losses on the U.S. economy. The Green New Deal (GND), which Gates did not mention, has become the latest touchstone of the environmental movement in the U.S., and been championed by leading Democrats.
The right-leaning Competitive Enterprise Institute, which is funded by companies in the energy, automotive and technology sectors, recently found that even a portion of the GND's mandates would cost swing-state households around $75,000 per year.
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