Path to ZeroEnergyClimate ChangeElectric VehiclesSupply Chains

Why we asked Bill Gates to be Fortune’s guest editor today

February 16, 2021, 10:26 AM UTC

This article is part of Fortune‘s Blueprint for a climate breakthrough package, guest edited by Bill Gates.

I am pleased to announce that today, for the first time (as best as I can tell) in our 91-year history, Fortune has a special guest editor: philanthropist Bill Gates.

For the past several weeks, my Fortune colleagues and I have been working closely with Bill and his colleagues at Breakthrough Energy and Gates Ventures to put together an extensive package of stories on the signal crisis of our age. That crisis is not the COVID-19 pandemic, as monumental as its trail of death and destruction has surely been—rather, it’s climate change.

Fortune worked with Bill Gates and his colleagues at Breakthrough Energy and Gates Ventures to put together this extensive package of stories on the signal crisis of our age. That crisis is not the COVID-19 pandemic—it’s climate change. Click the image above to read the rest of the stories.

While our collaboration with Bill on this project came together quickly, the idea has been brewing for a while. A year ago, as SARS-CoV-2 began its voracious spread across the earth, Fortune’s editorial team started reporting on what might be the many long-term effects of the pandemic. We understood, even back then, that one of those effects would be that our intense focus on stopping COVID-19—though wholly necessary—would likely take our eyes off other urgent challenges.

Climate Package 2021-Editor's Note-Bill Gates
Photo Illustration by Fortune; Background by Getty Images; Portrait by Spencer Lowell

So in April 2020, we devoted an issue of the magazine to the massive twin threats of the coronavirus and climate change—the catastrophic process by which heat is trapped in our atmosphere, owing to an endless accumulation of greenhouse gases. We brandished the words, “A Planet in Crisis” on our cover—and our thesis, as deputy editor Brian O’Keefe explained, was twofold: Not only would business have to cope with unprecedented challenges related to both of these dire threats, but it would be business as well that would have the best chance of finding solutions to them.

That’s where Bill comes in. I’d had several conversations with him over the years—on everything from the Gates Foundation’s gargantuan $50 billion effort to fight endemic disease and poverty to his recent support for research into vaccines and therapies for COVID—and our long-running discussion inevitably led us to the effects of a steadily warming planet. A warmer world was a souped-up petri dish for emerging pathogens. Rising sea levels—driven by global warming—put the most vulnerable on earth in even graver danger, potentially displacing billions of people and causing yet more havoc in our weather, our food supplies, our very existence. In the midst of the death and economic destruction of the coronavirus, Bill—like so many other experts and globally minded citizens—could see what was lurking just over the horizon: an even more colossal danger to life as we know it.

And it turns out, he’d written a book on it.

When I read that book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, which debuts today, I was struck by how clear the message is. In my own view, Bill has written the most comprehensible explanation for what’s driving our warming planet; how to measure the impact of the myriad contributions to this staggering and seemingly incalculable problem; and ultimately how to go about finding more effective approaches to each of them. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a how-to guide for addressing the climate crisis. And I knew then that I wanted to devote Fortune, for a day at least, to getting out that message. The next step was to see if Bill wanted to be part of that effort, and I’m thrilled he agreed.

This collaboration, led on Fortune’s end by digital editor Rachel Schallom, has produced a wealth of reporting that dives into everything from the future of construction and manufacturing to the state of auto electrification around the world. We’ve sized up what corporations can expect from the Biden administration on the climate front and where venture capitalists see the best opportunities in clean tech. We’ve also got some truly eye-opening interviews with Dartmouth’s Alexis Abramson—who explains why those 24/7 convenience stores may offer some surprisingly good opportunities for reducing the global carbon footprint—as well as with energy storage pioneer Ramya Swaminathan, plus an extensive one with Bill himself. Bill also weighs in with an astute essay about the “green premium,” a simple but powerful concept that can help business leaders figure out where to focus their energies in the fight against climate change.

A special thanks to Bridgitt Arnold and Naomi Zukor at Gates Ventures, and to our guest editor Bill Gates, for their thoughtful and energetic collaboration.

I hope you all get as much insight from these stories as I have—and embrace the challenge of stopping global warming as well. We have a genuine chance to prevent this crisis now. The cost of complacency and inaction, as we now know, may be too much to bear. That’s one lesson the COVID-19 pandemic has already taught us.

Explore Fortune’s Blueprint for a climate breakthrough package:

Our mission to make business better is fueled by readers like you. To enjoy unlimited access to our journalism, subscribe today.