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On Bill Gates’s “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”

April 5, 2021, 5:01 AM UTC

Good morning.

While on vacation last week, I belatedly finished Bill Gates’s How to Avoid a Climate Disaster and now can recommend the book wholeheartedly. Gates avoids the Malthusian anti-growth instincts of most climate activists, focusing instead on innovations necessary to allow both growth and climate sanity—including electricity storage, biofuels, zero-carbon cement and steel, nuclear power, carbon capture, etc.

He also calls for a greatly expanded role for government—in research and development, standards setting and incentives. That reminded me of when I first met Gates: 25 years ago at dinner, the Microsoft CEO hosted for a group of cabinet officials, Congress members, and a few journalists on one of his very first visits to Washington, D.C. My sense, and that of everyone else in the room, was that he really didn’t want to be there.

“When I was building Microsoft, I kept my distance from policy makers in Washington, D.C., and around the world, thinking they would only keep us from doing our best work,” he admits in the book. But now he believes that “when it comes to massive undertakings—whether it’s building a national highway system, vaccinating the world’s children, or decarbonizing the global economy—we need the government to play a huge role in creating the right incentives and making sure the overall system will work for everyone.” A sign of the times.

Vacation also gave me time to read the new Georgia voter law, various analyses of that law, and numerous CEO statements on its passage. The Jim Crow rhetoric of Democratic critics clearly overshoots the mark—most of the provisions fall well within standard practice in other states.  That’s why business leaders were initially slow to respond.

But taken as a whole, the law clearly makes it more difficult for voters in dense urban counties to vote and puts increased control over elections in the hands of party leaders. Add to that three important pieces of context: 1) the rationale for the change is voter fraud for which there is no evidence; 2) the state was scene of an extraordinary effort to use raw political power to overturn the election; 3) Georgia has a dismal history of Black voter suppression—and you can understand why virtually every Black CEO and former CEO of note signed a letter denouncing the law. That, in turn, sparked strong statements from Georgia-based CEOs like Coca-Cola’s James Quincey—“It makes it harder for people to vote, not easier”—and Delta’s Ed Bastian—“The entire rationale for this bill was based on a lie.”

As I’ve said here before, this is not “political pandering.” Most CEOs I’ve talked with would desperately like to stay out of this no-win partisan street brawl. But in a people-centered economy, where human capital determines business success, they felt they had no choice. 

The upshot: Business is moving into the vanguard of advocating human rights as well as climate action, not because of partisan preference, but because their business depends on it.

News below. And by the way, if you missed Bill Gates’s February stint as guest editor of the Fortune web site, you can check it out now here.

Alan Murray
alan.murray@fortune.com

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The news in this edition of CEO Daily was curated and written by Phil Wahba. The newsletter was edited by Karen Yuan.