On Bill Gates’s “How to Avoid a Climate Disaster”
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.
Vaccine rollout ups and downs
On Saturday, the United States administered 4 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, the first time the country has hit that threshold. That brought up the seven-day average to 3 million does, also a first, showing how well the vaccination effort is finding its groove. But after a major production problem at a contract facility in Baltimore ruined 15 million doses of the J&J vaccine, the company will now take control of the facility, also showing how topsy turvy the vaccination rollout has been. Meanwhile, experts disagreed on whether there is a fourth wave of the pandemic rising now.
Posturing over Biden's infrastructure project intensifies
President Joe Biden will go through with his $2 trillion infrastructure plan without support from Republicans if need be, his energy secretary Jennifer Granholm said on Sunday. This came just a few days after Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell said he'd fight the Biden plan "every step of the way." A major sticking point is Biden's plan would raise the corporate income tax rate after deductions to 28%, from the current 21%.
AROUND THE WATER COOLER
American wanderlust is returning
The combination of widespread cabin fever and rising vaccination rates is making more and more Americans bullish about traveling in 2021, Booking.com's CEO told Fortune's Rachel King. A survey of travelers by the Amsterdam-based travel agency found that Americans really, really, really miss traveling and appreciate its benefit to their mental health even more now.
Dominion Voting's reputation saving efforts
While Dominion Voting was initially shell-shocked by the campaign of misinformation led by proponents of former President Donald Trump, the company has come roaring back with lawsuits seeking billions from the people spreading lies about its machines. Fortune took a deep dive into how the company mobilized and formulated its strategy.
The news in this edition of CEO Daily was curated and written by Phil Wahba. The newsletter was edited by Karen Yuan.