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Bill Gates warns climate change could be worse than the coronavirus

The Microsoft co-founder says we can use lessons from the pandemic to guide our response to the next crisis.

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Corinne Reichert Senior Editor
Corinne Reichert (she/her) grew up in Sydney, Australia and moved to California in 2019. She holds degrees in law and communications, and currently writes news, analysis and features for CNET across the topics of electric vehicles, broadband networks, mobile devices, big tech, artificial intelligence, home technology and entertainment. In her spare time, she watches soccer games and F1 races, and goes to Disneyland as often as possible.
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Corinne Reichert
2 min read
Bill Gates

Bill Gates says climate change could be worse than COVID-19 in terms of deaths and economic damage.

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Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has warned that while COVID-19 is "awful," the climate change crisis could be even worse. While conceding it's hard to focus on anything other than the coronavirus pandemic at the moment, Gates said Wednesday that we must accelerate efforts to deal with climate change now to avoid a climate disaster.

"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," Gates wrote on his blog. "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."

Based on the current number of COVID-19 deaths, Gates says around 14 per 100,000 people have died of the coronavirus. Within 40 years, he said, increases in temperature are predicted to raise global mortality rates by that same figure, but it could be responsible for as many as 73 deaths per 100,000 people by 2100.

"By 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly," Gates said.

And economic damage from climate change would be the equivalent of having a COVID-19 pandemic every decade, he said.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has reduced greenhouse gases for 2020 thanks to car and air traffic coming to a halt, Gates said it'll likely only amount to a reduction of 8% in total -- or 47 billion tons of carbon. Even this small reduction is unsustainable, because it relied on lockdowns rather than actual solutions for climate change, he said.

"This is not a situation that anyone would want to continue," Gates said. "In addition, these reductions are being achieved at, literally, the greatest possible cost."

Innovations involving how to produce electricity, manufacture products, grow food, heat and cool buildings, and ship products globally in a zero-carbon way are needed as much as COVID-19 tests, treatments and vaccines, Gates said.

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