How to Avoid a Climate Disaster

I just completed reading Bill Gate’s book, “How to avoid a climate disaster.” I was skeptical when I started reading it because I wasn’t sure whether I would grasp it well, considering that I am not a climate expert. The closest exposure I had was the classes taken about atmosphere and weather as part of my flight training. But that was an entirely different scope, and I wasn’t expecting any overlaps.

But once I started reading it, it was hard to stop because the author has done an excellent job using simple language to explain complicated scientific stuff. Through Interesting examples and simple analogies, the author has presented his thoughts, facts, and ideas so that every reader can follow the conversation regardless of the background.

Book Name: How To Avoid A Climate Disaster
Author: Bill Gates
Number of Pages: 236

I started reading on 27th February and completed it by 7th March. It took eight hours to complete the book over nine days.

Did I like it?

Yes, I did like the book. I do see a lot of people criticizing this book on various social platforms. But most of those are climate experts, and there may be disagreements with some of the ideas and approaches. Reading this as a person with relatively less exposure to climate science, this was an excellent read that enlightened me in several ways and enhanced my knowledge and awareness in many different areas. I am pleased with the time I invested into reading this book.

Highlights

The book presents a lot of statistics related to emissions and related activities which produce greenhouse gases. However, reading was so smooth and fun because of the natural flow of the conversation, simplicity of the language, the efforts taken to provide relevant backgrounds for people who are not familiar with the concepts. I found several analogies very interesting such as using “cups of water per second” to explain Watts. 

“In climate terms, a small change in the global temperature is a big deal. During the last ice age, the average temperature was just six degrees Celcius lower than today.”

The author makes the point very clear that uncontrolled emission of greenhouse gases is causing a rise in global temperature. He then identifies the different sectors contributing to 51 Billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year. He presents several ideas and action items that may help us reduce the emissions. The author reiterates that reducing emissions is not enough; instead, we need to get it to zero to control global warming. Zero-emission is especially important because once greenhouse gases are in the atmosphere, they stay there for a very long time; something like one-fifth of the carbon dioxide emitted today will still be there in 10,000 years. That is very scary!

Key Contributors

31% of the total emission of 51 Billion tons a year comes from “Making things” such as cement, steel, plastic, etc. Electricity is in the second place, contributing 27% of emissions. “Growing things” such as plants and animals contribute to 19%, and transportation causes 16%. Many innovations and breakthrough inventions are needed in several different sectors to reach zero emissions by 2050. 

“Making 1 ton of steel produces 1.8 tons of carbon dioxide. By 2050, the world will be producing roughly 2.8 billion tons of steel every year.”

I was always wondering why the electric lines are still not underground. Cities like Ahmedabad, where I lived for many years, have achieved this decades ago. The author indicates that the challenge with underground power lines is more expensive by a factor of five to ten because of the heat. Power lines get hot when there is electricity running through them, and if the temperature gets too high, they melt.

“climate change will have the worst impact on the world’s poorest people, and most of the world’s poorest people are farmers.”

What can I do as a consumer to help reduce emissions?

This book discusses many ideas and directions to get emissions to zero within the next few decades. Most of those need a tremendous amount of commitment and involvement from businesses, the scientific community, and political leaders. However, the author recommends several things that we all can do as a consumer to help reduce emissions.

The author recommends we pay conscious attention to reduce energy usage, which will reduce our energy expenses and help reduce greenhouse emissions. Besides, when there is an opportunity, choose a carbon-free alternative that will signal the market that people want such products and drive innovations in that area. We could take a few other steps, such as using energy-efficient appliances, buying an electric vehicle, and trying a plant-based burger.

What is going to be my immediate contribution?

I have already been working on a few home projects to reduce my grid power utilization. One of the projects is to set up a solar-powered water heater at home (which is currently in progress), and the other is to set up a roof-top solar farm that can meet my home’s electricity needs and even feed some surplus energy to the grid. After reading this book, I am even more motivated to continue and speed up these projects.

Other books of interest

This book has references to several other books discussing some of the topics in very detail. A few that I found interesting and may get into my reading list are the following.

Conclusions

How To Avoid A Climate Disaster is one of the best books I could read this year. I am aware that many climate experts and visionaries disagree either partially or entirely with various ideas presented in this book. But for the rest of the people out there, this could be a knowledge-rich package that gives a good level of understanding of the problem, its magnitude, what is being done already, and what could be done in the future. I would highly recommend this book.

The Aging brain – Proven Steps To Prevent Dementia And Sharpen Your Mind

I have completed reading the second book of the year and writing down a summary as per the promise I made to myself. It is the previous book that motivated me to pick a book that talks about human brains. In the book “Conversational Intelligence,” the author Judith E. Glaser provided many insights into how our brain reacts to threats or fear. So, I picked the following book as my next choice, expecting that it will give me a deeper understanding of Judith E. Glaser’s concepts.

2021 Book #2:

I started reading this book on February 10 and completed it on February 17, five hours of reading over eight days. This book focused on explaining how our brain ages, changes, evolves, along with recommendations on lifestyle changes to prevent dementia. My interest was mostly around understanding how brain functions deteriorate and how to improve brain health. So, I skipped sections of the book, which talked in-depth about dementia and other illnesses. Similarly, I cut portions that talked extensively about the health impacts of alcohol, smoking, drugs, etc., because those were not applicable for me, and I do not have any intentions to start such habits anytime soon 🙂

Healthy Body for a Healthy Brain

“If you want to get something stronger, you must exercise it. If you don’t use it, you lose it!”

Citing several studies and examples, the author establishes that the body and brain are intimately connected, and one cannot maintain brain health without keeping a healthy body. So, naturally, healthy practices such as healthy food, regular exercise, ample sleep are essential to keep the brain in good health.

“Environmental factors, life experiences, and even the thoughts we think can impact how our DNA is being expressed.”

The benefits of being grounded

“Direct contact with the earth, such as walking barefoot on grass, swimming in the ocean, touching a tree, etc., helps to be grounded and achieve electrical balance.”

Daily electrical reset results in improved sleep, reduced pain, normalization of cortisol levels, less fatigue, better energy, and lower blood pressure. For those of you interested, given below are a few additional references for this.

Intermittent Fasting

“Intermittent fasting slows aging, improves brain health, and prolongs life.”

Several studies highlight that intermittent fasting or caloric restriction can improve brain health, slow down aging, and prolong life. This reminded me of the Nobel Prize-winning discoveries of mechanism for autophagy by Japanese cell biologist Yoshinori Ohsumi in 2016.

Key Takeaways

  • Chronic anxiety, worry, conflict, and stress cause too much damage to our body and brain, including accelerated aging. 
  • Stress Reduction, meditation, physical exercise, a healthy plant-based diet, etc., can increase telomeres’ length, slowing down aging. 
  • While high sugar consumption reduces the length of telomeres.
  • Standing several hours a day does increase the length of telomeres (One more reason for me to love my standing workstation, where I spend several hours working each day :))
  • Continuous exposure to loud noise activates the brain’s fear/stress circuitry.
  • Bring different experiences to life. Stimulate your interest and expand your imagination: art, music, crafts, bird watching, visiting national parks, and so on.

Summary

I enjoyed reading this book, and in fact, it motivated me to read many scientific and medical research papers and studies referenced in the book. This book inspired me to continue some of the healthy practices I started some time ago because now I have proven reasons and research conclusions to support those practices. For example, intermittent fasting, adopting a more plant-based diet, trying to work more from my standing workstation (sitting less), regular exercise, yoga, meditation, staying more time “grounded to the earth,” etc.

I would recommend this book for anyone who wants to understand more about how our lifestyle and environments, such as food habits, constant exposure to loud noise, stress, etc., impact our body, brain, expression of genes, and overall health. Many health improvement recommendations in this book are already well known; however, this book adds a lot of value by explaining why and how by citing real-life examples, scientific studies, and research findings.

Additional Reading

Two additional books I added to my reading list, based on the references given in this book, are the following:

2021 Reading Progress

Conversational Intelligence – How great leaders build trust and get extraordinary results

I wasn’t able to read much in 2020, and I am not very happy about it. So, to compensate for that, I included a reading goal in my list of resolutions for 2021. This year, I will be trying to read at least one book every three weeks, which will result in 17 books by the end of the year. Besides, I decided to write a short review of the books with the following intentions:

  1.  In my experience, having a publicly visible goal adds the right amount of pressure to keep going and achieving it. When the goal is private, I might sacrifice it to give priority to other unplanned activities. 
  2. To write a review, I should read the books with enough attention, and it will ensure that I don’t compromise quality for quantity. 
  3. And finally, it may motivate someone else to grab a copy of the book and read it. 

2021 Book #1

I started reading on 18th January and completed it by 1st February. It took 11 hours to complete the book over 15 days. 

Overview

The book emphasizes the importance of having the right conversations, which build trust and openness, and collaboration. The author does an excellent job making the point very clear by citing examples from her own experience and scientific studies. The book provides a detailed explanation of how good conversations activate the ‘trust’ network in our brain and how bad conversations result in ‘distrust’ network takeover.

One of the reminders I added to my daily reflections is that something spoken with good intentions can result in a bad impact. Most of the time, we expect good results from what we say with good intentions, but it may not be accurate if the conversation is not well thought out. If we do not build the required level of trust at the beginning of the conversation, people may listen differently – they might listen to reject, not listen to connect. They will listen to the implications of how the change will negatively impact them. When we listen to a conversation without trust, we listen with threatened ears, which distort what we hear and selectively add fear-based interpretations and bad intentions to what others are saying. 

This book contains several generally well-known pieces of advice. However, what makes this book very special is explaining the “whys” and “hows.” The author has put much effort into explaining how our brain interprets and reacts to different types of conversations. It explains the crucial role of the amygdala and prefrontal cortex in our brain to comprehend and respond as we are listening to a conversation. It talks about how the heart communicates to the brain chemically, neurochemically, and energetically. 

The author brilliantly summarizes the conversational blindspots that human beings have. These blindspots play an important role in conflicts and breakdowns in a conversation. To ensure an effective conversation, one needs to pay attention to and overcome these blind spots. I found it fascinating that the study found the impact of temperature on the outcome of a conversation. So, the result of a chat over a hot coffee may be different from that of a cold coffee! 🙂

Key Takeaways

Reading this book added several action items to my to-do list. Most of these are around preparing for conversations and paying attention to ensure trust buildup right from the beginning of a conversation. It reminds me to ensure that I include a clear agenda and expectations when sending out meeting invites to eliminate the uncertainty. Uncertainty blocks our efforts to build trust.

Conversations occur at the chemical level first and fastest; judgments are made within 70 milliseconds by our lower brain while our higher brain where language resides operates at 100 milliseconds. It indicates that by the time we fully understand and comprehend what the other person is saying, our trust or distrust network is already activated, which will impact the outcome of the conversation. So, it is essential to set up the right context at the beginning of a conversation.

“Providing context moves people from uncertainty to understanding.”

It is important to remember that others may not see what we see, may not feel what we feel, and may not think what we think. It is a normal tendency to fill a conversation with as many pieces of information as possible. But an equal or more volume of effort needs to be put into ensuring that the listener understands the same meaning that the speaker wants to convey.

“meaning resides in the listener until the speaker takes time to validate and link back to make sure both have the same picture and shared meaning. “

Summary

This book explains what happens within our brains as we are listening to a conversation. I found the author’s conversation improvement techniques quite practical and scientific and have already started influencing my conversations. I genuinely believe it was a good 11 hours, very well spent reading this book. I would recommend this to everyone, particularly to people in managerial or leadership roles.

Side Note

I am so heartbroken to know that the author, Judith E. Glaser passed away in Nov 2018.  

2021 Reading Progress

Credits: Momin Riyadh for the code to generate the progress chart. You can find his code here.

Book Review: BAD BLOOD – Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

BADBLOOD

Biomedical Science is a topic of my interest and I try to follow the inventions and innovations in various areas related to it. I find it even more exciting when information technology is found to be an integral part of such innovations. Naturally, the story of Theranos and its technology was of my interest. However, when I started reading this book, I realized how little I knew about this revolutionary Silicon Valley startup.

Before reading the book

My understanding of Theranos prior to reading this book was quite shallow. I had read several articles about Elizabeth Holmes, the brilliant Silicon Valley entrepreneur who invented a revolutionary technology which can do a variety of blood tests with a small amount of blood taken in a noninvasive manner. I read about the skin-patch she invented, which can extract blood without the need for the painful and scary venipuncture (the traditional blood collection method using a needle) method. This miraculous patch could run hundreds of tests against various diseases and deficiencies; as well as deliver appropriate medicines through the skin.

I was following the concepts of Liquid Biopsy which looks for Cancer’s DNA in blood samples and identify the specific treatment options that might work better for a given patient. Genomics researchers consider Liquid Biopsy to be a very critical step towards precision medicine. I thought this advanced blood testing invention by Theranos is a solid step towards that direction. My own elder sister is a cancer survivor, and we went through the painful process of tissue biopsy, chemotherapy, surgery and the long recovery period. It was a few years of intense trauma for the entire family. Being a software technology expert and not a medical doctor, I believe liquid biopsy has tremendous potential towards early detection of Cancer and precise treatment possibilities. In short, I was a great admirer of the technology Theranos claimed it developed.

Then all of a sudden, I heard the news about it’s downfall. I heard that troubles with FDA approval were the reason behind the collapse of the company. I thought it is just an unfortunate regulatory hurdle which killed a promising startup. However, since the technology was very revolutionary, I thought Theranos might fix the compliance gaps and resurrect like a Phoenix.

After Reading the Book

This book helped me to gather more insights into the technology used by Theranos. My understanding of the skin patch wasn’t complete because Theranos had abandoned that idea long back, and moved on to the finger prick method and even venipuncture approach. This book helped me to learn a lot about the blood tests and clinical procedures related to it. I got a fair idea about the culture and the way the company operated. I learned about the charismatic personality of Elizabeth and how she managed to build such an empire (which unfortunately, lasted only for a short period). I learned about the unpleasant work environment created by Sunny and his key aides. I saw the level of secrecy that the company maintained and the role their lawyers played in the day to day operations of the company. I saw that the collapse of the company is not the result of an unfortunate compliance issue raised by the FDA. Instead, it is the cumulative result of a collection of fraudulent and unethic practices followed by the key stakeholders of the company.

What did I gain from reading this book?

Reading a book is always a serious investment. I believe the speed at which people read differs from person to person. I usually take 10-16 hours to read an average size book, over a period of 1-2 weeks. That is much time, considering the work responsibilities and commitment to family and social life. I decided to read this book because Bill Gates listed this as one of the top 5 books he liked in 2018. I did not have to think twice before picking this book from a nearby book store. Was it the right pick? Oh Yes, Absolutely!

The book walks the reader through the sequence of events from the rise to the fall of Theranos. I don’t want to be judgmental and jump into conclusions about anyone mentioned in the book. I want to look at it differently and see what I learned by spending my time reading this book.

General Knowledge

This book helped me to enhance my knowledge about Theranos as a company, its history, its technology and a lot of about blood tests and clinical procedures in general. Considering that technology, innovations and biomedical science is a topic of my interest, this is valuable information for me.

Work Culture, Team Work and Ethics

This book highlights many scenes related to the work culture, teamwork and ethics. Books about Culture and Teamwork usually talk about ‘what to do,’ but this book tells me ‘what not to do.’ Back in my active blogging & speaking days, I used to write and speak a lot about ‘Best Practices’ (such as this) as well as ‘Worst Practices’ (such as this). In many occasions, I found it an excellent way to learn by highlighting what not to do, rather than what to do.

At my workplace, we put a lot of focus and attention in and around the culture and teamwork. This has become a passion as well as the mission for us, and I enjoy dedicating a lot of my time towards building an energetic and positive culture at the workplace. Greg Strobel, our CEO, defines our core values as 4Cs – Character, Commitment, Confidence & Compassion. We believe in building a team which is passionate about being in such a vibrant environment. Communication, transparency, respect, and teamwork are the key characteristics we pay much attention to.

The Theranos work culture described in this book is a clear guide which tells us what not to do.

Conclusions

I enjoyed reading this book. I don’t want to be critical about anyone mentioned in the book. This book contributed my knowledge and development in several ways. It was a very interesting read.