Bill Gates, Microsoft’s co-founder, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and chair of the investment fund Breakthrough Energy just published his new book titled How to Avoid a Climate Disaster where he lays out what it will really take to stop climate change. The book expands on Gates’ past argument that we’ll need numerous energy breakthroughs in order to have any hope of cleaning up all parts of the economy and the poorest parts of the world.
The majority of his argument surveys the technologies needed to slash emissions in “hard to solve” sectors like steel, cement, and agriculture. Like other influential personalities have stressed before, Gates explains that innovation will make it cheaper and more politically feasible for every nation to cut or prevent emissions. But he also answers some of the criticisms that his climate prescriptions have been overly focused on “energy miracles” at the expense of aggressive government policies.
How? The last chapters of How to Avoid a Climate Disaster lay out long lists of ways that nations could accelerate the shift, including high carbon prices, clean electricity standards, clean fuel standards, and far more funding for research and development. Gates calls for governments to quintuple their annual investments in clean tech, which would add up to $35 billion in the US.
Even Gates, who’s often been described as an optimist, admits that eliminating the greenhouse-gas emissions currently driving climate change won’t be easy. In fact, he dedicated an entire chapter in his book to describing just how hard a problem climate change is to address. According to the MIT Technology Review, “While he consistently says we can develop the necessary technology and we can avoid a disaster; it’s less clear how hopeful he is that we will.”
In an interview with Gates himself, the publication dug deeper into the limits of his optimism, and how his thinking on climate change has evolved in the last few years. When asked about whether he thinks the world can realistically hold warming to, or below, a 2 °C increase, he answered: “That would require us to get the policy right, to get many, many countries involved, and to be lucky on quite a few of the technological advances. That’s pretty much a best case. Anything better than that is not at all realistic, and there are days when even that doesn’t seem realistic,” adding, “It’s not out of the question, but it requires awfully good progress.”
One of the many topics covered in Gates’ book is one that has been making headlines for a few years now, and one that many believe could help tilt the balance: food, more precisely, meat. As an investor in both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, Gates is also a strong believer in the potential of the plant-based and lab-grown meat industries.
“Impossible and Beyond have a road map, a quality road map and a cost road map, that makes them totally competitive. As for scale today, they don’t represent 1 per cent of the meat in the world, but they’re on their way,” he says.
What about poor countries, will they have to switch to synthetic meat too? “I don’t think the poorest 80 countries will be eating synthetic meat. I do think all rich countries should move to 100 per cent synthetic beef. You can get used to the taste difference, and the claim is they’re going to make it taste even better over time. Eventually, that green premium is modest enough that you can sort of change the [behaviour of] people or use regulation to totally shift the demand.”
When it comes to selling the idea of synthetic meat to most people, another problem comes along: many countries have recently introduced new bills that are preventing companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat to label their products as an alternative to beef. Gates told the MIT Technology Review that “There are all these bills that say it’s got to be called, basically, lab garbage to be sold. They don’t want us to use the beef label.”
Effectively, these bills are nothing other than bald-faced attempts to persuade governments into policing food labels that will only benefit the conventional meat industry instead of consumers. Rather than let consumers decide the winners and losers in a free marketplace, laws are already attempting to stigmatise plant-based and lab-grown foods. Looking at the bigger picture, it’s easy to understand why Gates might become more and more sceptical as the years pass. It seems that we’re only good at shooting ourselves in the foot.
The food industry has been undergoing monumental changes in the past few decades—new technologies were implemented, even into the way we cook, produce and buy food. Climate change pushed more and more people to watch out for how much meat they consume, which then made becoming a vegetarian or vegan extremely trendy. This created a growing need for plant-based ‘meats’ and non-dairy products.
Along with these shifts, a new term appeared in the culinary world: ‘digital food’. It’s here, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to vanish anytime soon, so you better get used to it. But what exactly is digital food, and what changes will it inspire in the ever-changing industry that is the food sector?
First of all, let’s start by clarifying something: digital food and new technologies being used in the daily operations of food companies are two different things. New technologies meant that manufacturing processes were upgraded and started producing more food at a faster pace. But digital food is something else entirely. With social media came the recent boom in online food-based media, which completely changed the way we look at food online and seek out new recipes, restaurants and reviews.
We began craving new flavours from different countries, but it went even further than that. From sharing images of food on Instagram to augmented reality (AR) filters that shape our faces into a peach or a tomato or any food you can think of, it seems that the term ‘digital food’ still has many meanings and, therefore, that there is no general consensus on its definition. Why is it not clearer? Because digital food is so recent that it is still in constant change. In other words, digital food is the future but no one can tell what the future holds.
Forget about the Instagram face, the new trend involves face filters that either allow you to look like your favourite food or make photo-realistic 3D food models appear on your camera. Not only can you look like your favourite kind of bubble tea, but you can also help reduce food waste by playing with food digitally. Because, let’s be honest, who hasn’t tried the Greggs face filter that lets you know which Greggs product you are?
Screen Shot spoke to Clay Weishaar, also known as @wrld.space on Instagram, the AR artist specialising in food filters, about our new obsession with food, especially on social media, and why his designs mainly focus on digital food, “Food culture has always been a big subject on Instagram. So has fashion. This has really inspired me to explore the idea of food as fashion. I loved the idea of people wearing their favourite food. With augmented reality technology we have the ability to do this.”
This can explain the kind of feedback that his Instagram filters received: “I am a huge foodie myself. Combining food, fashion and technology was a sweet spot for me. I think the reason my filters have almost 2 billion impressions is that food is something people identify with. It’s a universal subject, and it is what brings people and cultures together.”
Some big food chains have already seen the potential in digital food. For example, Domino’s created a Snapchat filter that would let users see an AR pizza and offer them the possibility of ordering the pizza online, straight from their Snapchat app. Using AR, brands could show us exactly what a specific meal would look like, making it easier for potential customers to make up their minds on what they’d like to order.
Five years ago, people were writing about food online to complain about the trend of people sharing pictures of their meals on Instagram. Now, people are looking, liking and sharing pictures of fake food—digital food. If you’ve ever wondered what food you should eat to improve your blood pressure, perhaps digital food might be the best solution.
Among the few who can already see the potential of digital food is Jessica Herrington, who created the Instagram account Fresh Hot Delicious, a completely digital restaurant specialising in digital desserts. She described the concept in OneZero, saying, “Each dessert exists as a freely available AR filter on Instagram. To simulate a real-world restaurant, the desserts ‘sell out’ when the AR filters reach a specific number of views. Users can play with the desserts for free until they are ‘sold out’ and become deactivated. In this way, the digital restaurant gives a life span to previously permanent digital objects.”
Experiencing digital food through AR is an accessible and innovative alternative to engage with an audience. Food brands are trying to sell more than a product—they need to sell an experience, and digital food could help them build a connection with potential customers. The future of the food sector is digital, and we’ve only witnessed a few of the many ways we will consume digital food. As unusual it may seem to many for now, digital food will offer us a new approach to traditional eating experiences, and I don’t know about you, but all this made me hungry.