Sunday, September 7, 2014

On the cover of the Rolling Stone

Sometimes, even the best ideas need reminders.
Do a quick search for Bill McKibben's Rolling Stone article about 'Global Warming's Terrifying New Math'. Right beside the cover shot of Justin Bieber (Hot, Ready, Legal) sits the article that clearly articulates the climate change problem. It's scary, it's bleak, but it's required reading to understand the next decade worth of history.
Briefly, to have a reasonable shot at staying under 2°C, we can only release 565 Gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere. Oil companies have 2795 Gigatons on the books ready to burn. That's five times what we can burn 'safely'.
Burning any more than a fifth of these reserves will put us irrevocably past the 2°C threshold where things turn ugly. Business as usual does that in 16 years. (And 2°C is probably high. Things are turning out worse than predicted across the board, and were only at 0.8°C so far.)
Follow the money. Oil companies are nothing if not profitable. The fossil fuel on their books ready to go is worth about $27 Trillion. Leaving 80% of it in the ground would mean writing off ~$20 Trillion in assets. If this is your company, you'd rather avoid doing that.
That's the money that's in play. That's the economic pie that that the oil & gas industry is chasing.
Prisoner's dilemma? Of course. If you don't burn it someone else will. If your company doesn't dig it, someone else will. Logical, and that kind of thinking takes us all over the cliff pretty quickly.
Business as usual is a suicide pact. If Aliens came to roast our planet, we'd scramble the might of the military-industrial complex worldwide and kick their shiny metal posteriors back to their bugger homeworld.
Our apathetic response to date hasn't been enough to avoid leaving catastrophe to the next generation, or even this one. Business as usual commits us past 2°C by the time Bieber turns 35. Disaster.
Changing our energy sources will be challenging, but with political will we can still create a post-fossil-fuel world that still works as human habitat, but the window of opportunity to stay below 2°C is closing fast.
Seriously. Find that Rolling Stone article. It lays it all out in more detail than this column can manage. We have our work cut out for us.

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