Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

Bill McKibben calls this the ‘most important thing he’s written’ in years

Read the whole thing to see why. Excerpts below:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

But the real numbers we have to worry about are:

The First Number: 2° Celsius

Copenhagen failed spectacularly…The accord did contain one important number, however. In Paragraph 1, it formally recognized “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.”

Some context: So far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far more damage than most scientists expected. (A third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone, the oceans are 30 percent more acidic, and since warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere over the oceans is a shocking five percent wetter, loading the dice for devastating floods.) Given those impacts, in fact, many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target.

And here’s why even that teetering-on-the-edge-of-safe two degrees is all too likely to be surpassed:

The Second Number: 565 Gigatons

Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees. (“Reasonable,” in this case, means four chances in five, or somewhat worse odds than playing Russian roulette with a six-shooter.)

In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school. “The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,” said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, “When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.” That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.

It gets worse:

The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons

This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.

If you told Exxon or Lukoil that, in order to avoid wrecking the climate, they couldn’t pump out their reserves, the value of their companies would plummet. John Fullerton, a former managing director at JP Morgan who now runs the Capital Institute, calculates that at today’s market value, those 2,795 gigatons of carbon emissions are worth about $27 trillion. Which is to say, if you paid attention to the scientists and kept 80 percent of it underground, you’d be writing off $20 trillion in assets. The numbers aren’t exact, of course, but that carbon bubble makes the housing bubble look small by comparison. It won’t necessarily burst – we might well burn all that carbon, in which case investors will do fine. But if we do, the planet will crater. You can have a healthy fossil-fuel balance sheet, or a relatively healthy planet – but now that we know the numbers, it looks like you can’t have both. Do the math: 2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.

This is why the GOP’s fossil-fuels-über-alles trajectory is so horrifically short-sighted and evil. What good will those “trillions” in fossil fuel reserves do when heat and drought make growing enough vital food crops impossible? Even before that happens, you have to consider how drilling for and burning fossil fuels sucks up trillions of gallons of water, thus competing with our agricultural needs right this minute.

Bill McKibben is right. Either the fossil fuel profits go, or a world that supports human life. The right choice won’t be painless by any means, but neither is amputation of a gangrenous extremity to save your body - and yourself - from certain death.

Jump to top

Create a PageThis is the LGF Pages posting bookmarklet. To use it, drag this button to your browser's bookmark bar, and title it 'LGF Pages' (or whatever you like). Then browse to a site you want to post, select some text on the page to use for a quote, click the bookmarklet, and the Pages posting window will appear with the title, text, and any embedded video or audio files already filled in, ready to go.
Or... you can just click this button to open the Pages posting window right away.
Last updated: 2016-01-01 10:29 am PST
LGF User's Guide RSS Feeds Tweet

Help support Little Green Footballs!

Subscribe now for ad-free access!Register and sign in to a free LGF account before subscribing, and your ad-free access will be automatically enabled.

Donate with
PayPal
Square Cash Shop at amazon
as an LGF Associate!
Recent PagesClick to refresh
Schools Implement Hair Policies That Punish Black Girls for Wearing Braids (And for Being Black) If you are female in this society, you get used to having your appearance critiqued. And if you are black and female—because of the intersecting nature of racism and sexism, it seems as if you are forever being policed ...
Birth Control Works
23 seconds ago
Views: 83 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Massive Big Sur Slide May Keep Highway 1 Closed for a Year “It’s definitely breathtaking, it’s definitely massive,” she said of the landslide caused by millions of tons of dirt and rock tumbling down the coastal hillside. Officials say the slide created a new 16-acre land mass sticking out from the ...
Tarkloon
6 hours, 45 minutes ago
Views: 164 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
The Major’s #MemorialDay Message (Especially for #Millenials) for 2017 Well, The Major’s meat-space doppelganger has FINALLY, after decades, gotten the proper medication to treat his ailment! And the best part? It feels like it’s actually working! (Say Hallelujia!) It’s almost like “The Sleeper Has Awakened!”… Now by now, ...
The Major
14 hours, 57 minutes ago
Views: 218 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 9 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
YOUR TAX DOLLARS at HATE: ICE Has Made Over 41,000 Arrests in Trump’s First 100 Days  n the first 100 days that Donald Trump has been in office, arrests for immigration violations have increased 38 percent over to the same period in 2016, according to figures Immigration and Customs Enforcement released Wednesday. More than ...
Birth Control Works
23 hours, 17 minutes ago
Views: 419 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Mike Pence and the Delicate Art of Protest.blog.timesunion.comHOFFMAN FILESMike Pence and the delicate art of protest.By Rob Hoffman on May 25, 2017 at 5:30 AM3Is there a right that is more fundamental to being an American than the right to peaceably assemble? Its prominence in the Bill ...
rhoffman
2 days, 7 hours ago
Views: 473 • Comments: 3 • Rating: -5
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Comments: 0
: 1
READ THE WHOLE THING: Sexual Violence Is a Hate Crime - National Organization for Women I strongly believe violence against women, and particularly sexual violence, is a hate crime – and that may surprise people, even feminists. On October 2, 2006 a man walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Lancaster, County Pennsylvania and shot ...
Birth Control Works
2 days, 7 hours ago
Views: 374 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
What I Learned After My Study on Men Secretly Removing Condoms Went Viral But it struck a chord, and somehow managed to trigger an international conversation about assholes who remove condoms during sex without their partners' permission. (Some people call this "stealthing," but I think the term trivializes the harm.) The paper ...
Birth Control Works
2 days, 18 hours ago
Views: 438 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 1
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
‘Racist’ Flyers Urge Black Chicagoans to Help Deport Latino Neighbors - Pilsen - DNAinfo Chicago CHICAGO — A South Side alderman is slamming a flyer found in neighborhoods around the city asking black Chicagoans to report suspected undocumented residents to immigration agents. The flyer says that "Sanctuary city Policies endanger the lively hood[sic] of ...
Birth Control Works
2 days, 18 hours ago
Views: 335 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 0 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
You Have One Last Chance to Repent, Sean Hannity….Help me force Sean Hannity to repent. If he doesn't, The Major will bring incredible the damage to Mr. Hannity using the new weapons of The Internet. I tried to warn you, Sean. You didn't listen then. If you choose ...
The Major
3 days, 15 hours ago
Views: 477 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 0
Tweets: 2 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 0
Comments: 0
: 0
Doctors Argue That Female Genital Mutilation Is Protected Under First Amendment Two doctors in Detroit, along with one of their wives, are about to take the first religious defense of female genital mutilation to a US Federal court. The case stems from a FBI investigation into Dr. Jumana Nagarwala after ...
Birth Control Works
3 days, 17 hours ago
Views: 608 • Comments: 0 • Rating: 3
Tweets: 3 • Share to Facebook
Shares: 1
Comments: 0
: 1