Terrifying New Math

An article by Bill McKibben in Rolling Stones describes ‘Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – and that make clear who the real enemy is.’ The three numbers are 2oC, 565 Gigatons and 2,795 Gigatons.

Wildfires, droughts, floods and record-breaking heat waves are evidence of a warming planet resulting from increasing burning of oil, coal and natural gas. Yet governments have not come to any agreement for action that would reduce the use of these fuels. The only thing they have agreed on is that we cannot raise the temperature more than 2oC  [3.6oF].

Bill McKibben points out that burning fuels have raised the average temperature of the world by 0.8oC, causing much more damage than scientists expected. The oceans are 30% more acidic, a third of summer sea ice in the Arctic is gone and there is 5% more humidity over oceans. Many scientists have stated that the rise of 2oC is too much and will cause long-term disaster.

Nevertheless, if we take that 2oC rise as our bottom line, what that means in terms of additional warming gases is that we can pour no more than 565 gigatons  of CO2   into atmosphere by 2050 and have an 80% chance of staying under 2oC. World temperatures will rise another 0.8oC because of the CO2 that is already in the air now, so we are actually three-quarters of the way to the  2oC target.

Last year carbon dioxide emissions rose 31.6 gigatons. If we continue greenhouse gas output at this rate, we will be past that 565 gigaton allowance by 2028 and within the century,  temperatures will increase by 6oC  [11oF].

Coal, oil and natural gas companies and regimes have fuel reserves that they plan to sell. They borrow money against them and nations base budgets on them as they are considered an asset. If all the coal, oil and natural gas in the proven reserves were burned,  2,795 gigatons of carbon dioxide would be released into the air. This is five times higher than 565, the amount that would be safe for humanity, according to scientists.   80% of fossil fuel reserves need to be kept under ground if we are going to avoid catastrophe.

McKibben says that if the fossil fuel companies were suddenly not allowed to use their fuel reserves, the value of their companies would plummet.  Instead of a value of $27 trillion, they would own $7 trillion in assets, on paper, of course.  So, the real difference is in the balance sheets of those who now own the reserves.

Politicians worldwide have bowed to the pressure to patronize, subsidize, and otherwise support fossil fuel companies.  “Alone among businesses, the fossil fuel industry is allowed to dump its main waste, carbon dioxide, for free.”   The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which asked the EPA not to regulate carbon, has a bigger    political spending budget than both the Republican and Democratic National Committees. The Chamber, which donates  90% to Republicans who consistently vote against laws to encourage carbon reductions and clean energy said, “populations can acclimatize [get used] to warmer climates…”

McKibben’s suggested solution is for a citizen directed campaign to change the laws. Specifically he suggests, “If you put a price on carbon, through a direct tax or other methods, it would enlist markets in the fight against global warming. “ Families’ budgets could be protected by returning the amount collected back to people who could then invest it in increasingly cheaper clean energy.

Read the whole article at:

http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719 – ixzz21NvQ3juO

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