Bill McKibben’s piece in Rolling Stone, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, is a terrifying, important, beautifully written read for *every human being.* He outlines why we’re arguing about all the wrong things when it comes to climate change, and he lays out the three numbers from analysis he wants us all to grok harder, more, now, that “upends most of the conventional political thinking about climate change.”
Number #1: 2 degrees
Discussing the failure of the Copenhagen summit of a few years ago [remember how exciting the build up to that meeting was? And then how sad we were at its apparent political stalemate? And how by now most of us have forgotten it even took place? It turns out at least one real threat of climate change is our own collective amnesia.] That’s where leaders nominally agreed that the world shouldn’t rise more than two degrees in temperature. Since then (just a few years ago, and don’t forget that the impact of global warming is only seen decades after it was first wrought) temperatures have already risen 0.8 degrees. Oh.
Number #2: 565 Gigatons
That’s the amount of carbon dioxide we can pump into the atmosphere by midcentury to still have some reasonable hope of staying below that two degrees of warming. Even though, well, we’ve already pumped a whole load of carbon into the atmosphere and we don’t appear to be stopping any time soon. Oh.
Number #3: 2,795 Gigatons
Describes McKibben, this is the fossil fuel we’re actually currently planning to burn. “The key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.” Oh, shit.
Here’s McKibben’s pithy and truly terrifying point: 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.” Now just look at the behavior and actions of the last few years. Which company do you think is going to do that? Do the math, writes McKibben. “2,795 is five times 565. That’s how the story ends.”
As it happens, that’s not how his story ends, which instead goes into a whole lot more detail on the corporate hypocrisy, lies and deception involved as we apparently barrel towards the end of the world. Not least that if you think about it for more than a second, wrecking the planet is *the business model* of the fossil fuel industry. I know, I know, it sounds like bleak reading, and it is. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read it.