Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

A sobering article in Rolling Stone about Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math. Here’s a quick summary of the numbers (and yes, I realize that climate scientists are all in on the most elaborate conspiracy in the history of mankind).

The upper bound of any “tolerable” level of change is about 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). We hare already raised global temperatures by about 0.8 degrees Celsius, and the observed changes so far are pointing to far more damage than scientists had expected, so that even a 1 degree change may be too much. In any event, current models predict that we can dump another 565 more gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere by midcentury “and still have some reasonable hope of staying below two degrees.” However, our proven reserves of fossil fuels–reserves that are already built in to the stock prices of companies like BP, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips and others–are 2,795 gigatons. Why is this such a big deal?

Think of two degrees Celsius as the legal drinking limit – equivalent to the 0.08 blood-alcohol level below which you might get away with driving home. The 565 gigatons is how many drinks you could have and still stay below that limit – the six beers, say, you might consume in an evening. And the 2,795 gigatons? That’s the three 12-packs the fossil-fuel industry has on the table, already opened and ready to pour.

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

These numbers should provide some perspective on why the fossil fuel industry has been willing to invest so much in questioning the science. And sadly, the result has been political paralysis on this important issue.

We’re in the same position we’ve been in for a quarter-century: scientific warning followed by political inaction. Among scientists speaking off the record, disgusted candor is the rule. One senior scientist told me, “You know those new cigarette packs, where governments make them put a picture of someone with a hole in their throats? Gas pumps should have something like that.”

Given the current state of U.S. politics, I cannot see that–or any effective initiatives to combat climate change–happening any time soon.


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