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“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” by Bill McKibben

About a week ago, I attended a live broadcast from Bill McKibben’s rally in Washington DC in opposition to the proposed Keystone Pipeline project. The broadcast was hosted by a local chapter of 350.org, the grassroots movement that McKibben founded. While there, I picked up a copy of the article that McKibben wrote for Rolling Stone magazine regarding the current state of climate change (click here to read the article online). I finally got around to reading it this morning. I am usually pessimistic by nature, so I have to say, this article all but crushed what little hope I had left.

The article focuses on three key numbers that will affect climate change in the very near future:

  • 2 degrees Celsius, which is the globally agreed-upon maximum increase in temperature that can occur before catastrophic results
  • 565 Gigatons, which is roughly how much more carbon dioxide humans can pour into the atmosphere and maintain a chance of remaining below the 2 degree threshold
  • 2,795 Gigatons, which is the amount of CO2 emissions that would be released from the current coal, oil, and gas reserves

That means, essentially, that the energy companies have already committed to produce five times the amount of fossil fuel that would bring us to the point of global catastrophe. This does not even include undiscovered oil and coal deposits. And the difference between these reserves and say the stockpiles of nuclear weapons that could destroy the world is that the energy companies have every intention of burning these reserves, because that is what will ensure their profits.

As I’ve said, I’m pessimistic by nature, but I always hoped that the human desire for self-preservation would trump greed, but greed seems to be winning. I’ve had to un-friend people on Facebook because they believe that jobs or the value of their portfolios are more important than the health of the planet. Seriously? Your portfolio will mean nothing if there is no food, no water, and massive displacement.

Part of this article already reads like a prophesy. It was published on August 2, 2012, and he mentions the possibility of something so big happening that legislators finally wake up, something like “a giant hurricane swamps Manhattan, a megadrought wipes out Midwest agriculture.” This has happened! And yet, business continues as usual.

Bill McKibben is not giving up, though, and this is the one thing that still keeps hope alive for me. He launched a divestment campaign which seeks to pull investment funds away from fossil-fuel companies, similar to what was done to combat apartheid. I, for one, plan on joining him. This week I will call the company that manages my retirement fund and move all funds out of accounts that include fossil-fuel companies and move them to other investment options. It might be too late, but I could never rest easy if I didn’t do everything within my power change the course we are on.

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