Three numbers point towards a future meltdown

July 23, 2012 at 6:48 am 1 comment

Human-induced climate change is probably the greatest problem facing world civilization. Yes, life will go on in some form as the climate changes. The circle of birth and death will continue. But the social and global turmoil that could be unleashed as long-established slow-evolving biological systems get ground to pieces may lead to suffering on a scale that defies imagination.

A must-read article by 350.org‘s Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone (“Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”) identifies the enormous obstacle facing us: global institutional greed. To see how this works, consider these three numbers:

2 degrees C – the maximum change in global temperature that civilization might tolerate (we have locked in 1.6 degrees of change already)

565 gigatons of carbon dioxide – the maximum amount of CO2 that the atmosphere can absorb between now and 2050 if global warming is to be kept below 2 degrees C

2795 gigatons of carbon dioxide – the amount of carbon dioxide that would be produced if we burned all of the fossil fuel that suppliers (think ExxonMobil, Peabody, oil and coal-rich countries, natural gas suppliers, etc.) are ready (and determined) to sell. In other words, this number doesn’t represent fuel they might discover some day. These are their proven reserves, the stuff they already advertise to shareholders, taxpayers, and potential customers.

If you do the math, once we burn through just one-fifth, or 20%, of that carbon, chances become very small that humans will ever live on a planet endowed with the kind of climate that cradled and sheltered civilization. To learn more, read McKibben’s article. Share it with a friend or family member. Get involved. The “Big Burn” hasn’t happened yet – most of the carbon is still underground – but according to the IEA (Int’l Energy Agency) humans set a new record last year by adding over 31 gigatons of CO2 to the atmosphere. We can’t afford to stay on this track much longer.

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Entry filed under: In the News.

FDA & Paul Ehrlich on Hazardous Chemicals Green Chemistry Notes – Summer of 2012

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