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Okay, this is more than horrifying.

Bill McKibben’s new Rolling Stone article: Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, is clear and chilling.

The article goes into depth, but the math is simple:

  • According to our most conservative (i.e., hopeful) estimates, it’s possible that we could survive a warming of 2 degrees Celsius without catastrophe. (This is arguable—this summer, with its droughts and heat waves and freak weather, is what we see with the warming we’ve already experienced, which is only 0.8 degrees Celsius. Two degrees may well mean catastrophe anyway. But it’s certain that more than 2 degrees spells disaster.)
  • To keep warming at 2 degrees, we could maybe release 565 more gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere.
  • At our current rate of fossil fuel use, we’ll do that in 16 years. We could cut our rate in half and still have a catastrophe before 2050.

And that’s not even the worst thing. The worst thing is:

  • There are 2,795 gigatons of carbon in proven, accessible reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas that sellers are sitting on, expecting to sell us.

In McKibben’s words:

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.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically aboveground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony.

So it’s not just a matter of using less. We have to somehow convince ExxonMobil, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Shell, Lukoil, and BP to keep most of their oil—their wealth, the livelihoods of their employees and shareholders—in the ground. (And that’s just some of the oil sellers, and that’s just oil).

McKibben also makes a point I make in Economix: Don’t look to technology, like geoengineering and whatnot. We have the technology to fix our problems today. But we don’t use it, for political reasons. The solutions—if there are even solutions anymore—are political, not technological.

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