Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.
There are some mind numbing facts in the current RS piece from Bill McKibben. Up-to-date reports allow us to compare to earlier projections and the news isn’t good nor is it new: temperatures are still rising, carbon dioxide is still increasing. It’s similar information to what we’ve heard before and maybe we’re too used to hearing it and have turned a deaf ear. Have these significant words become so common place that they’re losing their impact on us?
A new twist in the story that made my heart skip a beat or two refers to the amount of unused but predicted use of gigatons of resources the fossil fuel companies can already access and plan to burn. Five times more than is safe to burn.
I’ll say that again: Five times more than is safe to burn.
The worlds of finance and fossil fuels are intrinsically linked in these numbers. And McKibben’s words opened my eyes even wider as to why the oil and gas industry are so against the regulation of carbon dioxide. It will kill not only their profitability but their abhorrent and self-interested livelihood. By calling them Public Enemy Number One in the fight to protect our planet from the harm they intend to cause, if nothing more then, McKibben has given us clear sight of the enemy.
Re-reading his words again, I am sad to say that I questioned how as individuals we can rise up against tyranny let alone fight it. His example of the divestment movement in the 1980’s protesting the apartheid in South Africa gave me some hope and inspiration, reminding me of the power of one, multiplied over and over, fueled by personal conviction at a grassroots level that can and does make a difference. To quote Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” I am committed. How about you?
Left to our own devices, citizens might decide to regulate carbon and stop short of the brink; according to a recent poll, nearly two-thirds of Americans would back an international agreement that cut carbon emissions 90 percent by 2050. But we aren’t left to our own devices.
The Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons
This number is the scariest of all – one that, for the first time, meshes the political and scientific dimensions of our dilemma. It was highlighted last summer by the Carbon Tracker Initiative, a team of London financial analysts and environmentalists who published a report in an effort to educate investors about the possible risks that climate change poses to their stock portfolios. The number describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies. In short, it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn. And the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher.
— Debbie Hindman