To save Planet Earth: Handcuff the fossil fuel industry!
By Will Parry
This article is for my grandchildren. And yours. And everybody’s, all around the world.
I want them – all of them – to live out their lives on a vibrant, living planet. So do you.
To make that future a reality, we have work to do.
Our work starts by listening to the scientists. Their verdict is virtually unanimous. Unless we handcuff the fossil fuel industry, Planet Earth as we know it is doomed.
Environmentalist Bill McKibben is especially worth listening to. For 20 years he has been warning about the impending threat of climate change. And he’s doing something about it.
McKibben is the founder and leader of the grassroots climate campaign which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009.
On the day after this year’s election, McKibben launched a 22-city “Do the Math” tour with a packed rally at Seattle’s Convention Center.
Indeed, we must “do the math.” Here is the chilling calculation.
First, a scientific consensus has established an increase in global temperatures of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial averages as a red line, an absolute limit beyond which catastrophic and irreversible climate disruption will occur.
Second, we are already perilously close to that red line. The scientists estimate that we can only release about 565 more gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere without pushing temperatures above the 2 degree limit.
And third, the proven oil, gas and coal reserves that the extractive industries expect to exploit amount to five times the 565 gigaton upper limit. To preserve the planet, these reserves must stay in the ground, which amounts to the fossil fuel industry writing off $20 trillion in assets.
Clearly, the business model of Chevron, Exxon-Mobil and BP is at war with Planet Earth. The devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy may be considered the business card of the fossil fuel industry.
The latest studies present a grim picture. McKibben summarizes the findings of more than 60 recent studies along with numerous review pieces that themselves each cover a large segment of the recent literature.
He cites “three of the best recent analyses of what we are headed towards.” An M.I.T. analysis doubles its warming projection to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by 2095. A Hadley Center analysis foresees “catastrophic” warming of 4 to 7 degrees Centigrade by 2100 on the current emissions path. And a “definitive” report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns of a scorching 9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit warming over most of inland U.S. By 2090.
That would make it hotter than 90 degrees some 120 days a year in Kansas.
So far, we’ve warmed the planet by 0.8 degrees Celsius – enough to generate Hurricane’ Sandy and cause drought conditions in half the U.S. Continuing on or even near the current emissions path would invite these impacts:
- Staggeringly high temperatures over much of the United States.
- Permanent Dust Bowl conditions over the U.S. Southwest and many other regions around the globe.
- Sea level rise of about one foot by 2050, then four to six feet by 2100.
- As much as half or more loss of biodiversity.
- Food insecurity — trying to feed billions of people in a world with an ever-worsening climate.
- Unexpected impacts – the fearsome “unknown unknowns.”
And today’s feeble mitigation efforts are light years from the bold steps needed. A new report from PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the world’s largest accounting firms, states that the world has “passed the critical threshold” and that current carbon reductions amount to “a fraction of what is required” to meet the international commitment to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius.
Again we turn to McKibben. He is initiating a campaign to disinvest in the fossil fuel industry, similar to the campaign that helped materially to bring down apartheid in South Africa. Already, students are at work to persuade their universities to disinvest. Foundations will soon find it bad public relations to have their funds in BP stock. Religious funds, too, will find such investments tainted.
We’ll have more to say on global warming in coming issues. The lives and fortunes of our grandchildren are at stake.