Bill McKibben has a big important article in Rolling Stone. It’s called “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”. McKibben is a climate activist who has actually had a success. He organized people to sit-in and get arrested near the White House and convinced the president to postpone a decision on whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built.
The numbers he talks about are terrifying, but he and others have talked about them before. Where he breaks new ground is on strategy. Instead of making the focus on personal decisions to get a better light bulb and such he says we need to explain to people that we have an enemy, Big Oil, the oil companies and the countries (like Venezuela ) that act like oil companies who want to drill all they can and burn all they can find, no matter what.
The numbers are, shall we say, “sobering”. Average world temperature has gone up almost 1 degree centigrade (0.8) and we’ve already seen big effects. If world temperature goes over 2 degrees (that’s 3.6 degrees Farenheit) it will be very, very bad. You would think we have therefore 1.2 degrees left, but not really. McKibben says there is carbon that has been released but not affecting the climate yet and that’s already committed another 0.8 rise.
In reality we can safely put in only 565 gigatons more carbon into the air. However, 2,795 gigatons of carbon fuels have already been found. They are at the moment in the ground, but the companies are planning to bring them up and burn them, guaranteeing climate hell.
And the politicians are backing the companies plans to go out and drill for more. Barack Obama in March 2012 said, “You have my word that we will keep drilling everywhere we can… That’s a commitment that I make.”
McKibben says we’ve given the carbon fuel industry a free pass. It’s waste product, carbon, is just thrown into the air by cars and power plants. (A nuclear power plant doesn’t get the right to do that.)
“We need to view the fossil-fuel industry in a new light. It has become a rogue industry, reckless like no other force on Earth“ McKibben thinks we have to treat the industry as the enemy of humanity.
I agree, but I don’t think McKibben has gone far enough. Done by itself, putting a huge carbon tax on the industry will cause huge economic dislocation and depression. And we we increase nuclear as a way of slowing temperature rise we risk more and more Fukashimas.
We need to plan a whole new way of working and producing. Capitalism has to be abandoned and we need something planned and democratic in its place.
Note: McKibben says we have until mid-century to get things done, in other words, less than 40 years. Other people say we have much less time. As I’ve reported earlier the International Energy Agency said we have only 5 years to make “drastic” changes in energy use to meet the two degree target.