Friday, December 19, 2014

Scary Numbers

When we talk about whole living, we make some assumptions about the world we live in. One of the assupmptions we make is that the world as we have known it for recorded history -- climate, geography, resources -- will continue to exist in its familiar fashion in the future. We rest our ideas of whole living securely on that assumption. We assume that things will keep on much as they have been for the last six millenia, as we work to make ourselves and our fellow citizens on this spinning ball of hitherto fairly reliable resources and climatic cycles more whole. We envision our children and grandchildren inheriting a world like ours, only better. After all, going green has even become a fashionable marketing idea with the general public. But current science doesn't support that assumption.

I read Bill McKibben's article in the July 19, 2012 issue of Rolling Stone magazine, "Global Warming's Terrifying New Math," a couple of months ago. It's been bouncing around my brain ever since. When I hear something in the news that's pertinent, or a related topic comes up in conversation, the article, the math and the ramifications of it come to mind. The article is part report, part social and political commentary and part prophecy. Threaded throughout the nine pages of text is a no-punches-pulled description of the fossil fuels industry and a scathing rebuke to its greed-driven practices. McKibben never deviates, however, from the core of what drives his article: stark and ominous numbers that, when calculated without bias, equals the impending end of life as we are accustomed to on planet Earth. He relates the data to well-known and undeniable events that should make even the hardliners  among the climate change skeptics take another look.

What's so scary about numbers? Well, to start with, 2 degrees Celsius is the amount of additional warming the planet can withstand before catastrophic climate events drastically alter our way of living, really our ability to live, on Earth. McKibbens notes that initial conjectures of what would happen as the global temperature rose proved to be far too conservative. At the current level of temperature increase, .8 degrees Celsius, extreme weather events and other changes associated with global warming have been much more dramatic than anticipated. McKibben's writes: "Thomas Lovejoy, once the World Bank's chief biodiversity adviser, puts it like this: 'If we're seeing what we're seeing today at 0.8 degrees Celsius, two degrees is simply too much.' ... At the Copenhagen summit, a spokesman for small island nations warned that many would not survive a two-degree rise: 'Some countries will flat-out disappear.'"

The second of McKibben's three numbers is 565 gigatons, the amount of additional carbon dioxide that can be put into the atmosphere before we exceed the 2 degree Celsius increase in temperature that is the currently proposed limit agreed upon by most nations. As McKibben explained, "Since we've increased the Earth's temperature by 0.8 degrees so far, we're currently less than halfway to the target. But, in fact, computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees, as previously released carbon continues to overheat the atmosphere. That means we're already three-quarters of the way to the two-degree target."

The third number is 2,795 gigatons. "This number is the scariest of all ..." wrote McKibben. "... 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. ... the key point is that this new number – 2,795 – is higher than 565. Five times higher."

And the mega-wealthy fossil fuel barons are hell-bent on drilling, mining and fracking every last cent they can from the planet, the consequences be damned.  If you haven't already read McKibben's article or the IPCC 2014 Report, I encourage to take a look.

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