The BBC recently published an article that goes together well with two of my earlier posts. Like my post on how many greenhouse gasses humanity can safely emit and my post on the (absent) long-term future of the fossil fuel industry, it highlights how preventing catastrophic climate change obliges humanity to keep a significant proportion of all available fossil fuels in the ground. The BBC piece cites an article in Nature which argues that we must leave 75% of the remaining fossil fuels untouched, if we are to avoid dangerous climate change.
What this highlights is how the world has two great stocks of carbon, between which humanity is generating an ever-increasing flow: (a) the stock of fossil fuels, containing carbon dioxide that hasn’t been in the atmosphere since the Eocene period 30 – 50 million years ago, and (b) the stock of carbon dioxide currently in the atmosphere, trapping ever-more energy from the sun. If we are to live in a world without massive disorder, displacement, and upheaval by the end of the century, we need to start closing the spigot from (a) to (b), even though it will mean leaving a lot of usable fuel underground.
That will take more restraint than humanity has been able to muster for any collective project so far.