Dark times


in Economics, Geek stuff, Politics, Science, The environment

Bill McKibben on the state of the climate change mitigation movement:

“Since I wrote one of the first books for a general audience about global warming way back in 1989, and since I’ve spent the intervening decades working ineffectively to slow that warming, I can say with some confidence that we’re losing the fight, badly and quickly – losing it because, most of all, we remain in denial about the peril that human civilization is in.”

It’s pretty worrisome that some of the most articulate and convincing voices calling for action on climate change are now despairing about humanity’s ability to get things under control.

McKibben’s article talks about how risky warming the planet by even 2°C would be, going on to point out that we are on track to push temperatures up by more like 6°C by 2100. If we want to stay below 2°C, we can only burn about 1/5 of the world’s proven reserves of oil, gas, and coal. Those reserves are worth about $27 trillion, which explains why fossil fuel companies are so desperate to prevent effective action on climate change.

The fossil fuel companies and the politicians that support them are winning the fight over what kind of world will exist in the future, and humanity did more in 2011 to make the problem worse than in any previous year.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

. July 19, 2012 at 7:16 pm
Byron Smith July 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Most telling for me was that none of the three numbers McKibben picked for his article were 350…

Byron Smith July 20, 2012 at 12:44 pm

*were –> was

. July 20, 2012 at 7:36 pm

One of the most salient—but also, unfortunately, most counterintuitive—aspects of global warming is that it operates on what amounts to a time delay. Behind this summer’s heat are greenhouse gases emitted decades ago. Before many effects of today’s emissions are felt, it will be time for the Summer Olympics of 2048. (Scientists refer to this as the “commitment to warming.”) What’s at stake is where things go from there. It is quite possible that by the end of the century we could, without even really trying, engineer the return of the sort of climate that hasn’t been seen on earth since the Eocene, some fifty million years ago.


Milan July 22, 2012 at 9:16 pm


350 ppm may be the most sensible and ethical level for stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations, but judging by the way politicians and the general public continue to cheer every newly discovered oil or gas reserve, our chances of ending up anywhere close to that comparatively safe level are increasingly slim.

Byron Smith July 26, 2012 at 7:26 pm

I don’t doubt it, but it hasn’t stopped McKibben putting it front and centre in most of his public communications over the last few years. He’s built his personal brand and that his organisation on that figure, and then he writes what is arguably his highest profile piece to date which is all about three critical numbers and yet none of them is 350.

It makes me wonder if he was just branching out to avoid sounding like a broken record (though he’s strategy savvy enough to know that repetition, repetition, repetition is how to get a message across) or whether there are deeper strategy shifts at play.

Byron Smith July 26, 2012 at 7:41 pm

PS I assume you’re on 350.org’s mailing list and so saw what Bill said about the piece:

“Last week, Rolling Stone magazine published a piece of mine that I think may be the most important writing I’ve done since The End of Nature, way back in 1989.”

Milan July 27, 2012 at 8:09 am

I read McKibben’s recent article with particular interest.

George Monbiot is also feeling less than upbeat about the state of humanity and the climate.

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