Global Warming Math

Read all of this long piece from Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone.

Short version: there are four numbers that count in the global warming debate. 2, 565, 2,795 and 27.

Two degrees celsius is the maximum warming experts agree we can handle without calamity. 565 gigatons is the most we can still put into the atmosphere and have any chance of staying below 2 degrees warming. 2,795 gigatons is the amount of carbon locked up in the known and exploitable reserves of oil, gas and coal owned by energy companies and petro-states – five times higher an amount than it is even close to safe to release. $27 trillion is the current worth of those reserves, 80% of which value must stay below ground if we want to survive but of course none of which those companies want to pass up and write off. Right there is the crux of the dystopic future we’re staring in the face.

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Steve Hynd

Most recently I was Editor in Chief of The Agonist from Feb 2012 to Feb 2013. My blogging began at Newshoggers and I’ve had the immense pleasure of working with some great writers there and around the web ever since, including at Crooks & Liars. I'm a late 40′s, Scottish ex-pat, now married to a wonderful Texan, with Honours in Philosophy from Univ. of Stirling, UK 1986. I worked most of life in business insurance industry (fire, accident, liability) including 12 years as a broker/underwriter/correspondent at Lloyd’s of London. Being from the other side of the pond, my political interests tend to focus on how US foreign policy affects the rest of the planet. Other interests include early and dark-ages British history, literature and cognitive philosophy/science.

3 CommentsLeave a comment

  • This graph via Climate Progress indicates that we are burning roughly 32 gigatons of CO2/year. Using that rate, we have 565 Gt / 32 Gt/year = 17.7 years. Considering the rate at which it’s rising, this is conservative. Assuming that it rises linearly at 10 Gt/decade, the math works out to about 14.5 years.

  • Apparently; too bad for the kids, though. But maybe their lives will be the first in generations to live realistically because denial is no longer possible. Silver lining? Maybe…

    Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them,and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows,or with both~FDouglas

  • One Chart Says It All: Why Oil’s New Supply Boom Is A Bust For The Climate

    Climate Progress, by Lorne Stockman, Steve Kretzmann & David Turnbull, October 26

    What if you knew that smoking that one last packet of cigarettes was going to give you cancer? Imagine if our understanding of cancer was so precise as to allow doctors to predict with virtual certainty that smoking that particular pack, which you just picked up at the corner store, would definitely be the last straw and cause you to contract life-threatening cancer? Obviously, you would not smoke that pack.


    In this case, we are looking at what the oil industry is building or is expected to build in the next eight years (110.6 million barrels per day of oil production capacity), and comparing it to what experts agree that our oil usage needs to be in just the next eight years if we are to avoid climate disaster (88.1 million barrels per day). In short, what this new analysis tells us is that the oil industry is in fact developing more than enough oil over the next 8 years to lock in climate chaos.


    The International Energy Agency produces annual energy demand forecasts using several scenarios. These scenarios include one that charts where current policies take us and another mapping where policies that would have a strong chance at constraining climate change to within 2 degrees would place energy demand.

    If we use the 2011 IEA scenarios as a benchmark, the difference between the oil production capacity that the industry is currently planning for 2020 and where oil demand must be to constrain climate change is a staggering 22.5 million barrels per day.

    Therefore, 79% of the oil production capacity being planned today for 2020 is over and above the safe level of global oil demand in that year.

    Perhaps even more worrying is the fact that the IEA Current Policies Scenario is in line with a rise in global temperatures of 6oC. This is commonly considered to herald an unlivable planet. Even under this disastrous scenario the industry’s current objectives represent an excess of 16 million b/d.

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