n 2012, the writer and activist Bill McKibben published a heart-stopping essay in Rolling Stone titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” I’ve read hundreds of thousands of words about climate change over the last decade, but that essay haunts me the most.
The piece walks through a fairly straightforward bit of arithmetic that goes as follows. The scientific consensus is that human civilization cannot survive in any recognizable form a temperature increase this century more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit). Given that we’ve already warmed the earth about 0.8 degrees Celsius, that means we have 1.2 degrees left—and some of that warming is already in motion. Given the relationship between carbon emissions and global average temperatures, that means we can release about 565 gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere by mid-century. Total. That’s all we get to emit if we hope to keep inhabiting the planet in a manner that resembles current conditions.
Now here’s the terrifying part. The Carbon Tracker Initiative, a consortium of financial analysts and environmentalists, set out to tally the amount of carbon contained in the proven fossil fuel reserves of the world’s energy companies and major fossil fuel–producing countries. That is, the total amount of carbon we know is in the ground that we can, with present technology, extract, burn and put into the atmosphere. The number that the Carbon Tracker Initiative came up with is… 2,795 gigatons. Which means the total amount of known, proven extractable fossil fuel in the ground at this very moment is almost five times the amount we can safely burn.
Proceeding from this fact, McKibben leads us inexorably to the staggering conclusion that the work of the climate movement is to find a way to force the powers that be, from the government of Saudi Arabia to the board and shareholders of ExxonMobil, to leave 80 percent of the carbon they have claims on in the ground. That stuff you own, that property you’re counting on and pricing into your stocks? You can’t have it.
Federal and Alberta regulators have conditionally approved Royal Dutch Shell’s multibillion-dollar Jackpine oil-sands mine expansion despite their findings that it would have a number of adverse environmental impacts.
A joint review panel, appointed by the federal Environment Minister and the provincial energy regulator, ruled that the project’s effects on wildlife and vegetation will be significant, but that it is nonetheless in the public interest.
Last Saturday I had the privilege and blessing of walking with 500 others, led by Elders who stopped at key points to offer prayers for the healing of the land, for 8 and a half hours through part of the tarsands development, including alongside a highly toxic tailings pond around which canons are fired every few minutes in order to frighten birds away. Landing would mean – and has caused – instant death for birds.
That this expansion has been approved in the face of recognized significant environmental impacts is beyond comprehension. This is the boreal forest and part of the Athabasca watershed..home to rare wildfowl species and many others, home to First Nations people who have watched in horror as their means of livelihood is devastated and toxins enter their wetlands areas, watching as more and more of their people die from rare and unusual cancers..
Our rapacious and insatiable greed cannot continue, nor can our lack of willingness to give up accustomed comforts manufactured from oil-based products.
Last year, standing outside the White House protesting the Keystone pipeline, Robert Kennedy Jnr stated:
“we not only have the right, we have the duty to disobey the law to show our discontent”.
He is surely right.
Hope for the future survival of our own species as well as so many others lies in our willingness to refuse to obey the dictates and insanities of greed and power, it lies in our willingness to act with unbounded love for our planet, our families and all our relations, and in our determined refusal to give up our children’s and their children’s future to those who would destroy it.
The Final Countdown
There’s a sharp crack as another four-foot wave hits the shallow boulder/sand reef and rifles off down the line, little explosions of whitewater glistening in the morning sun every few meters as some lucky local tears the smooth wall to pieces. Standing over the action, its deep valleys and high ridges cloaked in a thick dark green forest, lies Mount Karioi.
This is the area known as Raglan, on the North Island of New Zealand’s west coast. The skies are clear and blue, the air so fresh it lifts me up with each breath. The sun, the waves, the bush-clad mountain behind me, the scent of the forest gently drifting down on the offshore breeze, at this moment I feel like there is nowhere else in the world I’d rather be.
Looking out to sea, waiting for the next set, a deep sense of calm settles over the lineup. As we watch the horizon, we notice some dark figures heading around the point in a lazy manner, appearing and disappearing, in rhythm with the long ocean swells marching towards the coast in perfect unison.
These are the popoto, or Maui’s dolphin, that call this area home. Known for their inquisitive nature and playful disposition, they bring a smile to all who see them glide by. I feel a touch of jealousy as I imagine what it would be like to ride a swell with even half the grace or fluid motion that these beautiful creatures of the sea possess.
a comparison with the U.S. shows Alberta had the largest overall increase, while Texas had the largest drop in emissions and the New York area the second largest.
No end to our insanity in sight? What, after all, could possibly go wrong?