Planet on Fire

High Park Fire

I just finished Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math by Bill McKibben in the Rolling Stone. It begins:

If the pictures of those towering wildfires in Colorado haven’t convinced you, or the size of your AC bill this summer, here are some hard numbers about climate change: June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States. That followed the warmest May on record for the Northern Hemisphere – the 327th consecutive month in which the temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th-century average, the odds of which occurring by simple chance were 3.7 x 10-99, a number considerably larger than the number of stars in the universe.

Meteorologists reported that this spring was the warmest ever recorded for our nation – in fact, it crushed the old record by so much that it represented the “largest temperature departure from average of any season on record.” The same week, Saudi authorities reported that it had rained in Mecca despite a temperature of 109 degrees, the hottest downpour in the planet’s history.

…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.

So Climate Change Deniers, in case you missed that, the chance that our hellish weather pattern is the result of chance is statistically ZERO. It’s time to stop arguing about whether or not climate change is a reality and to start working as frantically as Bruce Willis at the end of an action flick to avert our destruction. This is due to some very stark math:

  • 2 degrees Celsius – the amount nations agreed to in Copenhagen as the maximum rise our biosphere could tolerate and still (maybe) maintain civilization as we know it. We’re at 0.8 C increase right now and computer models calculate that even if we stopped increasing CO2 now, the temperature would likely still rise another 0.8 degrees … and 2 degrees C might actually even be too high.
  • 565 Gigatons of carbon – how much can be burned before we hit that 2 degree number – 16 years is how long it will take at the current rate.
  • 2,795 Gigatons of carbon – how much is already on the books of energy companies, enough to raise temps 11 degrees Fahrenheit and create a planet straight out of science fiction. Energy companies are already treating that as extracted, borrowing money and setting value and it’sFIVE times what’s necessary to destroy our way of life.

McKibben continues with a look at what strategies have failed and what might possibly work. It’s clear that to have any chance, we must treat this issue as the single greatest threat to our society we’ve ever faced … because it is.

The photo is High Park Fire by The National Guard. See more in their 2012 Wildfire Response slideshow.

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