Three terrifying numbers we all need to know to understand what’s really at stake if we continue to burn fossils fuels.These three numbers were originally published by the American environmentalist, Bill McKibben in Rolling Stone in 2012.
They were the same three shock numbers adopted by the Guardian’s Keep it in the Ground campaign . They are also the three numbers that anyone can say to easily explain the state of the world’s climate science and humanity’s need to switch to renewable energy . Yesterday, I recounted them to a teenager and my husband to a bunch of Oxford physicists - for both audiences they went down a treat. Here they are for you to recount:
First Number: 2° Celsius - so far our fossil fuel habit has raised the average temperature of the planet by 0.8 degrees Celsius, and that has caused far moredamage than most scientists expected, so 2 degrees Celsius is too much.
Second Number: 565 Gigatons – the amount ofcarbon dioxide humans can emit into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some ‘reasonable’ hope of staying below two degrees.
Third Number: 2,795 Gigatons - the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves, and five times more than the safe amount to contain warming to 2C.
Now those who previously shunned or at least sssshed the climate change facts because of their vested interest in fossil fuel extraction or fossil fuel financing are now repeating these same terrifying numbers . We cannot burn all the oil and gas reserves that have been located. And now even BP’s chief economist Spencer Dale (formerly at the Bank of England) is bolding echoingthis. This week BP has declared, through Spencer Dale’s words, “oil is not likely to be exhausted”.
Vast amounts of the Middle East’s oil; over 90% of US and Australian coal; almost all Canadian tar sands ; and many other fossil fuel reserves in China and elsewhere must be left in the ground to prevent dangerous climate change.
Currently, the world is heading for a catastrophic 5C of warming. However, two immediate actions could steer us off this climate catastrophe : a global climate deal at this year’s crucial UN summit in Paris; and burning no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Adhering to these two actions could spare Earth from warming beyond 2C and untold planetary destruction.
Listen to the climate scientists, and now even the oil companies, and the economists : “Keep the oil in the soil, and the coal in the hole”!
Dale said the rise of shale oil in the US, along with climate change concerns, meant a “new economics of oil” was needed. “Importantly, it suggests that there is no longer a strong reason to expect the relative price of oil to increase over time,” he said. The low oil price over the last year has led to billions of dollars of investment being cancelled. “As BP now recognises, there is a substantial risk in the system of ‘peak [oil] demand’,” said Anthony Hobley CEO of CTI. “This arises from a perfect storm of factors including ever cheaper clean energy, ever more efficient use of energy, rising fossil fuel costs and climate policy. These are key factors the industry has repeatedly underestimated.””