Citizen Action Monitor

2 / 565 / 2795 – Why these three numbers are so terrifying — Bill McKibben explains – VIDEO

Hint – The first number is 2 for 2°C

No 1178 Posted by fw, November 1, 2014

Do the Math: The Science of Climate Change, by Bill McKibben, Better Future Project, June 25, 2013

The following 5:45-minute video clip is excerpted from’s Do the Math film, explaining the terrifying importance of the numbers 2 / 565 / 2795. My transcript appears below the video.



Our most important Climatologist, Jim Hansen, had his team at NASA do a study to figure out how much carbon in the atmosphere was too much. The paper they published may be the most important scientific paper of the millennium. The data said we now know enough to know how much was too much. Any value for carbon in the atmosphere greater than 350 parts per million is not compatible with the planet on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.

That’s pretty strong language for scientists to use. Stronger still if you know that outside today the atmosphere is 395 parts-per-million CO2*, and rising about two parts per million per year. [In May 2013, the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere passed 400 ppm — Source: NOAA Research]

Everything frozen on Earth is melting. The great ice sheet of the Arctic is reduced by more than half. The oceans are about 30 percent more acidic than they were thirty years ago because the chemistry of seawater changes as it absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. And because warm air holds more water vapor than cold, the atmosphere is about 5 percent wetter than it was four years ago. That’s an astonishingly large change.

Dr. James HansenThere’s more energy coming in and being absorbed by the earth than there is heat being radiated into space, which is exactly what we expected because as we add greenhouse gases to the atmosphere it traps heat. Now we can measure that and that’s the basis by which you can prove that the human-made impacts on atmospheric composition are the primary cause of the climate change that we’re observing.

So let’s get to work. Just do the math and we’re gonna do some math for a moment. Just 3 numbers okay. I wrote about them in a piece last summer for Rolling Stone*, a piece that went oddly viral. It was the issue with Justin Bieber on the cover, okay. But here’s the strange thing. The next day I got a call from the editor saying your piece has gotten ten times more likes on Facebook then Justin Bieber’s. [*Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, by Bill McKibben, Rolling Stone, July 19, 2012],

Some of that doubtless the result of my sort of soulful stare, you know. But mostly it’s because we managed to just kinda laid out this math in a very straightforward way that people needed to understand as we were going through what turned out to be the hottest year that American has ever experienced.

Before we get to those three numbers here’s where we are so far. We’ve burned enough coal and gas and oil to raise the temperature of the earth 1 degree. What has that done? There was a day last September when the headline in the paper was half the polar ice cap is missing – literally. I mean if Neil Armstrong were up on the moon today he would look down and see half as much area of ice in the Arctic. We’ve taken one of the largest physical features on Earth and we have broken it.

Shall we work through the numbers? There’re three and they’re easy. The first one’s 2 —  for 2°C. That’s how much the world has said it would be safe to let the planet warm. In political terms, it’s the only thing that anybody’s agreed to. Some of you may remember that climate summit in Copenhagen. There was only one number in the final two-page voluntary accord that people signed. Only one number in it — 2 degrees.

Every signatory pledged to make sure the temperature wouldn’t rise above that. The EU, Japan, Russia, China, countries that make their money selling oil, like the United Arab Emirates, — the most conservative recalcitrant reluctant countries on earth — even the United States. If the world officially believes anything about climate change, it’s 2°C is too much.

The second number scientists have calculated — how much carbon we could pour into the atmosphere and have a reasonable chance staying below two degrees  — they say about 565 more gigatons. A gigaton is a billion tons (565,000,000,000). That’s not a perfect chance. That’s worse odds than Russian roulette, you know.

It sounds like it should be a lot. It is a lot — 565 billion tons of CO2. The problem is we pour 30 billion tons a year, and now it goes up 3 percent a year. Do the math and it’s about fifteen years before we go past that threshold. So that’s sobering news.

redflag 2But the scary number is the third number. The third number was the important one, and a new one. It came from a team of financial analysts in the United Kingdom. And what they did was sit down with all the annual reports and SEC filings and things, and figure out how much carbon the world’s fossil fuel industry, how much they had already in their reserves. And that number turned out to be 2795 gigatons worth of carbon — 5 times as much as the most conservative governments on earth think would be safe to pour into the atmosphere.

That’s not even close. I mean it’s, you know, five times more. But once you know that number then you understand the essence of this problem.2 / 565 / 2795

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