Understanding the Math Behind Global Warming

| 8/2/2012 12:32:06 PM

Air PollutionIt shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise that the weather that’s currently wreaking havoc on the planet tends to amp up the talk about global warming, as well as about what we are doing (or not doing) to battle climate change. Most of the time, global warming can seem too big to tackle, and it brings up a whole slew of discomfort and debate. It’s an amorphous, complicated issue that can’t be solved with a few easy equations.

But Bill McKibben, author, environmentalist, journalist and head of environmental organization 350.org, brings equations to the forefront of the climate conversation in a recent Rolling Stone article titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” 

He writes, “When we think about global warming at all, the arguments tend to be ideological, theological and economic. But to grasp the seriousness of our predicament, you just need to do a little math. For the past year, an easy and powerful bit of arithmetical analysis first published by financial analysts in the U.K. has been making the rounds of environmental conferences and journals, but it hasn’t yet broken through to the larger public.”

So, larger public, here is McKibben’s rundown of the three numbers to know and what they might mean for our planet’s future.

The first number is 2 degrees Celsius. At the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, the countries in attendance agreed to the “Copenhagen Accord,” which, according to the article, “ recognized ‘the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.’” So far, McKibben says, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet to nearly half of that allotted increase, to nearly 0.8 degrees Celsius. He calls the agreement upon 2 degrees “the bottomest of bottom lines,” saying that actually raising the global temperature to meet that target could be raising it to a dangerous level.

The second number is 565 Gigatons, which is the amount of carbon that scientists predict humans can release into the atmosphere while still staying below 2 degrees Celsius. And the final number is 2,795 Gigatons, which McKibben says is “the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries (think Venezuela or Kuwait) that act like fossil-fuel companies.”

David Mentz
8/21/2012 6:05:28 PM

1970's Lib Mantra: The planet is cooling we're all gonna freeze to death unless we immediately all throw ourselves into socialist bondage!!! 1990's Lib Mantra: The planet is warming we're all gonna drown/fry to death unless we immediately all throw ourselves into socialist bondage!!! Does anyone really need to ask why those who don't tote the partyline and actually think for themselves have SERIOUS reservations about the climate change myth??

8/14/2012 4:12:01 PM

Nice post, Amanda!

8/14/2012 4:11:35 PM

"There is absolutely no direct scientific, peer-reviewed evidence of man-made global warming." On the contrary, the ratio of direct scientific peer-reviewed papers supporting man-made global warming to those that don't is in excess of 99-1, according to another peer-reviewed scientific paper.

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