a simple choice: the economy or the planet

From Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, Bill McKibben’s latest blunt assessment of where climate, fossil fuels and politics intersect:

We have five times as much oil and coal and gas on the books as climate scientists think is safe to burn. We’d have to keep 80 percent of those reserves locked away underground to avoid that fate. Before we knew those numbers, our fate had been likely. Now, barring some massive intervention, it seems certain.

Yes, this coal and gas and oil is still technically in the soil. But it’s already economically above ground – it’s figured into share prices, companies are borrowing money against it, nations are basing their budgets on the presumed returns from their patrimony. It explains why the big fossil-fuel companies have fought so hard to prevent the regulation of carbon dioxide – those reserves are their primary asset, the holding that gives their companies their value. It’s why they’ve worked so hard these past years to figure out how to unlock the oil in Canada’s tar sands, or how to drill miles beneath the sea, or how to frack the Appalachians.

So yeah. If we use one fifth of our available fossil fuel reserves we will blow the 2 degree temperature increase that is our bare minimum safety estimate, at which things will be pretty fucked, and beyond which things will be kinda catastrophically fucked.
And he points the finger at the fossil-fuel industry as those whose business model is killing the planet, and urges means to target them, and engage a carbon pricing system that will keep 4/5ths of remaining fossil fuels in the ground. Which is a big ask.
But hey, it seems a simple choice. We can choose a broken economy or the ecological system that allows life as we know it.
The economy, economic value, and money, are not real. The ecological system on which our lives depend is.

2 Responses to “a simple choice: the economy or the planet”

  1.   Jez
    August 5th, 2012 | 7:10 pm

    Ok but here’s the global political impasse:

    a) The US coal industry has enough income to buy enough US politicians that their special interests cannot be changed.
    b) China has seen the West take a carbon-powered path to industrialisation and wealth and makes a valid claim that the West has no right to stop China from doing.

    Neither government is going to change it’s position, both can point to the other and say it’s that guy’s problem.

    So how to break that impasse?

  2.   billy
    August 9th, 2012 | 1:59 pm

    War, of course.