Numbers that leave us numb
Sobering numbers about climate change that make one Oregonian conclude, "If we fail to do the math, Nature will do the wrath."
"It would be immoral to leave young people a climate system spinning out of control.” -NASA Scientist James Hansen
The message was frightening. In November, we joined over 1000 people in Portland to hear Bill McKibben, the head of 350.org. It was the second stop on his 21 city "Do the Math" tour. And the numbers were sobering. In order to keep temperatures below 2 degrees centigrade, which barely keeps the planet livable, we cannot emit more than 565 gigatons of CO2 by 2050. But at our current rate, we will release that much in just 16 years. To make matters worse, the fossil fuel industry has identified 2,795 gigatons of reserves for use—or more than five times the amount we can afford to burn.
So what is there to do? McKibben pointed out "Corporations understand the logic of money." Modeled after the fight against apartheid in South Africa, he has begun a campaign to demand colleges, churches, and municipalities disinvest from fossil fuels. Unity College of Maine has already voted to get out of fossil fuels. So has Hampshire College of Massachusetts. And the Mayor of Seattle pledged to review their portfolio.
It was clear from the presentation we need to recommit ourselves to fighting global warming. The following quotes from McKibben were reminders of the importance of what we do and what needs to be done:
- On the urgency of taking action: "It's too late to stop global warming. We now need to prevent a calamity."
- On the morality of the fossil fuel industry: "It's wrong to make money from the wreckage of a planet."
- On the impact of what they're doing: “Cigarettes will kill us one by one. Fossil fuels will kill a whole planet.”
- On what needs to be done: "They're taking away our future. We need to take away their money and power."
- On how to win: "To fight them, we need passion, spirit and creativity."
- On the chances of winning: "It's David versus Goliath. And as a Sunday school teacher, I know that David won."
- On the importance of civil disobedience as a tactic: "Going to jail is not the end of the world. The end of the world is the end of the world."
- On our ultimate goal: "We're just asking for the type of world we were born into."
The message from Bill McKibben's presentation is clear. If we fail to do the math, Nature will do the wrath.
Stuart Liebowitz is a board member of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition. Forward on Climate, billed as the largest climate rally in history, will be taking place February 17. Learn more here.
image by flickr user Ed Kosmicki