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"Global Warming's Terrifying New Math" Gets Half a Million Views… My Thoughts

16 years to change course and avoid six degrees Celsius of warming (or almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit), “which would create a planet straight out of science fiction,” as Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist, notes.

Global warming concept image via Shutterstock

Bill McKibben’s rockin’ Rolling Stone article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” has gotten a stunning half-million views or so. If you take a look at the social media buttons on the top of the post, you can see the post took off.

“Despite the fact that it was 6,000 words long and pretty technical, it has been shared almost 100,000 times —which is more than 10x as many as the interview they did with President Obama the month before,” McKibben noted in a recent email.

To me, this is a clear sign that people are aware the world is warming to a concerning degree and are passionate about the issue. Whether it’s enough or not is another story….

“Clearly the piece struck a nerve—probably because its timing coincided with the heat and drought and fire that have so unnerved the nation this summer,” McKibben added. True.

Of course, this piece also opened up the issue to a lot more people who don’t follow it, which is great news. We actually got at least one new reader due to his googling after reading the Rolling Stone piece. Before getting to my responses to his comments and questions, here’s an important not from McKibben:

I’ve been working on something I wanted to let you know a bit about, and hopefully have your help in seeing through.

Starting the day after the election, I’d like to go after the fossil fuel industry even more directly, trying—as the Rolling Stone piece suggests—to spark a movement like the ones that overturned the great immoral institutions of the past century, such as Apartheid in South Africa. On November 7th, 350.org board member Naomi Klein and I are planning to launch a road show that will cover 20 cities in just over 20 nights (we’re going to break for Thanksgiving) to bring the message I laid out in Rolling Stone to thousands of people across America.

We’ll have a revolving cast of musicians and great speakers, to make it an inspirational and exciting event. We’re in the process of confirming venues now – but we’re going to need your help to promote these events in your community, and help turn these ideas into a powerful campaign. If you can help us book a large venue, know of great musicians that might want to participate, or can lend a hand with the creative work that this will surely require, click here to let us know how you’d like to help out: act.350.org/survey/tour-help/.

Now, from our new reader, Jeffry S Abrams:

… I’ve been concerned for some time but, for whatever reason, paralyzed from action. It may be because I don’t know where to begin. I don’t feel I can wait any longer but want to figure out how to get my most bang for the buck, so to speak. I was very impressed with your site so I thought I would reach out to you for some advice. In addition to greening my own life, what do you think would be the single best place to use my efforts in the global warning arena? The article says the simple answer is to keep the carbon in the ground by taxing carbon emissions and other efforts to make alternative energy sources more economically viable than carbon energy sources. It seems like the only way to even come close to accomplishing something like this is to create some kind of paradigm shift in society. Do you know of any organizations that are working on such a macro scale? Any suggestions you might have will be greatly appreciated. I want and need to get unparalyzed.

Thanks you for your time and consideration

Some good comments, and some tough questions…. Here’s my response:

… Your questions are hard ones. As indicated, we’re basically approaching the edge of the cliff with a lot of momentum behind us. On the personal level, i focus on solar (possibly biggest single action you can take, and is actually a great way to make money in many places now) and bicycling, mass transit, or EVs (especially great combined with solar :D). And, truthfully, setting an example is a very effective way to have a powerful effect on society. It really influences others, study after study shows.

But, in my “top 5 ingredients to a green life,” there is more… taking action. Our ‘democracy’ is practically broken bcs of our overall lack of public awareness and action. Getting involved politically is big. Especially at this time, when we’ve got such absurdity on one side of the aisle — the majority of Republicans claiming things about global warming that oil company CEOs won’t even say (e.g. that the world is not warming).

I think the best thing one can do societally right now is work to kick Republicans out of office. This has never been my focus before, but it is, quite simply, the first step of the journey.

Let me know if this triggers any other questions or thoughts.

Of course, I also think simple awareness-raising helps — like blogging and sharing top stories on critical matters on social networks. 😀

We’ve got a big challenge ahead of us. And a very short amount of time left. It goes way beyond the above. But we have to start there, I think. Let’s hope we can to it, and let’s get acting!

If you haven’t read the Rolling Stone piece, definitely check it out. Or, at least, this summary from our new reader:

“…basically it says that proven carbon reserves amount to 5 times the consensus amount of carbon that can be put into the atmosphere without overly harmful effect. The article says that we will reach the acceptable level in 16 years. It seems like the way things are going that there’s no likely way the world will make the changes necessary to prevent catastrophic change.”

Yep, that’s the situation today. Will we do ourselves in?

  1. Jeremy

    If we continue as we are now Bill states it will only take 16 years to fill the atmosphere with enough more CO2 to break the barrier. Is it realistic to think we have the time to avoid going past the tipping points?

    1. Greg Robie

      McKibben skillfully inferences what he is setting aside regarding the unfolding data and science to frame this essay with an open window, not a boarded over door (visible only in the rear view mirror of our hybrid cars driving us further into our comforting delusions; our insanity). And such is a perquisite in the failed meme; our paradigm lost. We do not know how to address squandered opportunities otherwise. Consequently, we can’t talk, even think (but most importantly, feel) about the future paradigm we have chosen–the Anthropocene–and what it means within the dynamics the human psyche and our social structures define. (And, in response to the question, we do not have 16 years. This is because the science supporting what consequences 2°C has been found to be too conservative by the incoming data.)

  2. Greg Robie

    We’ve a flash-frozen-in-its-collapse and failed economic paradigm. It is one that is systemically unsustainable and cannot be, in a statistically significant way, greened. A sustainable one requires a lot fewer people within a de-urbanized social construct–or the antithesis of what we’re doing to effect what is trusted to be economic growth. Bill Gate’s Equation is the framework for thinking and feeling rationally about our deluded condition and choices: CO2 = P x S x E x C, and this needs to approximate zero. With Arctic methane entering the atmosphere as a new natural source of greenhouse gases, and existing carbon sinks threatened by capitalism’s ‘growth’ paradigm, the need may be for anthropogenic carbon dioxide to go negative.

    Bill McKibben’s argument in this essay for a strategic divestment from fossil carbon companies, and scapegoating them as the enemy, platicates and panders to ongoing childish behavior–supports delusional thinking that is an example of motivated reasoning, and wastes–to the degree non-violence is valued–time that is not there to be wasted. With apartide and the divestment strategy mounted against it in South Africa, corporations were directly targeted to indirectly pressure the South African government to change its behaviors. The consumption and investment choices that compare to apartide within capitalism’s meme are yet felt to be a right. Such is a right for which there is legislated limited responsibility supporting their exercise. The indirect pressure to change these economic choices through the proposed divestment, and, which the Gate’s Equation identify as variables, are yet to be understood to be an equilivent moral evil of apartide by those of us benefitting–short-term–from their irresponsible exercise. Systemically (and statistically), there is no one to partner with within capitalism’s meme and liberate . . . yet.

    Peak conventional oil is peak credit. This is a truth that also makes a recovery of the failed economic paradigm, a delusion. The consequences of the unfolding climate change also prescribe the thaw of its flash-frozen collapse. The wishful thinking that justifies the argument that a greening of an unsustainable economic paradigm can feel possible is the religious equilivent of a tenant of faith for which no rationality exists. To the best of my knowledge, none of the economic assumptions upon which the greening of the flash-frozen-in-it’s-collapse paradigm are based factor in the threat of peak credit to the system (nor am I aware of these assumptions being updated to include the dynamics of the economic collapse).

    This criticism of the divestment strategy is not made without also providing an alternative. In the US we’ve the civic duty to protect and defend the Constitution. Some of us, in our employment, are even sworn to this. In spite of this we have these five systemic threats to the Constitution that are integral to the failed economic paradigm, inate to our social meme, and which honor requires concurrent redressing: http://home.roadrunner.com/~robie/opento/opento/VirtualTabling.html#1

    A choice to be dishonorable regarding our civic duty is a choice for being dragged into the next paradigm butt first while kicking and screaming like children. To walk into it maturely and non-violently demands the personal commitment and sacrifice that created this nation: “our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” And we can pay this now or later, but climate change will exact this price. The arc of the Universe is long and bends toward justice.

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