2, 565, 2795

If there are three numbers in climate change you should know, they are 2, 565, and 2 795.

Let’s talk about math, baby.

In July 2012 climate stalwart Bill McKibben wrote an extremly popular article in Rolling Stone called ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’.

Basically, the international community has set a (slightly arbitrary) target of a 2’C rise in temperature by the end of the century. This is the first numer.

2’C was the limit set as it is seen to be the uppermost limit of warming under which most socities can continue to operate as they currently do. Anything above 2’C is seen as ‘catastrophic climate change’ and there is no gaurantee at all that our current society can survive that.

2’C has been agreed upon as the ‘safe’ limit for climate change. Current understanding puts us at about 0.8’C.


Why do I sound so cynical about the 2’C?

Because it’s too high.

It was chosen because it’s (in theory) a politically fesiable target, not because it actually means anything. At 2’C you can say goodbye to countries like Tuvaulu and Kirabati. At 2’C you can say goodbye to the Great Barrier Reef. At 2’c the Arctic will look less like a wild and beautifully desolate ice desert and more like a bit of coolish water with some ice cubes sadly floating in it.

The next number is 565 gigatonnes. Basically, to stay under that 2’C limit we can’t emit more than another 565 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. That’s fine, right?

We emit nor more than that 565 and then the inertia of the oceans will catch up (basically we’re not feeling the true impacts of cllimate change at the moment as they store heaps of carbon dioxide, but when they reach saturation point all of that will go into the atmosphere) and it will get crazy for a while but we might be okay.

Well, not really because (and this is where the ‘terrifying’ comes in) there is currently 2 795 gigatonnes on the books.

That is roughly five times the amount we have in our carbon budget, but it’s being traded and included in market anaylsis and market forecasts already.

This slide from Bill McKibben’s ‘Do the Math’ tour says it all really.

It’s written into multi billion dollar deals such as the mining of the Galliee Basin in Australia and the extraction of tar sands in the US.

Doesn’t sound great, does it? 

Lukily, there are thousands of dedicated, talented, optimistic and downright brilliant people working on this, notably through the global Fossil Free divestment campaign being run by 350.org. They are truly fantastic people.

Tomorrow, when the IPCC releases their fifth report on climate change we’ll see how it’s all going.

In the meantime, let’s play with the math. We need to diminish that 2 795 to 565 or, frankly, geography won’t be so awesome anymore and that would be terrible.