In 2012 Rolling Stone magazine published an article by Bill McKibben that’s become famous. McKibben showed that when we burn through all known fossil fuel reserves in the world we will emit 2795 gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The problem is, to have a one in five chance of keeping global warming below 2° we can’t afford to burn more than 565 gigatons.
Since McKibbin’s article was published other estimates have been given. They vary due to things such as the odds they deem acceptable (for example the scientific journal Nature published an article in which they asked what the figures would be if we adopted a 50/50 probability of keeping warming below 2°); calculations as to how much of the known reserves will be profitable to extract; how we allow for other sources of emissions. But what they all have in common is the alarming reality that the amount of fossil fuels we can afford to burn is only a fraction of the fossil fuels we have available.
This is why we need a legislated solution. Fossil fuels are the cheapest form of energy to extract because they don’t factor in the cost to the environment. As long as they stay cheap companies will dig them out of the ground in order to make a profit.
I live in a city that has made its money off the back of coal mining. We are currently celebrating the first ever Hunter coal Festival. Put together by some of the local business Chambers and the coal industry we’ve been invited to celebrate the contribution coalmining makes to the Hunter economy. It seems to me about as sensible as celebrating the wondrous gifts of the tobacco industry to humankind and evidence enough that we shouldn’t look to industry to do anything other than oppose attempts to shift away from fossil fuels.
In December this year world leaders will meet in Paris to nut out an agreement on emission reductions from 2020 forward. The organisation I direct, A Just Cause, has launched an open letter to the Prime Minister, urging his government to go to the conference with ambitious goals, realistic plans to drive progress towards those goals, and a determination to see the systematic decarbonisation of our economy over the coming decades. If we take things seriously now we can see continued economic growth on a clean economy model. The longer we wait the more difficult that will become. If you’d like to sign the letter go to ajustcause.com.au/letter