Mckibben Crunches Numbers on Climate


Since the publication of his 1989 book ‘The end of Nature’ which was one of the first to address climate change for a general audience, Bill Mckibben has been a controversial figure amongst activists, mining magnates and media personalities. He is currently in Australia conducting his “Do the Maths” tour in which he discusses the hard truths regarding the climates current predicament and why he is willing to put his life on the line fighting the fossil fuel industry…

On Friday the 7th of June, I attended Bill Mckibben’s Melbourne leg of his international “Do the Maths” tour. With an introduction by Greens Senator Adam Bandt and questions moderated by academic Robert Manne, the legendary climate activist spoke to a sold out audience at the Athenaeum Theatre about the need to take up the fight against climate change.

Bill Mckibben is an American environmentalist, author and activist who is responsible for the publication of several well known and respected books on climate change including Eaarth, Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future and The end of Nature. In addition to this, Mckibben’s works have been published in the likes of The New York Times, Rolling Stone, National Geographic, and Adbusters. In 2008, Mckibben founded the grassroots campaign which was aimed at reducing the earths atmospheric carbon concentration to below 350 parts per millimetre, the number deemed safe by climate scientists such as NASA’s James Hanson. Recently, Mckibben has led the protest movement against the proposed US – Canadian Keystone XL oil pipeline and has even been arrested for the cause whilst leading a demonstration outside the Whitehouse.

Mckibben’s international “Do the Maths” tour is based on his groundbreaking article ‘Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math’ which was published by Rolling Stone on the 19th of July 2012. Essentially, the article is centered around three numbers. The first is 2 degrees Celsius. Despite the 2009 Copenhagen Accord being widely regarded as a failure, the international community agreed that an increase in global temperature must be kept below 2 degrees Celsius. The Accord stated that deep cuts in global emissions where required so as to meet this target.

The second number that Mckibben spoke about is 565 Gigatons. This is the amount of carbon dioxide that scientists estimate can be released into the atmosphere without exceeding the 2 degree limit. With global emissions projected to continue to rise by roughly 3 percent every year, we will reach the 565 ‘carbon budget’ within 16 years.

The third and most terrifying number outlined by Mckibben is 2,795 Gigatons which is the amount of carbon already contained in the coal, oil and gas reserves belonging to fossil fuel companies. Although, these reserves are technically still below the ground, Mckibben highlights that they are ‘economically above ground’ and are being factored into share prices. Fundamentally, the fossil fuel industry is planning on burning 2,795 Gigatons of carbon dioxide, over FIVE TIMES the amount deemed safe by the worlds leading climate scientists.

In light of those numbers, Mckibben urged the audience to act, stating that we have ‘won the argument but are loosing the fight’. Therefore, we must demand the immediate divestment from companies that are profiting from the fossil fuel industry. It is essential that renewable energy sources are made a competitive and viable alternative to finite resources such as coal gas and oil. As Mckibben highlighted, ‘we have the technology but lack the political will’. We need to put pressure on the political system via the use of civil disobedience and utilise the global network of climate activists to take up the fight against fossil fuel companies and their beneficiaries.

With Mckibben’s tour being held in capital cities across Australia in the coming weeks, I am hopeful that it will provide the push needed for increased action against the nation’s fossil fuel industry. In particular, we need to fight the proposed coal exports in QLD’s Galilee Basin which are set to double in within the next decade and will have devastating effects on the Great Barrier Reef which is regarded as an international treasure. Along with this, Coal Seam Gas (CSG) exploration in NSW and other parts of the nation needs to be faced with fierce opposition in order to prevent Australia from using up a significant portion of the worlds ‘carbon budget’.

Despite fighting an uphill battle, Mckibben’s final message was one of hope. Although we may well have passed the crucial tipping points of the earth’s climate, he takes inspiration from the millions of people across the world who are willing to stand up for the natural ecosystems upon which the earth’s diverse life forms depend. Aside from the frightening math outlined in Mckibben’s presentation, his resilience and enthusiasm was contagious and the audience was left with a renewed sense of passion and determination.

Upon reflection, I feel as though I am ready to step up and actively fight to keep the earths finite resources below the ground. It is not enough anymore to just sign petitions and change the light bulbs. We must all play a part in stopping global warming’s terrifying math’s becoming a reality.


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