Page 20 - Respond 2016 Magazine
P. 20

why the new

       climate math is a

       declaration of war

       Some of the most influential thinkers about climate change have decided that the time for
       negotiation with fossil fuel companies is over.

       By Karl Mathiesen

       There is new climate math and it is the most irresistible yet. So   A year ago, Carbon Tracker Initiative looked at the same problem
       we’ve heard from two of the most eloquent voices for action on   as OCI and came to a different conclusion. Yes, they said, opening
       climate change: Bill McKibben and George Monbiot.    new coal mines was bonkers. But some new oil and gas fields
                                                            might be acceptable.
       Writing in response to a report released by US NGO Oil Change
       International (OCI), McKibben and Monbiot echoed OCI’s   There are several reasons why having larger amounts of carbon
       conclusion that no new coal mines or oil or gas wells can be   in working fields that we can safely put into the air doesn’t
       opened up, lest we exceed the carbon budget imposed on us by   automatically mean no new fields can be opened.
       atmospheric physics.
                                                            An example of this nuance is that there is so much coal out there
       In New Republic, McKibben had a characteristically elegant device   it dominates the measure, but how fast is it being dug up and
       to explain the findings. There are 942 gigatons of C02 stored in   extracted?
       working mines and fields.
                                                            This matters because the longer it takes, the less competitive coal
       But the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)   becomes against renewable energy sources and the more likely we
       says that we can’t exceed 800 gigatons to stand a decent chance   are to see coal mines closed before they are exhausted. This could
       of staying within 2C. That’s the upper limit set by the Paris climate   create some wriggle room.
                                                            Conversely, oil is going to be the most difficult fossil fuel to phase
       Thus, said McKibben, the earth’s response to climate change would   out because of the technological challenge of shifting planes,
       be henceforth governed by this inequation:           ships and trucks toward zero-carbon fuels.

       942>843                                              At the same time, oil and gas wells decline in productivity toward
                                                            the end of their lives sending their operating costs higher. This
       From this he concluded that no new extraction sites should be   means that old fields might be closed early and new fields might
       opened. To do so would be to fail the simplest of maths tests.  fill the demand more cheaply – even with the start up costs.

       OCI founder Stephen Kretzmann put it this way: “Continued   This leads to the conclusion that:
       expansion of the fossil fuel industry is now quite clearly and
       quantifiably climate denial.”                        942>843   > no new extraction

       A mathematician might write it like this:            Not necessarily anyway.
       942>843   > no new extraction                        The OCI report did take these dynamics into account, but it
                                                            critiques the “least-cost pathway”. Just because some new oil
       That symbol means ‘it logically follows’. But the logic is flawed.   drilling might cost less on paper, OCI argues, doesn’t make it the
       Critically, in reaching their final conclusion OCI made political and   appropriate approach in reality.
       social choices that bear examination.

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