Three hundred and fifty. Its a simple number. Its the atmosphere concentration of carbon dioxide the planet cannot surpass in terms of parts per million (ppm), before the polar ice caps melt. This would kick off a positive feedback loop of ever more warming as the sun’s rays are no longer reflected back into space, and the arctic warms even more releasing countless tonnes of stored methane in the permafrost according to the number’s originator Dr Hansen, then of NASA. 1
The number we are at is 405 now. 2
If you consider 10-30ppm as the number of continued fossil fuel emissions to build out renewable infrastructure, high speed rail lines and buses and to keep farm tractors running till we can figure out how to feed and move six billion people without using carbon intensive methods, we are effectively sitting at a current level of 415-435 ppm on a transition adjusted basis (current level of 405 ppm + 10-30ppm to transition).
This is 19-24 percent above Dr Hansen’s maximum level and 53-61 percent above pre-industrial levels as things sit today. This also rather generously assumes everything to follow in this piece happened tomorrow, without another year wasted on effectively business as normal.
Add in say five years to even start on any of this, and a more gradual carbon free adjustment speed and the numbers start to look far worse. To think the planet could go any higher in terms of its carbon dioxide concentrations than the levels stated above and be okay in the end would be the equivalent of betting ones net worth on Bitcoin futures. Risky and highly unethical given the consequences of getting the bet wrong.
Even this stark assessment puts aside the enormous growth in methane emissions due to the fracking boom (heartily endorsed by Democrats it must be pointed out), and the poor state of our forests to absorb CO2 going forward, with huge deforestation in Brazil and Indonesia, and North American forests suffering from record forest fires. This is all means the option of longer time horizons for a transition (eg 80 percent cut by 2050) are no longer adequate.
This means simply not building new fossil fuel projects or even zeroing out all stock market capitalization of fossil fuel companies, or getting all banks everywhere to stop loaning to fossil fuel companies will not save the planet. As an aside many of the largest fossil fuel producers are state owned and do not borrow in regular commercial lending markets.
Most of the above have almost no private shareholders who could consider divesting in any event. Further to think small, privately owned oil companies will not produce in the Bakken of North Dakota and be shut out of all forms of local credit union, state level banks or private funding is delusional. It is to think slavery could and would end if only the New York banks of the era stopped funding it!
The only path towards saving our planet from climate change at this point, is for the equivalent of the retooling the American economy went thru from peacetime to wartime production in 1941-1944 to be applied to the goal of more or less immediate decarbonization of the entire economy.
This can only be done with an unequivocal political mandate a crisis exists, and a suspension of the free market to ensure all resources go towards the critical goal of decarbonizing the economy.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Divestment Can Not Save the Planet.’