Bill McKibben - Doing the Math on Global Warming

Bill McKibben has been a long time global warming activist, and he's one of the founders of He also wrote an article in the Rolling Stones about doing the math on global warming ( that was more popular than an article on Beiber in the same issue of Rolling Stones. He went on tour giving talks around the country on these issues, and one of his stops was across the street from my apartment.

The talk was very motivational. It's often harder for me to get excited about environmental issues than issues of social justice or poverty because I feel like global warming will affect people with power, so there will be massive mobilization to stop it.

McKibben's talk focuses on the numbers behind global warming science, and they're scary. Pretty much everyone, including the US and China, agrees that a two degree Celsius rise in temperatures would be very bad. NASA has said that two degrees would lead to some countries disappearing under water and large parts of Africa being drought stricken. So far, we have already raised temperatures by one degree.

If we put 565 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere, we have an 80% chance of staying below 2 degrees. We put 31 gigatons into the atmosphere last year, and that number is growing by about 3% per year, so we have about 16 years before we exhaust our 565 gigatons.

Right now, coal, oil, and gas companies have 2795 gigatons in their reserves. That's what they have access to already, and it's 5 times more than would cause catastrophic global warming, but they're still searching for more coal, oil, and gas (even though the CEO of Exxon, for instance, admitted recently that he believes that global warming is real).

That is to say, the talk made me feel a lot more of the urgency behind the environmental movement.