A Can of Worms: How Much of Our Resources Can We Use?

I haven’t been talking about recent news reports much lately – not because there haven’t been any, but just because most of them  are continuations of existing trends, like increased oil exploration in the Arctic, or the ferocious fire-season currently under way in Australia.

This one, however, opens a can of worms most people have been avoiding even mentioning. How much of the fossil fuels available to us should we, could we, use without committing future generations to far more global warming and climate change than we can handle? In essence, this report suggests that 80% of coal, 50% of oil and 30% of gas must be sequestered if warming is to be kept under 2 degrees centigrade. If we burn those reserves, then climate change will exceed 2 degrees – possibly by as much as 3 times.

6 degrees of climate change takes us into a nightmare future – it’s the worst-case scenario that Mark Lynas used when he published his excellent and influential book Six Degrees.

But can we restrain ourselves? Can countries limit their growth to ration our energy use? I’m not optimistic on this – largely because humans have never managed to do so before. It’s the Tragedy of the Commons all over again – if we don’t use that, someone else will, so we’d better use it quick before they do, even if there’s no more and even if it’s going to ruin the future for our children.

Do I think that the US will back off fracking? Or Canada will outlaw the exploitation of oil sands? Perhaps Saudi Arabia will voluntarily shut down their economy when there’s still 40% of their reserves left? Will China stop burning coal?

It’s unlikely. In my estimation, it’s up there with formation-flying pigs and the discovery of herds of unicorns.

So, where does that leave us? It means we have to reckon on there being a lot more than 2 degrees of climate change – possibly as much as 6. If that doesn’t scare you, try reading the summary of Mark Lynas’s research into climate change scenarios. It scares me, and I’m not likely to live long enough to see it all come to pass.

I’m going to have to have a careful think about how I alter my plans for the future in light of this report. I expected things to be bad, but I did hope it wouldn’t be as bad as this!


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