Actually, that should read “Giga Ton Clock.”
As this new article in Rolling Stone makes painfully clear, the math is simple. If we restrict future CO2 emissions to less than 565 gigatons, we might – hopefully – restrict climate change to 2 degrees Celsius or less. That’s enough to flood entire countries out of existence, to devastate Africa with famine, and to cause untold amounts of lives lost and property damaged by out-of-control weather, but it just might keep the human species and the biosphere as we know it alive.
But fossil fuel companies have so far discovered fuel reserves that will emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon. And their balance sheets depend absolutely and completely on them getting that fuel out of the ground, burning it, and releasing that carbon. That’s five times more than the limit we need to stick to to keep ourselves around.
Back when the primary threat to life on earth was nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created a Doomsday Clock that showed how close we were to “midnight” – nuclear annihilation. These were atomic scientists, people (largely men) whose careers and livelihoods depended on using these technologies. When they spoke out about the problems their own expertise and industries were likely to create, people listened. And yeah, they’ve included climate change as one of the reasons they moved the clock hand in recent years, but that’s not their primary area of concentration.
More importantly, these numbers are just too simple not to communicate the message.
I will not believe that ExxonMobile, or Shell, or BP, or anyone else who has a stake in convincing us to deep-fry ourselves is actually concerned about the threat of global warming until they create a similar countdown. Because the clock’s ticking, and we’re running out of time to stop it.