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posted by janrinok on Thursday May 12, @11:15AM   Printer-friendly
from the don't-let-the-changes-get-you-down dept.

Why our continued use of fossil fuels is creating a financial time bomb:

We know roughly how much more carbon dioxide we can put into the atmosphere before we exceed our climate goals—limiting warming to 1.5° to 2° C above pre-industrial temperatures. From that, we can figure out how much more fossil fuel we can burn before we emit that much carbon dioxide. But when you compare those numbers with our known fossil fuel reserves, things get jaw-dropping.

To reach our climate goals, we'll need to leave a third of the oil, half of the natural gas, and nearly all the coal we're aware of sitting in the ground, unused.

Yet we have—and are still building—infrastructure that is predicated on burning far more than that: mines, oil and gas wells, refineries, and the distribution networks that get all those products to market; power plants, cars, trains, boats, and airplanes that use the fuels. If we're to reach our climate goals, some of those things will have to be intentionally shut down and left to sit idle before they can deliver a return on the money they cost to produce.

But it's not just physical capital that will cause problems if we decide to get serious about addressing climate change. We have workers who are trained to use all of the idled hardware, companies that treat the fuel reserves and hardware as an asset on their balance sheets, and various contracts that dictate that the reserves can be exploited.

Collectively, you can think of all of these things as assets—assets that, if we were to get serious about climate change, would see their value drop to zero. At that point, they'd be termed "stranded assets," and their stranding has the potential to unleash economic chaos on the world.

Do you agree with this arguably pessimistic assessment of the situation, and have we already run out of time to take the action necessary to avoid exceeding climate goals? Criticism is easy, but what solutions do you have to the problem?


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  • (Score: 5, Insightful) by Immerman on Thursday May 12, @02:05PM (2 children)

    by Immerman (3985) on Thursday May 12, @02:05PM (#1244392)

    The problem with that thinking is that global warming isn't going to bring the world to an end - it's "just" going to displace billions of people currently living in marginally habitable areas, while making weather far more volatile, agriculture far less reliable (and thus food far more expensive), and driving vast numbers of species to extinction that can't adapt fast enough.

    None of that is going to be more than a mild personal inconvenience to a billionaire - they're already paying hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars a day for their gourmet meals, and can just move to someplace that still has pleasant weather and no poor starving people rioting at their gates.

    Global warming will only suck for the 99% of people who care about how much things cost. Or the environmental consequences.

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  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday May 12, @08:30PM (1 child)

    by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday May 12, @08:30PM (#1244546) Homepage Journal

    NO, it won't bring the world to an end, but it will cause and is causing a mass extinction and if left unchecked will indeed destroy civilization.

    It won't be the first time a single species has caused a mass extinction, but that's no excuse to keep incinerating fossils.

    --
    Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
    • (Score: 4, Insightful) by Immerman on Thursday May 12, @08:55PM

      by Immerman (3985) on Thursday May 12, @08:55PM (#1244574)

      Absolutely.

      But none of that impacts the ability of billionaires to enjoy the fruits of their carbon-fueled wealth in their private fiefdoms.

      My point was only that there's a fundamental flaw in trying to judge whether there's a problem by whether billionaires admit there's a problem. History is full of examples of the "nobility" fueling their excesses with environmental devastation and the bodies of countless peasants. There's absolutely no reason to believe that's changed - and in fact you don't have to look far to find examples even today.