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If you found the old climate math somewhat scary, you will find the new climate math of 2016 horrifying. A new study just released, The Sky’s Limit, shows the need to keep carbon in the ground by “stopping all new fossil fuel infrastructure and industry expansion” immediately.

In July of 2012, Bill McKibben wrote about three numbers in Rolling Stone to focus the public’s attention on the “seriousness of our predicamment.” McKibben said that the three numbers — 2°C, 565 Gigatons and 2,795 Gigatons — “allow us to understand our precarious, our almost-but-not-quite-finally hopeless” situation.

This 2013 video provides the significance of the 2012 climate math.

Published on October 5, 2013
Standard YouTube Licence

The Old Climate Math – Numbers 2 / 565 / 2795

In 2012, 2°C of warming was acknowledged to be the line in the sand — how much the world said (in Copenhagen) would be safe to let the planet warm. In order to stay below that threshold, scientists were very clear about what needed to be done. To have a reasonable chance of staying below 2°C, the world could not emit more than 565 gigatons of CO2 — 5,650,000,000 tons — into the atmosphere.

However in just eleven more years we will pass that critical red line. But the really scary number is how much carbon the fossil fuel industry already has in its reserves. That number is 2,795 Gigatons, five times more the amount that will keep the planet at less that two degrees Celsius of warming.

“Once you know [those numbers]” said Bill McKibben in 2012, “then you understand the essence of this problem.”

The New Climate Math – Zero / 353

The 2016 climate math deals with how much more new digging and drilling of fossil fuels we can do. The answer is ZERO. Zero expansion! In his recent article in the New Republic, McKibben says:

If we’re serious about preventing catastrophic warming, the new study shows, we can’t dig any new coal mines, drill any new fields, build any more pipelines. Not a single one. We’re done expanding the fossil fuel frontier.

The new study released by Oil Change International (OCI) claims that fossil fuel expansion has reached the Sky’s Limit:

The embedded carbon emissions from the oil, gas, and coal in currently operating fields and mines…where the wells are already drilled, the pits dug, and the pipelines, processing facilities, railways, and export terminals constructed….if they run to the end of their projected lifetimes, will take us just beyond the Paris Agreement’s 2°C warming limit, and even further from the goal of 1.5°C.

Once an extraction operation is underway, it creates an incentive to continue so as to recoup investment and create profit, ensuring the product – the fossil fuels – are extracted and burned. These incentives are powerful, and the industry will do whatever it takes to protect their investments and keep drilling,” he said. “This is how carbon gets “locked-in

If we dig out the reserves in coal mines and oil fields currently in operation, we will pass 2°C. Remember the Paris Agreement and the aspirational goal of stopping global temperature rise to 1.5°C? Well, new estimates  by scientists tell us that to have a 50-50 chance of reaching that Paris goal we can only pour another 353 Gigatons of carbon into the atmosphere.

Stephen Kretzmann is the executive director for OCI. “Living up to the Paris Agreement means we must start a managed decline in the fossil fuel industry immediately — and manage that decline as quickly as possible,” says Kretzmann.

Managed Decline

“Managed decline” means we don’t have to grind everything to a halt tomorrow; we can keep extracting fuel from existing oil wells and gas fields and coal mines. But we can’t go explore for new ones. We can’t even develop the ones we already know about, the ones right next to our current projects.

If society is serious about the Paris Agreement and saving our world, then it must get serious about taking drastic steps now. The continued expansion of fossil fuel extraction is actually and truly “climate denial”.

Two basic strategies are required to avoid catastrophic climate change. Firstly, we need to stop any further expansion of fossil fuels. And secondly, we must start scaling back immediately.

1. #KeepItInTheGround

Investment projections in new extraction sites and infrastructure over the next two decades add up to a mind-blowing US$14 trillion according to the OIC report.

Keeping fossil fuels in the ground is the only way to stop global warming and ensure a future for our children and grandchildren. It’s simple. It’s the crucial first step. This means no new drilling leases, no more exploration, no new pipelines and no new processing facilities. None!

It's Time To Redo the Climate Math, boomer warrior

2. The Scale-Back

The scaling back of current operations must begin now. We must close coal-fired plants and coal mines. We must cap Tar Sands production. We must reduce the number of fracking installations. We must end fossil fuel subsidies. We must freeze all planned infrastructure projects.

The scale-back, supported by massive investment in renewable technology, will ignite a clean energy revolution greater in scope than the industrial revolution of the last two centuries. We stand on the threshold. And by managing the decline effectively, we can replace oil, gas, and coal quickly enough to continue to meet both our energy needs and our environmental goals. “We can do so in a way that protects workers, communities and the climate,” says Greg Muttitt (author of The Sky’s Limit Report).

The new climate math is clear as a bell. Thinking that we can continue to support fossil fuels and somehow escape the reality of climate change is flawed reasoning.

We are in a deep hole. And when you find yourself in a hole, you need to just stop digging.


climate ironyRolly Montpellier is the Founder and Managing Editor of BoomerWarrior.Org. He’s a Climate Activist and a blogger. He’s a member of 350.Org (Ottawa), Climate Reality Canada and Citizens’ Climate Lobby (Ottawa). Rolly has been published widely in both print and online publications. You can follow him on FacebookTwitterLinkedin and Pinterest.

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  1. Yeah good stuff Rolly. I like your list of musts. But you know the only way that will happen is by the will of the people, the government and big business will not accomplish this with legislation alone. WE must act first to change OUR lives and we do that by participating as little as we can in the free enterprise system of economics. The government and big business will change when WE the people change. The government and big business are only a reflection of our wants and desires. When those change, WE will change. WE must convert our modus operandi of self-interest and competition to community interest and cooperation. If we don’t we’ll suffer a long and painful extinction. There it is. Kwakwa, Kwakwa

    • I’m not so sure that “big business and government will change when we the people change.” Big business and government both shape and manipulate what we ask for through glib commercial marketing and smooth political rhetoric and doublespeak.

      They both attempt to make us want what they are prepared to deliver on. So I think one can flip that argument around Danny. Our wants and desires are those government and big business want them to be.

      We are stuck in a downward spiral of capitalism and a chronic economic growth mindset.

  2. I don’t think that Justin Trudeau is on the track of producing zero emissions, or even staying with the status quo of oil production and other fossil fuels. Just today, it hit world wide news that two new gas fields are to be opened up in Prince Rupert, British Colombia with the intention of supplying export gas to Asia. Canada seems determined to grow its fossil fuel business despite all its promises to Green.

    • The world has committed to the Paris Agreement with emissions reduction targets for 2030. And yet world leaders continue to approve emissions-producing projects. Approving the LNG in British Columbia is simply put, “climate denial”. You just can’t get to lower emissions by increasing the flow of fossil fuels. It’s the very definition of insanity.

  3. Boomer, yes, yes & yes to your proposals but I know it won’t get done.
    We cannot change our individual lives enough to make the changes that are needed.

    What would you replace your car with if there is no other transportation?
    Not everyone is able to walk for miles in all weather.
    What will replace the FOOD that’s imported to your city by a fossil fueled powered TRUCK?
    Don’t expect a solar powered or battery powered truck to exist either, they won’t.
    How will you get WATER when the pumps stop working for lack of FUEL?
    What about HEALTH CARE?
    Ever take a close look at how much ENERGY is used in a hospital or clinic?
    Look at all the PLASTIC used in medicine!
    Even our drugs are often made with FOSSIL RESOURCES.
    All manufacturing is dependent upon fossil fuels for energy, you cannot make stainless steel without OIL or COAL & NICKLE which is getting scarce.
    Our now low grade ores use HUGE fossil fuel powered machines to mine them, we could never mine enough by hand to meet our needs & we couldn’t smelt the metal from the ores even if we could dig it up & drag it to the smelter.

    Our current agricultural system is TOTALLY dependent upon fossil resources from fertilizers, seeds to shops, cut out fossil fuels & ALL that ENDS.
    We are in an unfixable DEADLY MESS!

    Cutting out fossil resources to save what is left of our planet would doom most of us to death by starvation, disease & of course WARS as people fight to survive any way they can.

    No government will do what needs to be done, they too don’t want to be the subject of a “necktie party” or get burned at the stake, that’s why we are DOOMED.

    I wish we could “stop digging” that is what we MUST DO if any of us & other living things are to survive.

  4. Well the thing to stop Sheila is ‘us’ and not just digging. Simply put, all those things you mentioned that we can’t do without oil we could do with oil IF we gave up many other things we don’t need, like trips to Jamaica, 3 TV’s in a house, 3 cars in a house, 120 pairs of shoes for a family of five–you get it. Yeah see IF we decided we can’t live the way we do anymore, that we have to lean to live with minimal comforts and material pleasures, THEN we might have a half-ass chance to survive our mistakes.

    Maybe we don’t really need stainless steel. Maybe we could do agriculture different, like grow a danged garden our freak’n self. Maybe we can do transportation differently, maybe work and maintain life locally only, how ’bout catching some water off your roof, how ’bout trying to live outside of this destructive system. The system us Sheila, you and me, we are the problem. We created this system by living within it and gave no regard to its consequences cuz we wanted what we wanted. You and me, we did that, not the government, not corporations, they just followed our lead and took advantage of our desires for more.

    You are thinking we can’t live any other way than what we do now, but we can. It’s called evolution, we gotta make it happen, we gotta evolve or we are dead. I realize this effort will very likely never happen and because WE won’t do it then it will do us…in.

  5. We could run a house hold on 12 volt systems. Give up air conditioning, jet planes, eating out, and being so damn busy all the time. I live fifteen miles from town …fifteen minutes. It would not hurt at all driving a light weight electric carriage to town with a top speed of thirty mph. God knows our medical system needs distroyed and reimagined…hell the whole economy does! We could start by cutting out deductions for dependents. Stop subsidizing all corporations. Bring home all our military. And I really want to cancel “dancing with the Stars” please. You are right it will not be done, but we could.

  6. There is no subject (except perhaps for the US election) that invokes more ire than climate change. We know the problems and we know that we must all be prepared to change the way we do everything to find solutions to our over consumption. Trouble is we can’t seem to agree on who should do what, where, and when. It has been many decades to just get the loosely wrapped Paris agreement and not every country has ratified it yet. We are running out of time folks. We are like ‘Lemmings’ running toward the precipice and yet we just keep running along with little thought to the death that awaits us unless we stop and think things through. I, for one, am afraid of our future!

    • So am I Boomer, so am I. When you look at the immensity of our problem, 7.5 BILLION HUMANS, then look at all the “trigger points” we have already passed, the current state of our increasing global temperature, melting glaciers, ice caps & rising, warming oceans that are also acidifying, wide spread pollution of air, water, soil & food, human overpopulation on a global scale, rising extinction rate, add all that up, and the problems I think, has become insurmountable, we no longer have enough time or resources left & have too large an expanding overpopulation to avoid collapse whether by heat or by sheer mass.
      Most people haven’t a clue, others believe it’s a “liberal hoax” or “scam”, but I have been watching the climate change, spreading human sprawl & destruction of land, polluted water & dirty air & wildlife moving north for decades.
      Too many people are glued to their tee vee or computer games, they believe that the “environment” is something “environmentalists” have “locked up” so we can’t “use it” as though every bit of our planet belonged to us alone.
      People actually believe we can find substitutes for anything we might run short of but if you ask them what they would substitute for clean water, they have no answer.
      They have no idea how their very survival depends upon temporary resources that are in decline, our rulers can only keep them distracted from the growing dangers of overpopulation + climate change + decline of oil for so long.

      How can any number of countries cope with the billions of climate & economic refugees that will be migrating seeking a better life or just a chance to live?
      Just the thought of such a “future” gives me nightmares!

      As for the US “elections” pay no attention to them, there all just a big noisy, flashy, expensive show, the real “vote” goes on behind the “curtains”.
      I’m certain that Hillery will be “selected” by the electoral “collage”, “Rump” like Sen.Sanders, never had a chance.
      If your going to have an “election”, even if the “winners” have already been “selected”, you have to have “candidates” other than the “winner” to entertain the potential voters so they will prove their faith in the system by trying to vote in our rigged election system.

      So far, so good, FOR THEM, but some of the “sheeple” are getting restless.
      Millions of them are vets.
      They were trained to kill.
      Most have guns.

  7. There’s lots that has been overlooked. Bill is put forward as some kind of prophet on all this and he’s been an hour late and a dollar short almost the whole time he’s been talking. For some reason people will listen to, and ascribe credibility to, Bill while others have had the right tune for quite some time and no one seems to notice – for example – Derrick Jensen (, Donnela & Dennis Meadows – Limits to Growth (original – pdf :, and a categoric calculation of the “new” math – LAST YEAR by David Spratt in Australian circles, no less) available @ For those of us who do this for a living it’s a little surreal and very frustrating to watch the awareness time warp continue to move at t-1to 5 years and counting. It’s almost like the Improbability Drive in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy…

    • Sorry for my late response to these comments John.

      And you’re right. McKibben is getting the coverage for ideas that have been raised before. But I don’t have an issue with that. These ideas are worthy of making the headlines again. “Limits to Growth” and “This Changes Everything” both clearly highlight the real causes of global warming and climate change. And yet the focus is all on the Paris Agreement and the reduction of emissions to reach 2030 targets that are shamefully inappropriate. Reaching those targets (which is highly unlikely) will still produce warming of 3-4C.

      Global reaction to the global warming challenge is far too slow to keep up to the accelerating rate of warming. The gap is getting wider. It’s something like the gap between the rich and the poor.

    • John, many thanks for ‘The End Game’ and ‘Limits to Growth’ links.

      In a world where the warming trends are dangerously obvious but the governmental response to mitigate, reduce and replace fossil fuels is less than adequate, do you have any suggestions on how we get people to understand the danger that they are facing. Because of poor governmental response, I don’t think the average person is particularly aware of how things might change or how quickly it is coming.

  8. Sheila paints a terribly bleak picture of corruption and gun violence in the US. It is no coincidence that part of the climate change situation is brought on by an increasingly violent and selfish population who are unwilling to face the fact that climate change is neither completely natural (and therefore nothing can be done about it), nor someone else’s problem.

    Our current trend (worldwide) political trends towards nationalism are perhaps the most interesting phenomena that indicate our ineptitude to cope with climate change and extinction of species. We have somehow garnered the attitude of nimbyism (Not in my Back Yard) to tackling deep rooted problems associated with over population and hence resource management (Aka hoarding the few resources we have for our own ethnic group within our own national borders).

    Whether ‘nationalism’ will create pockets of action to mitigate global warming trends, or actually further destroy any meaningful plan to create sustainability, remains to be seen, but I cannot help but see us as no better than our primate friends. When chimpanzees are threatened, they form individual bands and face off with each other. They raise fists and bare teeth and run fake charges at each other. This behaviour is remarkably similar to our human behaviour (especially from political elites) and it really does beg the question about who can rise above this bickering to pull us into some sort of ‘intelligent’ cohesive plan to use new tools to solve the situation. We need a leap of human evolution!


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