The great carbon bubble

February 14, 2012

If there is any single person worth listening to on the issue of climate change, it’s Bill McKibben. He’s the global canary in the coal mine, sending out ominous warnings that unfortunately fall mostly on deaf ears. He’s been at this for decades, and his messages, which are backed up by the latest climate science and corroborated by the events unfolding in front of  our eyes, are getting louder, clearer, and more urgent. Still the changes made in response to this looming crisis are insignificant, inconsistent, and do not approach the scale of the changes that are required in order to avert catastrophe. In his latest article, the Great Carbon Bubble, McKibben explains why.

Part of it is simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

Still, they could theoretically invest all that cash in new clean technology or research and development for the same. As it happens, though, they’ve got a deeper problem, one that’s become clear only in the last few years. Put briefly:their value is largely based on fossil-fuel reserves that won’t be burned if we ever take global warming seriously.

And their value is staggering. As McKibben notes:

ExxonMobil last week reported its 2011 profits at $41 billion, the second highest of all time. Do you wonder who owns the record? That would be ExxonMobil in 2008 at $45 billion.

The conflict between, on the hand, the physics and chemistry of human survival and, on the other, the profits of ExxonMobil is as clear and important as anything else in the world today. It is something that people need to take seriously, immediately.  

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