Bill McKibben and 565 gigatons

Bill McKibben – journalist, author and environmental activist – is currently touring Australia and New Zealand with a very simple message: We can afford to emit no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide if we are to stay below 2°C of warming, but fossil fuel companies have enough fuel in their reserves to emit 2,795 gigatons and they plan to burn all of it.

The University of Oxford has produced a counter at trillionthtonne which counts the tonnes of carbon spewing into our atmosphere and the amount of time we’ve got left to do something about it, which is about 15 years if we want to keep warming below 2°C. The longer we linger and bicker, the more carbon there is and the less time we have and the more difficult our task becomes.

Bill McKibben is urging individuals, universities and other institutions to divest from their stock holdings in the fossil fuel industry. This was the same strategy used by the anti-apartheid movement in the 1970s and 1980s which encouraged divestment of companies that traded or had operations in South Africa.

So far 10 US cities have committed to fossil fuel divestment, including San Franciso, Seattle and Berkeley. The Uniting Church of Australia (NSW and  ACT Synod) recently voted to dump their fossil fuel shares along with growing movements in Universities the world over, including Australia’s ANU. Fossil fuel investments are beginning to look rather risky.  BHP Billiton Ltd. recently announced an end to new coal projects and has already closed two Australian coal mines, Norwich Park and Gregory. There is growing concern that fossil fuels are currently overvalued and that when this bubble bursts, it will plunge the world deep into economic crisis. A group of London-based financial analysts at the Carbon Tracker Initiative, have begun identifying the scale of unburnable carbon currently listed on stock exchanges around the world.

Bill McKibben penned an article for Rolling Stone magazine last year, Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math, in an issue with Justin Bieber gracing the cover. McKibben’s piece had 10 times as many likes on Facebook as Justin Bieber’s and the movement he founded, is gaining momentum the world over. Most of’s supporters are young, poor and brown because that describes the majority of the world’s population. These are also the people who will be most affected by climate change but who are the least culpable. Here are some of them (more at

Dhaka, Bangladesh
Cebu, Philippines
Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Mumbai, India

Bill McKibben argues that “If it is wrong to wreck the climate, then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage”. Is it acceptable for a restaurant to throw its rubbish out onto the street without cleaning it up? Of course not. Is it acceptable for fossil fuel companies to pollute the air without cleaning it up?

The Arctic could be ice-free as early as 2015. What will you tell the people of the future when they ask, “So the Arctic melted, then what did you do?”.

63 thoughts on “Bill McKibben and 565 gigatons

    1. 2015 might be aggressive, but would 2020 or 2030 be better? I think having an ice-free Arctic will be rather catastrophic no matter when it happens.

    1. OTOH you seem fairly deranged to me — but that’s a judgement from just a six word comment.

      Have you read Eaarth? That’s a few more words than just six.

      Opinions are like arseholes; we all have one — and they all stink.

      1. Thanks for your abusive reply, pednatry, it is much appreciated

        My concerns for McKibben’s mental health stem from his somewhat crazed eyes and his off the wall statements, like “one degree of warming would be castatrophic” as seen recently on ABC TV in Aus

        Of course, if McKibben actually believed his own propaganda, he would not be using an fossil fuels whatsoever. He wouldn’t fly by jet to NZ. He wouldn’t drive a car, he would use any steel products that are made using coal smelting (e.g TV refrigerator, computer, bicycle etc)
        He would get himself sterilised, and if he has any children, he would have them sterilised too

        He doesn’t do these things because he is a weapons grade sanctimonious eco-faschist, just like you are “padantry: and all the creeps that hover around blogs like this.

        As for arseholes, have you taken a look at yours recently? There may be mushrooms growing out of it.

        Have a nice day

      2. You’re most welcome, Adny.

        It is indeed interesting to note that your opinion of someone’s integrity and sanity is partly based upon physical appearance. I’m sure there must be a term for such misanthropy, but I can’t be bothered to look it up at present.

        While I do hold some sympathy with your accusation of hypocrisy towards Bill, I am also of the opinion that where those who, by virtue of their charisma and/or ability, can move matters forward, should do so; at the end of the day the activities of single individuals are pitifully trivial. The minimal extra costs incurred are worth it. Yours is the kind of strawman argument often cast where a reasoned argument cannot be found.

        I’ll treat the rest of your comment with the contempt that it deserves, while noting that you clearly missed the point about arseholes: I did say we all have one; and naturally that does include me. I can offer no mushrooms over here, however.

      3. McMibben was described by the ODT has a climate prophet. Says it all really, a religious leader for the post rational age.

    2. Andy, while I think it’s perfectly reasonable to disagree with someone else’s views, I think you’re on shaky ground when you start attacking the person, rather than his views.

      1. I am attacking the person’s views and the fact that he makes completely irrational and unsubstantiated statements on Australian TV that are completely unsupported by science. The fact that he has crazy eyes might also influence me, of course

      2. He said that “even one degree of warming would be catastrophic” for the world. There is no evidence for this. There is no evidence that even 2 degrees would be dangerous or catastrophic
        He also claimed that the statement that there has been “little or no warming” for the last decade and a half is “completely wrong”.

        Sorry, these statements are not supported by climate scientists or the IPCC

      3. James Hansen’s publications are available on his website –

        I had a quick look at his three recent papers and I found something interesting. From this paper, Human-made role in global warming (

        “We cannot reliably predict where the hot spots will occur next summer. However, regarding any place experiencing a +3σ, we can say with high confidence that it is a consequence of global warming. Independently, it has been concluded that the rapid warming of recent decades is primarily a result of increasing human-made greenhouse gases (4).”

      4. Thanks for the link. I read her article and then went and had a look at Hansen’s article and Judith Curry omitted quite a bit of it, including this:

        “We conclude that background global warming is continuing, consistent with the known planetary energy imbalance, even
        though it is likely that the slowdown in climate forcing growth rate contributed to the recent apparent
        standstill in global temperature.”

        Here he is in a very recent interview with the BBC saying, “It’s not true that the temperature has not changed in the last two decades”.

      5. It is not true that the temperature has not changed in the last 2 decades.

        It is amazing the lengths someone will go to to distort some facts. It is however true that the global mean surface temps have not changed to any significant degree for at least 17 years, depending on which temp series you chose.

        We can also say that there has been some warming over 20 years if we include the 3 years prior to 1998 .

        Hansen specifically says in his paper

        Global Warming Standstill. The 5-year running mean of global temperature has been flat for the past decade

    3. The word catastrophic is somewhat subjective. The Christchurch earthquake sequence was in my view, catastrophic but I think other people might use a different term.

      If sea level rises by more than a metre over the next century, then this will be catastrophic for the people who live less a metre above sea level.

      The deadly heatwave that has struck India would probably be described as catastrophic by those who knew the victims. Likewise the people whose homes have been flooded by flooding in Europe that is unprecedented since the Middle Ages probably also think it is catastrophic.

      Meteorologist Dr Jeff Masters says,
      “If it seems like getting two 1-in-100 to 1-in-500 year floods in eleven years is a bit suspicious–well, it is. Those recurrence intervals are based on weather statistics from Earth’s former climate. We are now in a new climate regime with more heat and moisture in the atmosphere, combined with altered jet stream patterns, which makes major flooding disasters more likely in certain parts of the world, like Central Europe. ”

      Are flooding disasters catastrophic? I think so, especially if thousands of people end up homeless.

      On the issue of no warming for the last decade, climate scientists do support Bill McKibben’s view. The best known climate scientist, James Hansen, says it has warmed in this recent article for the Guardian –

      My understanding is that 10 years is not a long enough time frame to be able to say that warming has stalled or declined because the error in the measurement is greater than the change itself. But the chance that it is positive is very high, in some cases, 97% high. There is a good explanation of this at

      1. That is strange because Hansen said there had been a pause in warming in his latest paper on temperatures (sorry I don’t have a link)
        He also admitted that no one knows why

      2. The other issue is that all the events you describe as “Catastrophic” have happened in the past.

        Therefore “catastrophic climate change” has always been with us, by your own definition

  1. “If you go into the Tundra today,
    You’re in for a big surprise,
    Today’s the day the Polar Bears have their picnics!”
    See Peacock et al 2013.
    Australia has recently seen the birth of its second polar bear in captivity.We’re adding to the world polar bear gene pool.Polar bears love the Gold Coast!

      1. I don’t understand how it’s good news that more polar bears are being seen more frequently near human populated areas or ‘at carrying capacity’ as that misguided article has it.

        When the natural habitat of a species is reduced, then the remaining animals will move (if they can) to areas that are less hostile. This will cause overcrowding in those areas.

        Tell you what, let’s just wait a few short years until the north polar ice has all gone. All the remaining polar bears will be scrunched into a tiny space. Wonderful news! So many bears in such a small space! Finally, let’s take a few of them and stuff them in a zoo. If they fuck each other and generate a few offspring, let’s throw a party to celebrate.

        Humans make me sick.

      2. Pendantry,

        I don’t know enough about polar bears to comment fully and to be honest, I didn’t particularly feel like debating with Doug because I don’t think I am capable of changing his mind at all. But healthy numbers of polar bears in one location is good news even if the overall outlook is bad and I agree with you that the overall outlook is probably bad news for polar bears.

        Perhaps I should have provided some links to the other side of the story. Here’s the view of chief scientist with Polar Bears International, Dr. Steven C. Amstrup,

        “Polar bears depend on the sea ice surface for catching their prey. A shorter duration of ice cover over their productive hunting areas means less opportunity to hunt. A reduction in sea ice has been statistically linked to reduced stature and weight in polar bears and to lower survival rates of cubs. So, it doesn’t really matter that hunting is now largely under control or that we know a lot about other impacts people might have on bears. Without habitat, polar bears will disappear no matter what else we do.”

        At the bottom of this link there’s another link to this page – – which provides some information about where the repeated myth that polar bears are doing well comes from.

      3. It is not a myth that Polar Bears are doing well. They are.
        The main reason is that humans are not hunting them so much.

      4. Yes, I think this is the reason polar bears numbers are relatively high in places where humans live. The myth is that there were 5000 polar bears in the 1960s and there is no legitimate source for this number.

      5. You’re both missing the point. The reason that there are high numbers of bears in certain locations is the same as there are currently massive of refugees on the borders of Syria. Restrict habitable areas and the population moves, causing excess in other areas.

        As for Andy and his ‘the Arctic is enormous, look at a map sometime’… well, duh. I must learn not to feed the trolls: especially ones that are as thick as two short planks.

      6. Pedantry, I admit that I am pretty thick, having only achieved education to phd level.
        I do appreciate your massive intellect.

        So how much land mass is there in the Arctic? I have only been there twice. I guess you have been there a lot since you are so smart and so educated and so incredibly talented.

      7. Pedantry, admittedly being as thick as 2 short planks makes certain things difficult for my retarded brain, but I did manage to stagger over to Wikipedia and type in this

        “The Arctic (/ˈɑrktɪk/ or /ˈɑrtɪk/) is a polar region located at the northernmost part of the Earth. The Arctic consists of the Arctic Ocean and parts of Canada, Russia, Denmark (Greenland), Norway, the United States (Alaska), Sweden, Finland, and Iceland”

        So I am wondering, Pedantry, how much is Canada, Russia, Greenland, Iceland USA Sweden and Finland is home to Polar Bears.

        A population of 20,000 is the size of a small town. Do you think that they will fit in there?

  2. “Bill McKibben – journalist, author and environmental activist – is currently touring Australia and New Zealand with a very simple message: We can afford to burn no more than 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide if we are to stay below 2°C of warming”……..

    can’t burn CO2, so did he say we can afford to burn 565GT of fossil fuels, or emit 565GT of CO2?

      1. Of course, this figure presumably depends on an assumption that the IPCC central estimate of climate sensitivity to a doubling of CO2 is 3 degrees.

        McKibben conveniently leaves that bit out

  3. Andy posted:

    “He said that “even one degree of warming would be catastrophic” for the world. There is no evidence for this. There is no evidence that even 2 degrees would be dangerous or catastrophic”

    From where I sit Andy, 0.8 degrees is starting to look catastrophic…..

    And then further posted:

    “He also claimed that the statement that there has been “little or no warming” for the last decade and a half is “completely wrong”.

    Sorry, these statements are not supported by climate scientists or the IPCC”

    Well I suggest you read

    1. Where are you sitting Mike?

      Do you seriously think 0.8 degrees of warming over 150 years is “catastrophic”? How about the warming that occurred in the early 20th C that is not attributed to CO2?
      Or how about the MWP? Was that catastrophic? Was the little ice age catastrophic?

      I guess you are the kind of guy that thinks that all human actions are bad. Therefore we need to get rid of humans. Correct?

    1. Like what, the ones with the yellow stars sewn onto their jackets?

      We have heard about these “solutions” before. The names change, the agenda doesn’t.

      1. Ok, that clarifies things a bit. You would like to kill people who have 2 holidays a year and live in large houses.

        Would you care to expand on how you intend to kill them?

      1. I know who’ll have the last laugh……. I should’ve thrown in Climate Change in along with oil running out causing starvation…….

      2. Why will you have the last laugh Mike? Will you be the last one alive?
        Will you be standing alone in the smouldering ruins of the Earth, stroking your AK47 affectionately?

      3. Pedantry,I would have thought you could do better than that. First of all, you need to repeat the mantra that cold weather is caused by arctic sea ice melt, shifting jet stream patterns

        It is customary at this point to insert a link to Skeptical Science, and then finish off with a sneering comment about my intelligence or lack thereof.

        Didn’t they teach you this at Al Gore puppy school?

      4. There are some scientific publications which link the loss of Arctic sea ice to cold winter extremes in the Northern Hemisphere. Here’s one .

        “Our results support the mechanism suggested by Cohen et al (2012) in which sea ice loss promotes additional surface evaporation, which results in earlier snowfall on high-latitude land (Ghatak et al 2010). The earlier snow cover insulates the soil and allows the surface to cool more rapidly, shifting the region of strongest poleward temperature gradient southward and consequently, a southward shift of the thermally induced wind flow.”

        And here’s another from Charles H. Greene, professor of atmospheric sciences at Cornell University.

        “Recent research has provided new evidence strengthening the hypothesis that global warming and Arctic sea-ice loss are affecting our winters today by disrupting the normal rhythms of the AO and NAO.”

        Here’s his prediction for the winter just passed in the Northern Hemisphere, a prediction he made last year.

        “For the upcoming winter of 2012–2013, the cards appear to be especially stacked in favor of harsh weather outbreaks in North America and Europe. “

    1. @mike I heard on t’radio just yesterday that the UK agribusiness has advised that we should expect 30% lower yields because of the unusual weather last year. Anyone who thinks that we’re not in for rough times ahead has their head up their jacksie. Sadly that’s most people, or we might be able to generate, you know, action instead of inaction.

      1. And Egypt, which is on the verge of collapse is enjoying a heat wave and the locals are turning their aircons up so much they’ve created an energy crisis and Qatar had to donate $700M worth of LNG to keep the place fuelled…..

      2. Quite possibly. As a climate change denier you would be unable to equate ‘cold weather’ with ‘climate change’ because climate change is caused by global warming, and ‘cold’ is not ‘warm’. Go figure.

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