The Chilling Math of the Carbon Path

By Bob Lawson

After CNN’s Candy Crowley moderated the 2nd presidential debate, she apologized, ‘Sorry to all you “climate people”, there just wasn’t time for that issue.’ What an odd turn of phrase: climate people. Candy should realize that there are now 7 billion Earthlings, and that we are all climate people. We all exist within the planet’s ‘operating system’ and we are all personally affected by the carbon pollution that threatens our infrastructure, agriculture, water supplies and the productivity of our oceans. We are all climate people and it’s time that we realized it.

The industrial world has raised the average temperature of the earth about 1°C (1.8°F) and all the scientific predictions are coming true: in the U.S. alone, we have seen crippling drought in the grain belt, record wildfires and unprecedented storms, culminating with seawater in the New York subways and the devastation of the Jersey Shore.

Bill McKibben, founder of, has explained the chilling math of our predicament: We are already getting battered with a 1° rise, yet the governments of the world have set the ‘red line’ at a 2° rise. There is consensus among world leaders that we simply cannot allow ourselves to go over that. According to scientists, our planet will reach this ‘red line’ 2° mark with the burning of another 565 gigatons of carbon, which, at current rates, will take 15 years. But it gets worse. The fossil fuel industry already has, in its proven reserves, 2,800 gigatons of carbon, 5 times what we can “safely” burn. These are their assets and burning them is their business plan. And, Exxon spends $100 million per day looking for more. If the fossil fuel industry has its way, we will far exceed the 2° rise and it will be ‘game over’ for life as we know it.

Solving the climate problem will mean leaving the carbon in the ground and developing clean sources of energy. But our government is lost in denial – largely because the fossil fuel companies have spent millions on lobbying and funding phony science propaganda. Let’s face it; an industry that exists at the peril of our future is simply a rogue industry.

Fortunately, there is a new path for citizen involvement spearheaded by - divestment from the fossil fuel industry. A movement is growing among colleges, religious institutions, businesses, municipalities and ordinary people to “freeze any new investment in fossil-fuel companies and divest current holdings within five years.” Protest divestment to enact social change has successful precedent. In the 1980’s, a divestment campaign was aimed at companies doing business in South Africa, and by 1990, over 200 US companies had severed business ties, and the rogue apartheid regime faltered.

Please don’t think that if you drive a car, you can’t get on board with this. There is a difference between living in a system that is rigged for Big Oil and placing your money on the success of that system. Right now people have few options of avoiding a fossil fuel lifestyle. That will only change when we bring about policy changes in government and industry that will result in sustainable options for all.

Learn more about this call to action at ConcordCAN’s upcoming Sustainable Coffee at the Harvey Wheeler Center, on Tuesday, January 15, 7:30-9 am. The featured speaker is Tim Brennan, treasurer and CFO of the Unitarian Universalist Association, who will facilitate a discussion about institutional and personal divestment of fossil fuel related stocks. It’s time to change ‘Game Over’ to ‘Game On!’

Bob Lawson is a resident of Concord and a member of the ConcordCAN! Steering Group.