What would happen if we ignored climate change and carried on as normal?
The share prices of the energy and oil companies are based on the amount of coal, gas and oil that they have the rights to extract. Let’s assume for a minute that we go ahead and extract and burn those reserves. In this future the opportunities for new technology to reduce the carbon footprint of power generation and the potential for finding new reserves balance out with one another. That is a reasonable assumption because of the time required to roll out a large change in the energy infrastructure vs the potential for finding new reserves (shale gas, Greenland, under the arctic etc).
Let’s look at some numbers for a moment. Scientists agree that to have a 50-50 chance of avoiding catastrophic climate change, we need to keep the average global temperature increase to no more than 2°C. Let’s examine that – if we manage to keep temperature increases to 2°C or less, then you can flip a coin – heads we just get OK climate change (I guess that means not much worse than what we’re getting at the moment – Superstorm Sandy and the like), tails it is catastrophic.
Keeping to a 2°C rise means emitting no more that another 565 gigatons of carbon dioxide by 2050.
The scary bit is that we are planning to burn another 2,795 gigatons. That’s right – 2,795 gigatons. The share prices of the oil companies are based on us doing just that.
But let’s say we did burn those reserves. That would mean a temperature increase of about 6 °C. The difference between the depths of the last ice age and now was 6°C. The last time temperatures were that high, sea levels were 20 metres higher. Our lives would be completely different.
Worth the risk?
Thoughts below as always.