We know that existing, known fossil fuel reserves already on the books of global energy companies are five times greater than the maximum amount of fossil fuel we can consume and hope to remain within the 2C safety mark for global warming.
Put another way, four fifths of the known resources need to be left in the ground, unused, at least until we have in place the necessary systems to strip massive volumes of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.
Western governments and the emerging economies say they get it. Global warming must be acted upon. We have to sharply curb carbon emissions. Oh yes, absolutely, we get it. But they don't.
Take two prominent fossil fuelers - Canada and Australia. Canada styles itself a petro-power thanks mainly to its reserves of bitumen. Australia is all about coal.
The Australian government is implementing a carbon tax. Yeah. At the same time it's clearing the way for the development and export of massive quantities of coal to China and India that, when burned, will guarantee our grandkids face a 6C future.
Plans to open up a new Australian "coal
export rush" would turn a single Queensland region into the seventh
largest contributor of carbon dioxide emissions on the planet,
undermining international efforts to keep global warming below 2C, a new
report has warned.
Nine proposed "mega mines" in the
Galilee Basin would, at full capacity, result in 705m tonnes of CO2
released into the atmosphere, according to a Greenpeace Australia analysis. This level of emissions would surpass those of all but six nations in the world. By comparison, the UK emitted 549.3 million tonnes of CO2 from all sources in 2011.
...Greenpeace warns that a growth in coal-fired emissions represented by
the nine Queensland mines would be in line with the International Energy Agency's model of a "catastrophic" 6C rise in temperatures.
"At a time when the science could not be clearer on the need to reduce global carbon emissions,
and when governments worldwide are shifting to a low-carbon economy,
exploiting the Galilee Basin is a reckless proposition," the report
states. "It is imperative that the Galilee Basin coal reserves remain in
And there's the rub. Yes this Aussie coal needs to remain in the ground. So should all the filthiest fossil fuels, including Athabasca bitumen. Future fossil fuel consumption should be restricted to the lowest carbon forms such as light, sweet crude oil and they should only be a bridge to alternate, clean energy.
But find a government sitting stop major fossil fuel fields that will acknowledge much less embrace the notion of their resources being left unexploited. It's like asking a coke addict to leave that line unsnorted.
If we are to have any hope of avoiding catastrophic climate change the first sign will be when some national government proclaims that it will not allow its fossil fuels to be extracted. You'll know when it happens by the sound of the world's biggest crack pipe being smashed to smithereens.