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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

WSJ: Bill McKibben -- Fossil Fuels vs. the Development of Renewable Energy

Robert Bryce's Dec. 17 op-ed ("Harvard Needs Remedial Energy Math") attacking campus efforts to have universities divest themselves of holdings in fossil-fuel companies is interesting for what it omits: even the slightest attempt to rebut the mathematical logic that shows fossil-fuel companies have become outlaws against the laws of physics. Here are the numbers: In order to prevent the two-degree Celsius rise in temperature that even the most conservative governments on earth have committed to avoiding, scientists tell us we can burn enough coal and oil and gas to produce 565 gigatons of CO2. Unfortunately, the planet's fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that operate like fossil-fuel companies (think Venezuela and Kuwait), have five times that much in their reserves. It's what their share prices are based on; they obviously plan to burn it; indeed, they spend hundreds of millions of dollars daily looking for more. If their business plan is carried out, the planet tanks.
Mr. Bryce is entirely correct that it will be hard to move away from fossil fuels, an enormous engineering challenge. But the Germans are demonstrating it can be done, and the most recent studies shows that we could rely on renewables for our power upwards of 99% of the time as early as 2030 if we got to work. Which we won't, if the fossil-fuel industry continues to exert its massive financial muscle to block change. That's why students in 189 campuses have so far risen up to demand divestment—this is the great moral challenge of our time, and maybe, given the stakes, of all time.
Bill McKibben
Wall Street Journal, letter to the Editor, December 25, 2012

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