The following three pieces, by Anne Petermann, Dr. Rachel Smolker, and Keith Brunner were written in response to Bill McKibben’s new article in Rolling Stone magazine, titled, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three simple numbers that add up to global catastrophe – make clear who the real enemy is.”
The System Will Not be Reformed
Response by Anne Petermann
Bill McKibben, in his new Rolling Stone article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” does an effective job at summarizing the hard and theoretical numbers that warn us of the devastating impacts of continuing to burn the Earth’s remaining fossil fuel reserves–yet it somehow falls short of its stated goal to help mobilize a new movement for climate action.
While the article is full of facts and figures and the future they portend, it falls into several traps common to US-based environmentalists, which undermine its movement-building objective.
The first and most obvious trap is relying on math to mobilize a movement. Environmentalists, often worried about attacks on their credibility, or afraid they will be labeled “emotional” by industry, tend to focus on statistics, mathematical analyses and hard science to make their case. Unfortunately statistics like “565 Gigatons or 2,795 Gigatons” do not inspire passion.
While McKibben is focusing on Gigatons and percentages and degrees Celsuis, however, corporations like Shell are running multi-million dollar ad campaigns with TV commercials that feature families having fun, hospitals saving lives, children getting good educations, because of fossil fuels. Coal = energy security; natural gas = maintaining the American way of life. And as Dr. Rachel Smolker of BiofuelWatch points out below, some of these very same companies are moving into the bioenergy realm–wreaking yet more havoc on communities and ecosystems in the name of supposedly “clean, renewable energy.” They are playing both sides of the field in the effort to ensure Americans do not feel their way of life is in any way threatened–ensuring them that they can have their cake and eat it too. For while China may have surpassed the US in total annual carbon emissions, the US still leads, by far, the per capita release of CO2 emissions.