I’m a numbers guy, that’s why I was happy to see the Rolling Stones article by Bill McKibben titled “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math.” The article discusses some of the findings of analysis done to determine how high our global temperature averages can reach, and how future carbon dioxide emissions can affect temperatures. This article plainly lays out three numbers that will determine the severity of a coming change in climate:
- 2 degrees Celsius are the maximum number of degrees that we can increase in average global temperatures without catastrophic consequences.
- 565 gigatons represents how much more carbon dioxide can be released into the atmosphere by 2050 and still remain under a 2 degrees Celsius increase in average global temperature.
- 2,795 gigatons are the amount of carbon dioxide we are essentially planning on emitting in the near future.
As McKibben plainly shows, 2,795 gigatons is way more than 565 gigatons. For reference, the weight of the water in all the rivers of the world equals up to roughly 2,120 gigatons. Though the numbers are certainly terrifying, there is something more I appreciate about this article. The article is certainly lengthy and goes into much greater detail, but the initial simplicity of the article in spelling out climate change is perfect for grabbing attention, rather than scaring readers away with a complex climate change discussion.
Breaking down complex climate change issues into simple, easy to understand analysis is very helpful in educating the general public. Though these numbers are certainly very simple and may hide the complexities of the problem, the majority of the public do not need to know the extremely technical parts of the climate change conversation. As I have stated in past articles, climate change needs to capture people’s attention again. Shocking, simple numbers like those reported in Rolling Stone are quick and easy to process, perfect for our split-second attention span world.