It’s a no-brainer.

We’ve been drilling and digging for fossil fuels that have been locked under the earth for millions of years and burning them up. All those greenhouse gas emissions have to go somewhere.

This is unprecedented.

Ice core samples tell us that over the last 800,000 years, the level of carbon dioxide (“CO2”) in our atmosphere has ranged between 180 and 300 parts per million (“ppm”).[1] Just recently we’ve passed over 400 ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere.[2] A recent study of ancient single-celled marine algae concludes that we haven’t had CO2 levels this high in over 15 million years.[3]

We have 16 years left.

In 2009 at Copenhagen, Canada and the world agreed to limit the earth’s temperature increase to 2 degrees Celsius.[4] Scientists estimate it will take about 565 Gigatons worth of emissions to reach this threshold.[5] In 2011, we emitted 31.6 Gigatons – a 3% increase over the year before.[6] This gives us about 16 years until we hit this upper limit. For more information, download the PDF version of our #16yearsleft Exhibit.

Scorched Earth.

Financial analysts have looked at the books of the world’s fossil fuel companies to estimate the total proven coal, oil, and gas reserves. These are the amounts that companies intend to bring to market and have already incorporated into their financials. If we burned all these resources, we would emit 2,795 Gigatons of CO2 – this is five times higher than the amount that will bring us to the 2°C limit![7]

“The new data provide further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close. When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of six degrees.” – Fatih Birol, chief economist for the International Energy Agency[8]

NEXT: The Effects of Climate Change…

Go Back: Explore the Issues…


  1. Causes of Climate Change.United States Environmental Protection Agency.
  2.  Earth’s CO2 Home Page.CO2 Now. 3 January 2013.
  3.  Stuart Wolpert. “Last time carbon dioxide levels were this high: 15 million years ago, scientists report.UCLA Newsroom. 08 October 2009.
  4.  UNFCCC. Conference of the Parties (COP). “Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen from 7 to 19 December 2009.United Nations. 30 March 2010.
  5.  Unburnable Carbon – Are the World’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?The Carbon Tracker Initiative. March 2012.
  6.  Global carbon-dioxide emissions increase by 1.0 Gt in 2011 to record high.International Energy Agency. 24 May 2012.
  7.  Unburnable Carbon – Are the World’s financial markets carrying a carbon bubble?The Carbon Tracker Initiative. March 2012.
  8.  Bill McKibben. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”. Rolling Stone. 19 July 2012.

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