Carbon to burn

“The year 2010 saw the lowest volume of Arctic ice since scientists started to measure, more rainfall on land than any year in recorded history, and the lowest barometric pressure ever registered in the continental United States. Measured on a planetary scale, 2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year in history. Jeff Masters, probably the world’s most widely read meteorologist, calculated that the year featured the most extreme weather since at least 1816, when a giant volcano blew its top….”

This from an article by Bill McKibben in (What Obama Can Do To Save the Planet). According to McKibben, the tar sands region of Alberta is “the continent’s biggest carbon bomb. Indeed, they’re the second largest pool of carbon on planet Earth, following only Saudi Arabia’s slowly dwindling oilfields.” The problem is that it isn’t the smooth, oily stuff; it’s the nasty gooey stuff. So, it takes a good deal of carbon to pump the stuff and then convert it into a usable form.

Burning all of this gooey carbon would be too much, says McKibben. “If you could burn all the oil in those tar sands, you’d run the atmosphere’s concentration of carbon dioxide from its current 390 parts per million (enough to cause the climate havoc we’re currently seeing) to nearly 600 parts per million, which would mean if not hell, then at least a world with a similar temperature.” 360 parts per million is what NASA scientist James Hansen has determined as the level that we need to get back to in order to curb the damage from climate change.

To get this carbon bomb into the market place, Canada needs to run a pipeline through the U.S. Hence the title of McKibben’s article, “What Obama Can Do To Save the Planet.” Obama can singlehandedly decide that this pipeline is not in “the national interest.”

Published by

Jonathan Erdman

Writer. In the summers, I live and work in the incredible state of Alaska, in the bush community of McCarthy, as the Executive Director of the Wrangell Mountain Center. When not in McCarthy, you'll typically find me in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California, writing and working with local activists. My primary writing project right now is a novel set in remote bush Alaska, of the magical realism genre wherein an earnest and independent young woman finds a mysterious radio belonging to her grandmother, a device that has paranormal bandwidth and a disturbing ability to mess with one's mental stability.

3 thoughts on “Carbon to burn”

  1. Problem is, if the pipeline doesn’t run down to Houston, they’ll run it to the Pacific where China’s hungry economy will gobble up the energy. We can either consume it here, as efficiently as possible with the best technology we have making our consumption ever more efficient… or we can let China have it. They’ll consume it as cheaply as possible, with no regard to the environment. Either way, it’s going to be extracted and consumed. Obama would love nothing more than to let China have it… whatever he can do to make us a weaker nation.


    1. Jon,

      Do you really believe that President Obama is deliberately doing whatever he can do to “make us a weaker nation”? Do you believe that his is actively working to weaken the United States?


    2. Jon,

      Regarding China, McKibben wrote in the above referenced article that the option to run the pipeline to the pacific is being aggressively blocked by native tribes: “native tribes are doing a remarkable job of blocking another proposed pipeline to the Canadian Pacific.” I share your concern, though, and it is for that reason (and the massive political power that oil companies posses) that the pipeline will probably go through in the U.S. Although we are likely seeing the beginnings of climate change, the U.S. public doesn’t yet believe in climate change with enough urgency to change her lifestyle or even to aggressively tax carbon. So, unfortunately, we will probably continue to pump too much carbon in the air and pay for it later.


Consider this post an invitation, an invitation to comment and collaborate ~ In Solidarity, JE

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