Global Warming and the Significance of Increased Emission from Fossil-Fuel Industry

In the article published in the Rolling Stone, Mckibben argues that the profit motive of the fossil-fuel industry has been the core barrier in the campaign against global warming. The article first contextualizes global warming in the contemporary world, providing three indicative statistics of its risk. Firstly, the author notes of the target to keep global temperature below two degrees Celsius as agreed-upon in the 2009 Copenhagen climate conference, but argues that remaining within this target may be impossible if the fossil-fuel industry players are allowed to exploit all the reserves they hold. As recounted in the article, “so far, we’ve raised the average temperature of the planet just under 0.8 degrees Celsius…” and thus little room remains for continued emission without surpassing the two degrees limit (Mckibben 1). Secondly, the article contends that the amount of carbon dioxide that can be emitted and still have a fair chance of remaining within the two-degrees limit by midcentury is 565 Gigatons (Mckibben 2).

However, and being the third indicator of a poor prognosis, the fossil-fuel industry holds reserves of coal oil and gas whose utilization can lead to the emission of 2,795 Gigatons of carbon dioxide. Being higher than the fair chance amount, the emission from reserves would thus make it unlikely for the target to be achieved. As profit-seeking businesses, the author contends that fossil-fuel companies are not likely to support emission reduction initiatives since failure to utilize the reserves would reduce their value and thus attract fewer investors. Further, with the emission having already progressed too far, Mckibben observes that individual efforts such as using energy friendlier devices, as per recent history, will likely not bear fruits. Moreover, political players may not curtail activity of players in the fossil fuel industry on their own will since the players form core financiers of politics in the West and, at times, the producer countries act as companies. Consequently, the author contends that our only option is for a movement against the fossil-fuel players, a movement akin to the apartheid-era divestment from companies that held investments in South Africa, which would force the fossil fuel entities to bear the costs of their carbon dioxide emission.

I agree with McKibben’s core argument that fossil-fuel industry needs to be made accountable for its contribution to global warming by apportioning costs to its emission. Such a position is reinforced by statistics that indicate a possibility of increased emission from the industry as more reserves are exploited. However, I disagree that a movement to divest from players in the industry would be a feasible means to achieve such cost apportionment. Establishing such a movement would be a more challenging feat, and possibly impossible, due to the factors that have led to the preference of fossil fuels as a source of energy. As the author also contends, “… all of us are in some way the beneficiaries of cheap fossil fuel [and thus] tackling climate change has been like trying to build a movement against yourself …” (Mckibben 3). One case that exemplifies this is the hybrid cars, which are less reliable and convenient. As such, changing consumers’ perception to use the hybrid vehicles instead of the more convenient and reliable alternatives fueled by petroleum products has proven difficult. An additional challenge for a movement lies in the multifaceted nature of the players in the fossil fuel industry. For instance, countries that are discovering their oil resources only recently will hardly support initiatives to curtail use of the fossil fuels since, as history indicates, such resources have become a source of economic prosperity. In this respect, the fuel-fossil industry is unlikely to attract a movement akin to the anti-apartheid movement due to lack of a common motivating factor. A better alternative would be offering incentives to entities engaged in alternative energy initiatives to enable them to commit more funds to research and development activities to develop technologies that can compete effectively with fuel-fossil powered technologies. Such an approach would beat the fossil fuel industry at its own game by driving the demand away from its products, making it unprofitable to exploit the reserves they have.

Work Cited

Mckibben, Bill. “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math: Three Simple Numbers that Add up to Global Catastrophe – and That Make Clear Who the Real Enemy Is.” Rolling Stone 19 July 2012. Web. 7 August 2013. <>.

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