Climate Change- Do the Maths

Gord Stewart

“I have been thinking about my grandchildren a lot lately, and I don’t even have any,” wrote Jesse M Fink in his essay “Hope and the New Energy Economy”. It could easily have been me who said that.

 bill mckibben

When contemplating the future we are creating, it helps to personalise it. So I had my brothers’ grandchildren – twin littlies Claire and Maddie and newborn Jack – in mind as I listened to Bill McKibben’s “Do the Maths” climate change presentation during his brief time in New Zealand in early June.


I was in the audience of 700-plus in Auckland for the first of his three presentations – this one with live links to 12 smaller centres around the country. He would do the same talk in Dunedin and Wellington the following evenings. 


McKibben has been called a rock star of the climate change campaign movement, but he looks and acts more like a mild-mannered reporter. His delivery is measured and calm – the science and facts speak for themselves.


As a journalist who works closely with respected scientists, McKibben has been writing about environmental issues for the past quarter century. “I’m not a born orator or activist,” he says, “I’d rather be home typing.” 

 two degrees

Yet his message was a sobering and powerful one. Based on maths, it focused on just three numbers. The first is 2°C.


“The only possibility we have of avoiding total calamity is at 2 degrees of warming,” said McKibben. “If 1 degree melts the Arctic, we are fools to find out what 2 degrees will do.”


565The second number is 565. That’s the gigatons of fossil fuels released into the atmosphere that will lead to 2 degrees of warming. This will take about 14 years burning through it at the current rate.


The third number is 2,795. That’s the gigatons of known fossil fuel reserves on coal, oil and gas company books.


It’s easy maths to see that burning all known reserves is far beyond anything2795“compatible with the planet on which human civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted“ as McKibben puts it.


It’s a safe bet the Exxons of the world won’t back off the throttle voluntarily. Nor will our own Government, with “dig, drill and burn” at the heart of its energy and growth policies.


But there are things each one of us can do to take up the cause.  


do the mathFor sure we can ignore the climate-change-is-not-a-problem camp. With scarce evidence now on their side, they have turned to slandering esteemed scientists and even claiming that climate change action is a United Nations’ plot to take over the world. Yeah Right.


We can watch “Do the Maths [The Movie]” on YouTube. Forces to be reckoned with will be parents and grandparents once they truly know what’s in store for their offspring. As McKibben advises: “First get angry, then get busy!”


We can support and get involved in the Fossil Free New Zealand campaign ( for details.) Those with fossil fuel stocks in their portfolio would do well to have a look at this.


We can tell our own Government to immediately stop taxpayer-funded subsidies to the oil and gas industry (which have grown 700% in the last four years.)


And we can look at our own lifestyles. The $500-billion annual worldwide advertising spend sends a powerful message to fly here, holiday there, and buy all manner of stuff we don’t need. It makes it difficult to be satisfied with “enough” when the overwhelming message is “more”.  


There’s a lot at stake for young people – for my own adult children, 

nz oil

their cousins, mates and others, and for Claire, Maddie, Jack and their generation. How we live – and what we do – now will have a profound influence on the kind of future they will have.  


Sustainability advocate, George Sranko, put it nicely when he said, “Each one of us can change the world for the better. We can follow our hearts and forget about what others might think – about praise or censure. We can live simply and sustainably so that others may simply live. We can begin today … with our very next thoughtful step toward a more caring and light-hearted society”.




Gord Stewart is an environmental sustainability consultant. He does project work for government, industry, and non-profit organisations.


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  • Posted on July 15, 2013. Listed in:

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