Last week, environmentalist, author and founder of 350.org Bill McKibben visited Syracuse University to give the first university lecture for the year. I had the privilege of meeting with him earlier in the day for a student panel discussion, in which a diverse group of students were able to ask thought provoking questions related to their studies (or any topic of interest), in addition to attending his evening lecture.
His recent article in Rolling Stone Magazine presented 3 important numbers which put the current climate change crisis into perspective. The first number, 2° Celsius, comes from the Copenhagen climate conference in 2009, which formally recognized “the scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below two degrees Celsius.” The second number, 565 Gigatons, is a scientific estimate that humans can pour roughly this much more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by midcentury and still have some “reasonable” hope of staying below two degrees. The third number, 2,795 Gigatons, describes the amount of carbon already contained in the proven coal and oil and gas reserves of the fossil-fuel companies, and the countries that act like fossil-fuel companies. In Mr. McKIbben’s words, “it’s the fossil fuel we’re currently planning to burn.” He points to the important fact that 2,795 is 5 times higher than 565.
Much of his talk focused on discussing the topics covered in the article, the past and future initiatives of 350.org (such as rallies against the Keystone Pipeline), and steps university communities can take in the fight against climate change, such as divesting in companies associate with the fossil fuel industry. The discussions and talks of the day were extremely enlightening for me and put my current and future work into a new perspective. I encourage everyone to become more familiar with the newest research on climate change in order to understand just how immense the problem has become.
Below are some photos of the student panel, courtesy of SU Photo and Image Archive.