Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

If we want to avert climate change disaster, the world will have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.

January 08, 2015

According to a paper published in Nature yesterday, 80 percent of coal, 50 percent of oil, and about 30 percent of gas reserves should be left in the ground. Don’t mine 'em, don't drill for 'em, don’t burn 'em—just leave that carbon be. That is, if we want to ensure global temperature averages don’t inch higher than 2 degrees Celsius—the tipping point scientists say would bring on catastrophic climate change. 

If we were to burn all the fossil fuel reserves we currently know about, we'd emit three times the amount of carbon that would bring on a 2-degree warm up. And yet, in 2013 energy companies spent $670 million searching for new sources of oil and gas (in ever more dangerous, desperate locations). Canadian tar sands? Under the deep sea? Beneath the Arctic permafrost? The authors say that money would be better spent paying investor dividends or investing in renewable fuels. Because tempting as those fossil fuels are, they'll just bring on a world of hurt. 

Illustrated by: Christophe McGlade & Paul Ekins

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