Numbers for pondering: “250 years worth of clean, beautiful coal”

“We have nearly 100 years worth of natural gas and more than 250 years worth of clean, beautiful coal. We are a top producer of petroleum and the number one producer of natural gas. We have so much more than we ever thought possible. We are really in the driving seat…”
-President Trump, calling for loosening of environmental regulations in pursuit of a “golden era of American energy” in a June 29, 2017 speech promoting the White House’s “Energy Week”

“And the last administration had an idea of keeping it in the ground.”
-EPA Administrator, Scott Pruitt, in a March 28, 2017 interview with ABC News Anchor, George Stephanopoulos


Let’s ponder some numbers on those two statements. (Click hyperlinked numbers for more information…)


According to the 2012 Global Energy Assessment, carbon content of estimated global recoverable fossil energy resources that remain, in gigatons of carbon: 15,000

According to the same assessment, range of estimated carbon content of remaining global reserves of “beautiful” coal (of which beauty is, I guess, in the eye of the beholder), in gigatons of carbon: 7,300 to 11,000

According to NASA scientists, based on climate modeling shown in a peer reviewed scientific analysis to produce excellent agreement with past known global conditions spanning hundreds of thousands of years of Earth’s history, expected global average temperature increase if we were to burn fossil fuels containing 10,000 gigatons of carbon on a “business as usual” trajectory from the present, in degrees Fahrenheit: 29

Over the Earth’s surface, current most common summer wet bulb temperature, degrees Fahrenheit: 80

In degrees Fahrenheit, sustained wet bulb temperature above which the human body cannot get rid of sufficient excess metabolic heat to maintain a normal core body temperature near 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit: 95

Assuming humanity burns additional fossil fuels containing 10,000 gigatons of carbon, estimated most common summer wet bulb temperature over the Earth’s surface, degrees Fahrenheit: 109


“The Earth was 10-12°C [18-22°F] warmer than today … at the peak of the PETM [Palaeocene–Eocene Thermal Maximum, about 56 million years ago in Earth’s history]. How did mammals survive that warmth? Some mammals have higher internal temperatures than humans and there is evidence of evolution of surface-area-to-mass ratio to aid heat dissipation, for example transient dwarfing of mammals and even soil fauna during the PETM warming. However, human-made warming will occur in a few centuries, as opposed to several millennia in the PETM, thus providing little opportunity for evolutionary dwarfism to alleviate impacts of global warming. We conclude that the large climate change from burning all fossil fuels would threaten the biological health and survival of humanity, making policies that rely substantially on adaptation inadequate.

… Most of the remaining fossil fuel carbon is in coal and unconventional oil and gas. Thus, it seems, humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency—or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal? If fossil fuels were made to pay their costs to society, costs of pollution and climate change, carbon-free alternatives might supplant fossil fuels over a period of decades. However, if governments force the public to bear the external costs and even subsidize fossil fuels, carbon emissions are likely to continue to grow, with deleterious consequences for young people and future generations.

It seems implausible that humanity will not alter its energy course as consequences of burning all fossil fuels become clearer. Yet strong evidence about the dangers of human-made climate change have so far had little effect. Whether governments continue to be so foolhardy as to allow or encourage development of all fossil fuels may determine the fate of humanity.”

-James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Gary Russell, and Pushker Kharecha, current and former scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a peer reviewed scientific journal article published in 2011.


Ponder more Numbers

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