Where is ExxonMobile’s Doomsday Clock?

Actually, that should read “Giga Ton Clock.”

As this new article in Rolling Stone makes painfully clear, the math is simple. If we restrict future CO2 emissions to less than 565 gigatons, we might – hopefully – restrict climate change to 2 degrees Celsius or less. That’s enough to flood entire countries out of existence, to devastate Africa with famine, and to cause untold amounts of lives lost and property damaged by out-of-control weather, but it just might keep the human species and the biosphere as we know it alive.

But fossil fuel companies have so far discovered fuel reserves that will emit 2,795 gigatons of carbon. And their balance sheets depend absolutely and completely on them getting that fuel out of the ground, burning it, and releasing that carbon. That’s five times more than the limit we need to stick to to keep ourselves around.

Back when the primary threat to life on earth was nuclear weapons, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created a Doomsday Clock that showed how close we were to “midnight” – nuclear annihilation. These were atomic scientists, people (largely men) whose careers and livelihoods depended on using these technologies. When they spoke out about the problems their own expertise and industries were likely to create, people listened. And yeah, they’ve included climate change as one of the reasons they moved the clock hand in recent years, but that’s not their primary area of concentration.

More importantly, these numbers are just too simple not to communicate the message.

I will not believe that ExxonMobile, or Shell, or BP, or anyone else who has a stake in convincing us to deep-fry ourselves is actually concerned about the threat of global warming until they create a similar countdown. Because the clock’s ticking, and we’re running out of time to stop it.

Zombies, tokenism, and greatness

xkcd, a great geeky webcomic, features Zombie Marie Curie in today’s strip. ZMC says she’s tired of being THE token female scientist and spends some time talking about other great women scientists and mathematicians, but her real point is:

You don’t become great by trying to be great. You become great by wanting to do something, and then doing it so hard that you become great in the process.

As someone who did one of the multitudinous Marie Curie projects in grade school, I really appreciate the point about tokenism. I’m glad that I had learned about tokenism by the time, years later, that a guy tried to tell me that the 1950s weren’t that bad about gender roles because: Look! Adm. Grace Hopper had genitals that were an innie and she was a computer scientist! Bugs! Um, ok. Name two other famous female computer scientists – heck, famous female scientific/technical experts from the 1950s. Tokens, yoo haz one. (sic)

But the point about greatness is even more important. We don’t need another Marie Curie. We already had one. The message I’d like to get out to young women, and everybody, is that we need the first one of you doing whatever you’re good at that makes the world a better place.