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How Orwellian. There's a difference between "true facts" which reflect the reality of the universe and "good facts" which are used for arguing. Anyone with any skin in the game will always prefer "good facts".

Question, though: did anyone include coal in that calculation? (Not sure if it's considered a "fossil fuel" or not. I'm not that bright.)

Dave Cohen


I added a few paragraphs at the end to explain the relationship of coal to my calculations, which were limited to oil companies because Bill McKibben specifically cited them.

I know many others will bring up the same issue.

-- Dave

william mcdonald

Great post, Dave!

Since I count good only until I run out of fingers and toes, I trust your numbers.

This media darling McKibbon has had quite a run lately, even taking credit for stopping that pipeline. Interesting isn't it, how a blogger could get these real numbers and the news media couldn't?

May I just say, very well done, sir!



You are brave posting this. It appears McKibben simply quoted the Potsdam numbers. I would guess the "elites" that wrote that report are actually engineers (at least some of them).

I am interested to see who wins this argument and whether your claim they cooked the numbers stands up.

Dave Cohen

@BS, @everybody

I made some fairly major revisions in this text to more accurately reflect what was going on here.

In particular, McKibben cited the Capital Institute (Potsdam) data incorrectly. That data appears to include coal reserves, not just oil and gas reserves.

So the Potsdam data may be correct -- if coal reserves are truly what is claimed. Since OPEC oil reserves never go down, we can almost be certain that they are exaggerated. This is not a trivial detail because they constitute such a large share of the world's oil reserves.

I am all for keeping coal reserves in the ground, but that implies that we need energy to replace that provided by coal, including renewables, nuclear or natural gas. Otherwise the industrial civilization it took humans 250 years to build will be a goner sooner rather than later.

On the other hand, if we burn all that coal, and if the stated reserves are correct, then industrial civilization is a goner anyway, later rather than sooner.

-- Dave

Alexander Ač

Hello Dave, I think the new paper by Tim Garrett posted few days ago at the Arxiv might be relevant!

See: http://arxiv.org/pdf/1202.0564v1.pdf


Dave Cohen

And I should add this: I do have an axe to grind.

I am god damned sick and tired of climate people (activists, scientists) who don't know the first damn thing about the global energy industry.

-- Dave

Dr. C

I agree with you that it seems the figures his cites include emissions from coal burning. In which case it looks like you are coming down awfully hard on him for the lack of just two words: "coal and"** inserted into his sentence, "But the (**) oil companies, private and state-owned, have current reserves on the books equivalent to 2,795 gigatons -- five times more than we can ever safely burn."

From here it looks more like he could have used the services of a better editor, and not so much like he was purposely distorting facts...Just sayin'.

Dave Cohen

@Dr C

No, sorry, I'm afraid you have missed the point altogether. A better editor? Bill McKibben doesn't think he requires an editor, but he does. He said what he said, which you need to take seriously instead of saying he probably meant to say something else.

Talk about giving somebody the benefit of the doubt!

The oil companies are the preferred target of all those (like McKibben) who think these companies are responsible for all Evil on Earth, at least as expressed in terms of CO2 in the atmosphere. In fact, they are responsible for providing the feed stocks out of which we make gasoline, diesel fuel, heating oil and jet fuel, which countless millions of people use and depend on every day.

So when McKibben misdirects blame toward Exxon Mobil when the actual blame lies with the world's private and state-owned coal companies, he is distorting the truth about what's really going on, and therefore the debate about what the only actual solution is to mitigating anthropogenic climate change, which is phasing out coal production worldwide over the next few decades.

Today's post itself was meant to provide further proof of that basic truth, which it did.

I hope that's clear to you now. McKibben hates the oil companies -- and for good reason, because they are deniers -- but that's not an excuse for misrepresenting the situation with fossil fuels and emissions.

-- Dave

Alexander Ač

Bill McKibben does not need to hate oil companies, since "US gasoline consumption is tanking"


but then again, what about the fu*king coal?



It seems that a little knowledge is a bad thing.

The knowledge contained in this post, however, just goes to show how truly fucked up everything is.
We, quite simply, will NOT see anything done about global heating while there's a dollar to be made. It's time we all, climate activists too, started to save our personal energy and prepare for the struggles to come.
Cultivating a vegetable garden would be a good start. If you intend to eat, that is.


Excellent job Dave! I think I may have fallen into the "activist who doesn't know about the energy industry" category, but now I can try to reassess things thanks to your articles.

It's just all so terrifying to me.

Chris Sappah

I was wondering, Not to confuse anything, will burning clean coal (should it become an option) be a savior, or any othe tech.

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