Why Carbon Should Be Left in the Ground

We must keep carbon in the ground to save our planet.

And fortunately, some countries, like Denmark, are already working on that. In 2014, Denmark set a new world record for wind power generation. Last year, 39.1% of Denmark’s overall electricity came from wind power. By 2020, Denmark is working to get 50 percent of its total power from clean and green renewable sources of energy.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s European cousins, the U.K. and Germany, also set national wind power records in 2014. By relying more and more on clean and green sources of energy, countries like Denmark, the U.K., and Germany are helping to reduce the demand for fossils fuels that are destroying our planet.

And that’s a very good thing, especially considering new research released this week by scientists at the University College London.

A new study published in the journal Nature argues that most of the remaining fossil fuel reserves on our planet will need to be left in the ground if we want to have any chance at preventing catastrophic climate change. The scientists behind the research argue that most Canadian tar sands oil, all Arctic oil and gas, and most shale gas has to stay buried underground if we want to avoid the 2 degrees Celsius warming benchmark. Christophe McGlade, the lead researcher on the study, told The Guardian that, “We’ve now got tangible figures of the quantities and locations of fossil fuels that should remain unused in trying to keep within the 2C temperature limit.”

So, what are the quantities and locations of the fossil fuels that need to stay underground? Well, McGlade and his team found that 82% of coal reserves globally need to stay underground to save our planet. That includes 92% of coal reserves right here in the U.S.

As for gas, 49% of global gas reserves can’t be burned, which includes 100% of gas reserves in the Arctic, 61% of gas reserves in the Middle East, and 63% of gas reserves in China and India.

Finally, the researchers found that 33% of the world’s oil reserves must stay underground, including 38% of reserves in the Middle East, 85% of reserves in Canada, and 100% of oil reserves in the Arctic.

Basically, if we want to have any chance at saving our planet from the greatest threat it’s ever faced, we have to leave fossil fuels and the carbon that comes with them in the ground. It’s that simple. Unfortunately, countries and companies are still spending billions on oil and gas exploration. A report by Oil Change International and the Overseas Development Institute found that collectively, the G20 nations and companies within them, which includes the United States, are spending a staggering $88 billion per year on fossil fuel exploration subsides to Big Oil. The US alone spent a whopping $5.1 billion on oil and gas exploration subsidies to big energy companies in 2013 alone.

Now, just imagine if all of that money went to funding developments in renewable energy instead. Almost instantaneously, fossil fuels would become unnecessary. Oil and gas companies could use their considerable resources and clout to turn us on a dime to a clean and renewable future. Speaking about the Nature study, environmentalist Bill McKibben said that, “Given these numbers, it makes literally no sense for the industry to go hunting for more fossil fuel. We’ve binged to the edge of our own destruction. The last thing we need now is to find a few more liquor stores to loot.”

It’s time for the United States – and the rest of the world – to stop investing in oil and gas exploration , and start investing in clean and green sources of energy. Only then can we keep carbon in the ground.and give our planet a fighting chance.

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