The 14 “Carbon Bombs” That Are About To Blow Up The Planet

These projects to increase production of fossil fuels are being planned around the world. But if all of them come to fruition, it may be the last fossil fuels we produce, because the combined effect will be to raise the planet’s temperature disastrously.

If you believe in the possibilities of corporate responsibility–or for that matter, basic human kindness–you probably shouldn’t read Greenpeace’s latest climate change report. It might shake your faith.


Why? Because its conclusion is so stark and so simple, and yet so widely and willfully ignored: If we go ahead with 14 major fossil fuel projects now on the drawing board (you can see them above), we’ll have a good chance of destroying the world as we know it. Or, to put it less emotionally: We’ll sail right through carbon limits most scientists agree are safe for the atmosphere.

Take a look at the slide show for a graphic sense of the danger. From coal production in Australia, China, and Indonesia, to deepwater oil projects in Brazil and the Arctic, to tar sands in Canada and Venezuela, to shale gas and conventional gas in the U.S. and the Caspian Sea, the world is set for a big push on the dirtiest forms of energy development. Together, Greenpeace says the projected output will increase emissions 20% by 2020, thus “locking in” long-term temperature increases in the 5 to 6 degrees Celsius range. Scientists normally call 2 degrees a relatively safe limit–and until recently that was the consensus in the international community as well.

“With total disregard for this unfolding global disaster, the fossil fuel industry is planning 14 massive coal, oil, and gas projects that would produce as much new carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in 2020 as the entire U.S., and delay action on climate change for more than a decade,” the report says.

Of course, you might think the numbers skewed because they come from beardy environmentalists with an agenda. Except, in this case, the numbers aren’t Greenpeace’s. They were commissioned from Ecofys, an environmental consultancy. More than that, the report says essentially the same thing as the International Energy Agency (which last year reported that we could not burn more than one third of fossil fuel reserves by 2050 to remain within 2 degrees), and the World Bank which says we’re on course for a 4-degree increase by century’s end.

Greenpeace says the 14 developments would produce 54,674 million tons of coal, 29,400 billion cubic meters of natural gas, and 260,000 million barrels of oil–but add 330 billion tons of CO2-equivalent emissions by 2050 (see here for the methodology). To stay within the 2-degree increase, emissions have to start falling before 2015, which means canceling, rather than rushing ahead, with some of the plans on the table. That doesn’t seem likely–but it is the wide consensus not only of the enviro-lobby, but of plenty of sensible people who’ve studied the issue.

[All Images: Shutterstock]

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.