Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Left Masthead
September 26, 2016
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

In Some Cases of Elder Abuse, Banks Facilitated Financial Exploitation
Writings on the Wall

Truthdig Bazaar more items

Print this item

The Great Carbon Bubble

Posted on Feb 8, 2012
AdamCohn (CC-BY)

By Bill McKibben

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.

If we could see the world with a particularly illuminating set of spectacles, one of its most prominent features at the moment would be a giant carbon bubble, whose bursting someday will make the housing bubble of 2007 look like a lark. As yet—as we shall see—it’s unfortunately largely invisible to us.

In compensation, though, we have some truly beautiful images made possible by new technology.  Last month, for instance, NASA updated the most iconic photograph in our civilization’s gallery: “Blue Marble,” originally taken from Apollo 17 in 1972. The spectacular new high-def image shows a picture of the Americas on January 4th, a good day for snapping photos because there weren’t many clouds.

It was also a good day because of the striking way it could demonstrate to us just how much the planet has changed in 40 years. As Jeff Masters, the web’s most widely read meteorologist, explains, “The U.S. and Canada are virtually snow-free and cloud-free, which is extremely rare for a January day. The lack of snow in the mountains of the Western U.S. is particularly unusual. I doubt one could find a January day this cloud-free with so little snow on the ground throughout the entire satellite record, going back to the early 1960s.”

In fact, it’s likely that the week that photo was taken will prove “the driest first week in recorded U.S. history.” Indeed, it followed on 2011, which showed the greatest weather extremes in our history—56% of the country was either in drought or flood, which was no surprise since “climate change science predicts wet areas will tend to get wetter and dry areas will tend to get drier.” Indeed, the nation suffered 14 weather disasters each causing $1 billion or more in damage last year. (The old record was nine.) Masters again: “Watching the weather over the past two years has been like watching a famous baseball hitter on steroids.”


Square, Site wide

In the face of such data—statistics that you can duplicate for almost every region of the planet—you’d think we’d already be in an all-out effort to do something about climate change. Instead, we’re witnessing an all-out effort to… deny there’s a problem.

Our GOP presidential candidates are working hard to make sure no one thinks they’d appease chemistry and physics. At the last Republican debate in Florida, Rick Santorum insisted that he should be the nominee because he’d caught on earlier than Newt or Mitt to the global warming “hoax.”

Most of the media pays remarkably little attention to what’s happening. Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years. When, say, there’s a rare outbreak of January tornadoes, TV anchors politely discuss “extreme weather,” but climate change is the disaster that dare not speak its name.

And when they do break their silence, some of our elite organs are happy to indulge in outright denial. Last month, for instance, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked. It was nothing but a mash-up of long-since-disproved arguments by people who turned out mostly not to be climate scientists at all, quoting other scientists who immediately said their actual work showed just the opposite.

It’s no secret where this denialism comes from: the fossil fuel industry pays for it. (Of the 16 authors of the Journal article, for instance, five had had ties to Exxon.) Writers from Ross Gelbspan to Naomi Oreskes have made this case with such overwhelming power that no one even really tries denying it any more. The open question is why the industry persists in denial in the face of an endless body of fact showing climate change is the greatest danger we’ve ever faced.

Why doesn’t it fold the way the tobacco industry eventually did? Why doesn’t it invest its riches in things like solar panels and so profit handsomely from the next generation of energy? As it happens, the answer is more interesting than you might think.

Part of it’s simple enough: the giant energy companies are making so much money right now that they can’t stop gorging themselves. ExxonMobil, year after year, pulls in more money than any company in history. Chevron’s not far behind. Everyone in the business is swimming in money.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By RecoveringCatholic, March 5, 2012 at 2:52 pm Link to this comment

Every one of the climate change deniers are either some type of industry insiders, paid shills, or uncritically stupid ‘conservatives’ who lap up the industry lies like it was dog vomit.

We have to get past them somehow.

Report this

By Oktulsa, February 13, 2012 at 2:23 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Temperatures having been flutuating for billions of years.  This is not the hottest it’s ever been nor the coldest.  This is also not the highest levels of CO2 the earth has experienced.  The 10’s of years of data (or 100’s) being used to show ‘Global Warming’ is not even a drop in the bucket compared to earth time.  Statiscally it’s not relevant.  There have been scores or 100’s of ice ages with intermittant warming periods over geologic time.  Show me what caused those and what is different about those warming(or cooling) periods compared to today.

Report this

By prosefights, February 10, 2012 at 6:28 pm Link to this comment

From: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
To: “mary homan” <>
Sent: Friday, February 10, 2012 6:04:23 PM
Subject: concealed hand gun permit?

Hello Ms Homan,

Does Elizabeh Hurst possess a New Mexico concealed hand gun carry permit?

Please respond before Monday meeting.


Ms Hurst threats.

Report this

By prosefights, February 10, 2012 at 5:31 pm Link to this comment

Ted Geoca emails on Friday February 10, 2012


One of the downsides to China is the pollution. It is like something we saw in the 1960s in the US. When we arrived in Beijing, it was hazy and the air was brown with little visibility. In Shanghai, the Huangpu River was brown and filthy.

I have been to the mouth of the Mississippi River numerous times and it looked like a clear mountain stream compared to this. The pollution in China is horrible. How the United States was tagged with “global warming” from CO2 pollution while China’s pollution is destroying the planet is a testament to the value of a good PR operation. Compared to China, the United States is a Garden of Eden when it comes to pollution. We should send the top one thousand environmentalists in the United States to China so they can see firsthand what pollution is really like and they can appreciate what a good job industry has done in the United States.

The message I got out of my trip to China is that business is slowing down and they are very concerned about Europe, their largest export market. China’s problems are twofold. Its largest export market, Europe, is heading into a recession and its real estate market is in big trouble.

Report this

By prosefights, February 10, 2012 at 5:10 pm Link to this comment

Cramer on Mad Money Friday January 10, 2012 appears to be backing-off on natural gas fracking investments?

Mad Money prorams areusually posted. Let’s possibly see and more important, listen to.

New Mexico Gas Company appears not to be happy with interrogatory filings

Friday conversation attests to New Mexico judical problems.

which may be linked to energy?  And money.

Report this

By Fullblad, February 10, 2012 at 2:28 pm Link to this comment

I believe we’re too late to avoid climate change. All we can do now is try to mitigate the final results of our stupidity by acting in our own best interests.I saw a sign held by a young woman at an Occupy site which read “where’s my electric minivan?” Well where is it? Where is the national media to champion for the cause and mobilizing the people for making sure we have a suitable climate for life on our planet?

Report this

By Franny, February 10, 2012 at 12:53 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

diman - An appropriate screen name. I hope you do. Are you in the oil business? Or a fracking fracker?!

Report this

By xtofury, February 9, 2012 at 9:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

So therefore, pay your carbon tax and eventually pay double for everything you do now without a single pay increase.  You are responsible for the climate change, certainly not these manipulative oil companies.  Oh and NASA’s video admitting LENR is a reality, plus the plasmerg and e-cat are nothing but hoaxes, nothin to see here, move along.  No your system isn’t trying to screw you all into slavery under a one world government.  Nope the pope and soros aren’t calling for one world currency.  Nope occupy wasn’t basically UN agenda, predicted by UN, predicted by SOROS, puppeteered by these people, soros says violence within a week later occupy delivers.  Seriously this world is chock full of sock puppets and the worst ones of all are the greenwashed who believe that technology has not reached a point of maturity to solve these problems only because the system has held the technology back from maturation in order to take care of that enslavement to orwellian society first.  Seriously there should be a million red flags over these proposed solutions because they always involve more indentured economic slavery.  How did nature turn into a 4 months venture building a house for oneself on a plot of land to slaving away 30 years to get some inferior constructed mold infested bento box domicile?  Any way you slice it your carbon tax is rule by force and that involves taking away people’s liberty.  I think humanity can do far better for itself to come up with an answer that gets rid of the problem (most of these greedy corporations that have accumulated wealth as people do with rights on par or even sometimes beyond the rights of any individual).  If humanity settles for where the chips have landed, there’ll be an elite few riding the backs of the masses and using the good old excuse that it’s for the environment which their rotten greed has unfortunately ended up soiling.  Problem reaction solution—their greatest conjob was to convince you (and the rest of society) to literally be the groom of the stool for them.

Report this

By prosefights, February 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm Link to this comment

From: “dmccoy” <>
To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Sent: Thursday, February 9, 2012 2:58:26 PM
Subject: Re: Possible fracking earthquake damage Shake Rattle and Roll


On Thu, 9 Feb 2012 21:17:34 +0000 (UTC), .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:
> Thursday February 9, 2012 14:07
> Hello Mr Broadhead,
> Your verbal comments on possible earthquake fracking damage perhaps
> should be included in a report?
> Please ack if you receive this email.
> Regards,

Report this

By Rafael Ravenet, February 9, 2012 at 2:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I shared floor at talk last night with an extraordinary man.  William McPherson was an Environment Diplomat with State Dept. for 25 years. His book (Debunking Denial, Amazon)examines denial logic with light on politics, law, science, myth and more. I ardently suggest this brilliant look at the who and how of climate denial. Meanwhile, I’ve noticed a change in the mix of individuals attending these climate presentations. I now see young, middle age and old fogies like myself pitching in.  This is a positive note as it seems the standard political belief set is beginning to fall and be replaced with a sustainable values.  It’s everywhere and we have to thank Bill McKibben for his long lasting struggle to bring this issue deserved attention.

Report this

By gregorylkruse, February 9, 2012 at 10:31 am Link to this comment

This all goes without saying except that those who want to collect their share of the carbon money are paying to say the opposite.  What Bill is saying has to be said loudly and often by all those who are not invested in carbon oxidation.  It’s like before the banking collapse of the thirties, when people who had money in the banks and were privy to the coming collapse managed to get their money out before the collapse.  They didn’t spread the word.  Those people did very well during the depression, and I expect the people with money in carbon to do well after the CO2 bubble snuffs out life as we know it in many places.

Report this

By Devon J. Noll, MPA, February 9, 2012 at 9:48 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I took some time before I wrote this comment to go and find the original Earth photo.  It was not just the missing weather clouds that struck me, but rather the lack of green vegetation.  In the original photo, there were wide swaths of forests in South America and through our central Midwest along the Mississippi River.  These are missing in the new photo.  Now at first I thought it was just because of the time of year the photo was taken, so I kept looking, and you know what, you can see the progressive deforestation process and the affects of drought and flooding over the years in a sequence of the photos.  In other words, we are stripping this world barren and dry, and climate change is inevitable when that happens in an ecosystem. 

But this article skirts one big issue and it is part of what drives the oil industry:  oil depletion and climate change are inexorably linked, and you can only address them as a whole.  Since the oil industry, which knows that oil supplies are limited, is facing the steady decline of oil availability and thus lost profits, they are more than willing to attack the damage they are doing, that we are all doing, to the climate as a hoax.  They cannot let the public know what is coming, so they focus on something that is more easily attacked because most people on some level are aware it is happening, even the deniers know it for all their protestations.  Like the magician, they distract us with one issue, so we do not see what they are actually doing.

We must start changing how we function in this society, and by being realistic and addressing both issues simultaneously at the local levels, we can create political will to address them at the state and national levels as well.  If we work at the local level to address climate change and oil depletion as a whole issue, not two separate ones, we can also address local control of policies and other issues that affect us all to create community continuity and longevity, while creating a new generation of leaders who will address these problems in the public sphere. 

Education based on facts plus public engagement in addressing these issues is our only hope.  And we must act now, because within a few years, the perfect storm of climate change, historic oil prices caused by oil depletion, and retirees withdrawing money from the stock market as required by law will cause this carbon bubble to burst, and McKibben is right - it will make the last three years look like a walk in the park!

Report this

By prosefights, February 9, 2012 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

Listen to Mr Ron Broadhead, senior petroleum geologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources, and me talk about natural gas, shale gas, and fracking [sic] earthquates.

Thursday February 9, 2012 09:05

Hello Mr Broadhead,

Nice to talk to you on Wednesday afternoon.

Written earthquake comments addition to your verbal comments might be valuable to those investigating possible mechanical damages?

Please ack if you receive this email.


Ms Sweeney of EIA has neither acked or responded.

Daniel Yergin points our that fracking only seriously started in 2008.  See and listen to Mr Yergin.

US reliance on natural gas for electric power generation may run into serious problems?

Report this

By John Poole, February 9, 2012 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maybe within mankind there is a deeply buried half imagined state of grace in
another realm of being able to swoosh around like Biblical angels. The irony is
our infernal combustion engines -designed to overcome our bipedal limitations-
need the “Devils’s excrement” as fuel. The longing to whisk rapidly on the nap of
the earth or soaring above it unfettered by gravity and friction might already be a
fatal biped mal-adaption.

Report this
Gulam's avatar

By Gulam, February 8, 2012 at 11:40 pm Link to this comment

Between global warming and the nuclear power and
weapons fiasco the United States of America is going
to be a term of opprobrium for all mankind for millennia.
They are going to be right up there with Communists
and the Fascists as the triumvirate of materialist monsters that
killed millions and poisoned minds and bodies for many
generations to come.

Report this

By brandoncosta, February 8, 2012 at 8:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Its amazing how this country’s conservative elite have managed to set us
20 years back in the “debate” about global warming. The data is
overwhelming.  The proof is all around us. We live in it. How someone
could argue that the industrial revolution on a global scale has not
drastically changed the future of our environment is absurd. But yet many
do. We let it. Everything we touch seems to have some form of crude oil
base. Demand more advancement of green tech.  Its the only real solution
to our consumer driven world. And pray the earth can repair itself to keep
this a hospital planet

Report this
Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, February 8, 2012 at 3:44 pm Link to this comment

I’ve seen the articles that dimwit is talking about.  The give-away to me was they were written in crayon by “creation scientists” on fossil fuel cartel letterheads.  Interestingly on the same search page you could find articles that said that knuckle dragging, mouth breathing, tiny headed, white, middle class, middle aged, conservative men who believe that the more money you have the more correct you are, have intelligence and integrity.  Try http://www.WTF???  (not an actual site deniers).

Mr. McKibbens thesis is essentially correct.  Supply is up, demand is down, and the U.S. has become a net exporter of oil.  Wall Street speculators are in control of the price.  Obamanation is eager to keep the bubble inflating with his endorsement of fracking, opening more public lands and offshore leases (including north of the Arctic Circle) and his eagerness to go to war to control the Persian Gulf on behalf of the fossil fuel cartel.  Look for this social climbing careerist to approve of the SuicideXL pipeline after his possible reelection when he can no longer be held accountable.

Report this

By Mary M McCurnin, February 8, 2012 at 3:16 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Links please, diman.

Report this

By Vaco, February 8, 2012 at 12:40 pm Link to this comment

@Diman Obvious troll is obvious.

Report this
David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, February 8, 2012 at 12:24 pm Link to this comment

The polar icecaps are receding, the glaciers are disappearing, and the permafrost is defrosting, but the dim still insist that there’s no global warming.

Catastrophic climate change will result, whether America, Inc. is managed by the corporate party’s Republicans who deny the evidence, or the corporate party’s Democrats who ignore the evidence.

Jill Stein for President:

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

Report this

By diman, February 8, 2012 at 11:27 am Link to this comment

“Coverage of global warming has dipped 40% over the last two years”

Because it is what it is - a “hoax”

“the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed by “16 scientists and engineers” headlined “No Need to Panic About Global Warming.” The article was easily debunked”

And I can find hundreds of scientific articles all based on rigorous research that debunk the global warming theory.

Report this
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network

Like Truthdig on Facebook