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Giving Up Fossil Fuels to Save the Climate: The $28 Trillion Writedown

Obama effectively agreed that most of the world’s oil, gas, and coal reserves must remain underground and unburned
Giving Up Fossil Fuels to Save the Climate: The $28 Trillion Writedown
Illustration by 731

“We’re not going to be able to burn it all.” With those 10 words, Barack Obama uttered one of the most stunning, far-reaching statements ever made by a U.S. president. He also completely contradicted his own energy policy. Yet no one seemed to notice.

In an interview that Showtime television’s climate documentary series Years of Living Dangerously aired on June 9—which also ran in the New York Times—Obama was asked about the international goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) since the start of the industrial era. Going past 2 degrees, noted the interviewer, columnist Thomas Friedman, would “cross into some really dangerous, unstable territory: Arctic melting, massive sea-level rise, disruptive storms.” The International Energy Agency has concluded that meeting the 2C target will require leaving two-thirds of the earth’s known reserves of oil, gas, and coal underground, unburned, Friedman said. Did Obama agree with that conclusion?