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A Radical Choice

We have about a 50 percent chance of keeping global temperatures from rising dangerously higher than those of preindustrial times—if we leave most of the world’s remaining supply of arctic-seasoil, gas, and coal unearthed and unburned between now and 2050, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature.

Globally, about one-third of oil deposits must enter the no-burning zone, along with 88 percent of known and mineable coal supplies and about half the world’s unused natural gas.

It adds up to about $6 trillion worth of fossil fuels, suggesting a revolutionary shake-up of the global financial and energy economies. Among them, about $3 trillion in global investments—including enormous funds like the California state pension fund—could find themselves busted by “stranded assets,” as the fuel reserves that energy companies calculate into their net worth would need to stay unused to avert the worst of climate change.

But which and how much of the world’s fossil energy deposits should remain buried? How about all the untapped fossil fuel deposits above the Arctic Circle, 75 percent of Canada’s tar sands, and more than 90 percent of Australian and U.S. coal.  Read more....