Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes.

Summary: Here are three stories about environmental destruction, all featuring “five trillion” as the horrific number. Scary stories. Are they accurate?

To understand a trillion, look at it in cash

What is a trillion dollars?

(1) Five trillion tons of ice has melted!

5 Trillion Tons of Ice Lost Since 2002” by climate propagandist Phil Plait at Slate.

“…land ice loss is perhaps most important as a political trigger; the sheer amount of land ice being lost every year is immediate, here, now. And the numbers are staggering … From 2002 to mid-November 2014 — less than 13 years — the combined land ice loss from Antarctica and Greenland is more than 5 trillion tons. Five. Trillion. Tons. That’s beyond staggering; that’s almost incomprehensible. It’s a volume of about 5,700 cubic kilometers, a cube of ice nearly 18 kilometers — more than 11 miles — on a side.”

This is vintage propaganda, giving big numbers with no context. Much as the Right does with the Federal deficit (which if converted into pennies could build a bridge to Mars!).

The total mass of Earth’s ice is roughly 33 thousand trillion metric tons (per table 2 of 2013 USGS; other estimates differ). Five trillion metric tons over 13 years is 0.112% per year.  At that rate the Earth’s ice will melt in 6,600 86,000 years. What level of technology will we have in a thousand years? Children in the year 3,000 will probably consider conflate burning oil and cow dung, both things done by primitive people in the dark ages.

Also, estimates of Antarctica’s ice loss differ widely. A December 2015 NASA study found that Antarctica gained ice mass from 1992-2008 (see the press release).

A plastic ocean

(2) Five trillion pieces of plastic choke the oceans

The Ocean Contains Over Five Trillion Pieces of Plastic Weighing More than 250,000 Tons” by Rachel Nuwer at the Smithsonian — “These frightening figures represent the most robust estimate of marine plastic pollution calculated to date.” Based on a paper by Marcus Eriksen et al in PLOS One, 10 December 2014. Lots of scary articles misrepresenting this useful study.

Again, five trillion — this time it is pieces of plastic. Of course 92% of those are smaller than 4.75mm (0.18″); only 0.17% are larger than 8″. The 250 thousand tons is spread among the oceans (1.4 times 10^18 metric tons).

Are we “choking the ocean with plastic”? No. See the origin of this myth. It’s a problem, but a minor one compared to the things we’re doing to wreck the oceans.

Watch the world burn

(3) We will burn five trillion tons of carbon and scorch the world

The climate response to five trillion tonnes of carbon” by Katarzyna B. Tokarska et al, Nature Climate Change, in press. This produced the usual hysteria. It would “scorch” the Earth. It paints the “Bleakest Picture of Our Future to Date“.

“Burning all known reserves of oil, gas and coal would inject about five trillion tonnes of heat-trapping carbon into the atmosphere … This number — about ten times the 540 billion tonnes of carbon emitted since the start of industrialisation — would be reached near the end of the 22nd century if fossil fuel trends go unchanged, it added. Most of the UN climate science panel’s projections for greenhouse gas emissions do not forecast beyond two trillion tonnes of carbon …” {From}

This study is based on RCP8.5 (worst of the four scenarios in the IPCC’s AR5), like almost all climate nightmare forecasts. It extrapolates the RCP8.5 scenario through 2300. Like most climate nightmare forecasts, it describes RCP8.5 as a “business as usual scenario… in the absence of any climate change mitigation policy”.

This misrepresents the papers creating RCPC8.5 and its use in the IPCC’s AR5. It does not mention RCP8.5’s unlikely assumption that technological progress stagnates (through 2300!). Nor does it mention the likely population crash starting in the late 21st century as the current decline in fertility eventually has effect. See this for more information about RCP8.5.


We are ignorant because we read the news, which overflows with propaganda. Journalists pay for their love of politically appropriate narratives with the loss of their profession’s credibility — leading to their industry’s loss of revenue, and layoffs (US newsroom jobs down 40% since 2006-2014).

The exaggerated reporting of environmental problems — many of which range from serious to existential — has similarly eroded away the public’s concern about these risks (Gallup’s poll ranking most important concerns, and concerns about specific environmental risks). We pay a high price for the journalists’ lust for clicks.

Also note that scientists are in effect complicit in these misreported stories by their silence.

For More Information

To see the data and forecasts for the various RCP’s go to the RCP Database. See historical data about atmospheric CO2 at the DoE’s Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center.

Please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. For more information see The keys to understanding climate change, My posts about climate change, and especially these about the rumored coal-driven climate apocalypse…

  1. Is our certain fate a coal-burning climate apocalypse? No!
  2. Manufacturing climate nightmares: misusing science to create horrific predictions.
  3. Good news! Coal bankruptcies point to a better future for our climate.
  4. Good news from China about climate change!
  5. Britain joins the shift from coal, taking us away from the climate nightmare.
  6. Good news from America about climate change, leading the way to success.

14 thoughts on “Five trillion is a red line. Cross it and the environment crashes.

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