The World Bank has launched an interesting new YouTube series that’s half macroeconomics, half Sesame Street. The conceit is that the world can be understood through numbers. Hardly a stretch for the World Bank, of course–its language is math. But the numbers in the new series are a lot simpler than the digits in the GDP or the calculus behind Quantitative Easing. The videos instead feature numbers that Big Bird might sing about. In one of the first installments, the charming Rachel Kyte, Vice President of Climate Change at the World Bank, considers the importance of the seemingly uncomplicated number 2. (Bite your tongues, divorce attorneys!) 2 is Kyte’s favorite number–it’s the number she thinks about last before she goes to bed and first in the morning. Why?
If the world’s temperature goes up by 2 degrees, Kyte explains, we’ll have trouble finding enough food. Monsoons will increase by orders of magnitude. There will be 20% less water for agriculture and drinking. 40% of agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa will disappear. And all because of a seemingly innocuous 2 degrees. But it’s a perilous rise in temperature Ms. Kyte believes can be prevented. She cites the common abhorrence of waste and the shared care for what’s precious in all the spiritual traditions of the world. And she extrapolates from these beliefs a universal will to prevent the planet’s temperature from rising those devastating 2 degrees. She believes it’s possible–and that we already possess the know-how. It’s only a matter of political will. Where does that political will need most to manifest? Here comes our number again: primarily from 2 countries, the US and China. If those 2 countries get on board, we can prevent the 2 degree rise–and its attendant catastrophes. Yes, if those 2 play nice, then the 2 of us (you and I) and Kyte–and her 2 children–will be free to dream of other numbers. But for now it’s 2, and Kyte–like Noah before her–hopes her focus on 2 will help us weather the storm. Right now, she says, 2 is a “small number with a big problem.”