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Video: What does NYC’s carbon footprint “look” like?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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New York City is well on its way to meeting a citywide goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2017. This goal was adopted in 2007 as a part of PlaNYC 2030 to “build a greener, greater New York” and has catalyzed new parkland, housing improvement, and public transportation projects throughout the city. According to updates, the city had already reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by more than 12% compared to the 2005 baseline by the end of 2010.

But, even with this reduction, New York City emitted about 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere in 2010. That’s just under 2 tons of CO2 per second. Every second. All year long.

Carbon Visuals, in partnership with the Environmental Defense Fund recently published a video that aims to give the viewer a sense of what 2 tons of CO2 per second means. Quite interesting, given that CO2 is a colorless gas, which can make it difficult to visualize.

In the video, carbon dioxide is represented using blue spheres that are 33 feet across. This sphere has the volume of 1 ton of CO2, assuming standard temperature (59 deg. F) and atmospheric pressure (1.87 kg per cubic meter).

Interestingly, these carbon dioxide emissions are not primarily the result of the New York City transportation network. (Though, the city’s efforts to increase its taxi fleet’s fuel economy could certainly have a significant impact on total emissions levels.) It turns out that approximately 75% of NYC’s greenhouse gas footprint comes from buildings.

H/T to Jake Whitcomb for sharing this video.

Melissa C. Lott About the Author: An engineer and researcher who works at the intersection of energy, environment, technology, and policy. Follow on Twitter @mclott.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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  1. 1. greenhome123 10:41 pm 11/8/2012

    I am a little surprised that 75% of NYC’s greenhouse gas footprint comes from buildings. I think that NYC should offer tax credits or some sort of incentive to building owners to make energy efficient retrofitting improvements to their buildings. Also, I believe there should be regulations in place for new home/building builders that require them to build new building to a certain level of energy efficiency.

    Link to this

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