The First Real-Time Carbon Emissions Counter Starts Ticking in NYC

carbon counter widget image

We know carbon emissions are accelerating rapidly, but just how rapidly? Ticking at a frightening rate, a giant billboard was unveiled in New York outside Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, showing atmospheric greenhouse gases are rising by 800 tonnes a second. And the calculations are legit. BusinessGreen reports:

The billboard, which is being touted as the world's first scientifically valid, real-time indicator of carbon emissions, was officially unveiled yesterday by Deutsche Bank's Asset Management division and a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

At the unveiling, the billboard showed there are currently 3.64 trillion tonnes of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and that the figure is rising by 800 metric tonnes a second.

The counter has a lag time because data is collected on a monthly basis. But it's the most up-to-date available, and essentially real-time.

Will a huge number on a carbon emissions counter make an impact on people?
Now something like this ought to get people realizing we have an issue on our hands when it comes to carbon emissions, right? Imagine driving your car down the street, looking up to see that number rising, and looking down to see other folks walking or cycling their way to work. Might it get you out of your car? Maybe...maybe not.

Two concerns with this carbon emissions counter hitting its goal
One, will this become background noise in about a week, like every other billboard? It's a pretty blah design, on top of the fact that people get used to displays like this pretty fast and stop noticing.

Two, it's a really big number with nothing to relate it to...will people really understand the impact of the number beyond that it's going up, and fast? When numbers get huge like this, people need something to compare it to, some way to visualize it so that we get its meaning.

Still, it could work - or at least spark ideas on other display designs that will have a bigger impact.

For those of us not in New York with this thing glaring at us, we can download a widget that will show us the real-time count.

Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche Bank's Asset Management division, stated at the opening: "We cannot see greenhouse gases, so it is easy to forget that they are accumulating rapidly," he said. "It will be a huge task to bring global emissions under control and my hope is that putting this data in public view will spur both governments and markets to move us more quickly to a low-carbon economy."

We agree. If it can be measured, it can be managed. But it also has to be visible information so that people want to manage it. We hope this billboard idea helps to do that.

More on Counting Carbon Emissions
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Carbon Dioxide Emissions are Rapidly Accelerating, According to the Earth Policy Institute

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