New research calculates how individual CO2 emissions affect the Arctic's shrinking summer sea ice.
At this point in time most of us are familiar with the idea of a carbon footprint and that our energy uses – from transportation and electricity to food, clothes and everything else – release carbon dioxide into the air. We get charts and graphs and lists telling us how many pounds of carbon dioxide we’re putting into the atmosphere by driving 10 miles or eating a hamburger or doing our laundry – but what do the numbers really mean?
Well now we know, thanks to a new study by Dirk Notz, leader of a Max Planck Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology, and Julienne Stroeve from the US National Snow and Ice Data Centre.
They conclude that for each metric ton of carbon dioxide that any person on our planet emits, three square meters of Arctic summer sea ice disappear. For us metric-challenged Americans, that comes to just over 32 square feet for every 2204.62 pounds of carbon dioxide.
These figures allow us to wrap our minds around the specifics of the damage that we, as individuals, are causing.
"So far, climate change has often felt like a rather abstract notion. Our results allow us to overcome this perception", says co-author Julienne Stroeve. “For example, it is now straight-forward to calculate that the carbon dioxide emissions for each seat on a return flight from, say, London to San Francisco causes about five square metres of Arctic sea ice to disappear."
The authors note that the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice is one of the most direct indicators of ongoing climate change on our planet. “Over the past forty years, the ice cover in summer has shrunk by more than half, with climate model simulations predicting that the remaining half might be gone by mid-century unless greenhouse gas emissions are reduced rapidly.”
So now when you see figures about C02 emissions in reference to your footprint, you have some perspective. Like, a 30-mile daily round-trip commute with a car that gets 22 MPG = 4.3 metric tons of CO2 per year = 139 SF of melted sea ice. And by utilizing a carbon footprint calculator, we can really get an idea of our parts in this mess. Thinking about it in terms of specific dimensions in lost sea ice is bleak, but things like stark visual devices may be exactly what we need to gives things some proper perspective.