John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
This simulation shows one-ton blobs of carbon dioxide rising from the street in giant blue spheres.
This imagined version of New York City may look like a super-fun ball pit, but diving into it would leave you coughing and gasping for air.
Created by Carbon Visuals and the Environmental Defense Fund, the animation has giant blue balls standing in for New York's greenhouse-gas emissions in 2010 (the last year data were available). Each sphere represents one ton of carbon-dioxide vapor. Added up, they represent 54 million metric tons of climate-toasting chemicals.
The simulation shows not just the amount but rate of emission as well. Here's how the creators managed that:
54,349,650 million tons a year = 148,903 tons a day = 6,204 tons an hour = 1.72 tons a second
At standard pressure and 59 °F a metric ton of carbon dioxide gas would fill a sphere 33 feet across (density of CO₂ = 1.87 kg/m³: http://bit.ly/CO2_datasheet). If this is how New York's emissions actually emerged we would see one of these spheres emerge every 0.58 seconds.
Don't tear your head bald of hair just yet. Although the world is far from getting a hold on our warming atmosphere, New York's making a healthy effort – the 54 million tons the city released in 2010 is 12 percent less than that which poured into the sky in 2005.