The idea that a person should be concerned about the parts per million of CO2 in our atmosphere entered my consciousness four years ago when I read an article about NASA’s James Hansen with the unsavory message that our CO2 was ALREADY beyond safe limits. I figured a rocket scientist would know these things, so I started to worry about CO2 ppm but didn’t know what to do.
I’m pretty sure I read about it in the NYTimes or New Yorker and clipped the article for my Thoughts file, but the link above was one of the online versions I found, see who it’s written by? Bill McKibben! Mr. 350.org himself. And, it looks like, from his byline, that this was before he formed 350.org.
When the article was written, our atmospheric CO2 was 383 ppm. James Hansen’s position was that we need to get our CO2 levels back down to 350 ppm (it’s now at 392.92), kinda heading in the wrong direction.
What is a Human’s Baseline Annual CO2 Emission?
All of this got me thinking, if we’re oxygen breathers, CO2 emitters, what’s the CO2 cost of a human before we do anything at all (like jump in a car, run to the store and buy meat and dairy)? No one really wants to ask that question, right?
One source puts the number between 328.5 kg and 206.23 kg a year. Most CO2 measurements are in tonnes, not the American ton. What’s the difference you may be asking (and why are we the last ones to use the metric system)? A ton is measurement used exclusively in the US and it is equal to 2,000 lbs. A tonne is equal to 1,000 kg. Here’s where my brain starts to hurt.
Just so you can check my math when I convert the numbers above:
- there are .45359237 kilograms in a pound
- 2,000 pounds are equal to 907.18474 kg
- 1,000 kilograms are equal to 2,204.623 lbs.
We emit between .33 and .21 tonnes a year or .36 and .23 tons a year. Clearly, just being human isn’t that big of a deal, it’s gotta be burning fossil fuels (like they’ve been saying) that is causing the majority of the problem. Whew!
Does all this leave you wanting a visual?
One metric ton of gas is about the size of a house. Carbon Visuals has visuals for NYC real-time carbon emissions (nearly 2 tons every second!), a US specific set of visuals of typical CO2 emissions per US household, gallon of gas, etc.– worth a quick look.
Glaciers have become icons of climate change. Facts and figures move policy. Can beauty and presence move us?
– Dan Kowalski