main_tons_of_carbon

How much carbon…

Monday, January 17th, 2011

How much CO2 is created by a banana? A wedding? A flight to New York?

We teamed up with GE to turn ‘tons of carbon’ into an interactive visual landscape.

Enter a CO2 value. Hit the ‘random’ button for serendipity. Or just click through objects like stepping stones.

(There are nearly 200 objects so it may take a second to load)

Designed by David McCandless | Code by Daniel Goldsworthy.

cool things I like about this app

Like billions of dollars, “tons of CO2″ is another widely-used metric that is deeply abstracted from our lives. What is a ton of CO2? It’s impossible to imagine. But perhaps it can be better understood relatively and visually?

The data here mixes direct CO2 emissions with CO2-equivalent emissions. CO2e is a calculation that includes the supply chain and production process of a given object. So for a banana, the emissions involved in growing, packaging and getting the fruit to your supermarket.

All the numbers are sourced from reputable news outlets, government studies and from the awesome book How Bad Are Bananas? by Mike Berner’s-Lee (US | UK)

The app features deep-linking. Each object in the app has its own web-address. So you can link directly to it.

And, like Snake Oil, this is a ‘living app’ which spawns itself from a Google Docs datasheet. That means the moment we edit, add or subtract info, it’s instantly rippled into the app.
See the data here: http://bit.ly/tonsofcarbon

So if you find any CO2 amounts in news reports or studies, post a comment below with a link to the source and we’ll try to add it. Or if you want to know the carbon emissions of XXXX, we’ll try to find it out for you.


GE have some other vizzes on their Visualization blog, including some recent work from maestro Ben Fry.


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Show Comments ( )

  • Trevor

    Am I reading this correctly?
    On the far right view, there’s a club penguin: 136kt (ie 136,000t)
    For comparison, a university (72,000t) and all UK music festivals (84,000t)

    Does this mean that one penguin emits roughly twice as much CO2 as a university per year?

    Doesn’t seem right to me…

  • Trevor

    Oh. It’s not actually a penguin. Fail.

  • http://oco-carbon.com Jamie Bull

    Nice visualisation.

    Just a small point on your text – CO2e does not mean supply chain emissions. The word you’re looking for is embodied carbon (sometimes called embedded carbon). This is all carbon emissions associated with the life cycle of the product or service, excluding those created by the actual use of the product.

  • timd

    there is a small mistake on the datasheet for the average Malawian
    it says 01t shouldn’t this be 0.1?

    also the text weight for shipping worldwide isn’t showing up graphically
    (on the datatsheet it says 1,2bn t (metric) vs 1,100 M t (imperial) )
    Also shouldn’t this be 1.2 bn t?

  • Nathan Phipps

    Hi,

    Do you know of any similar visualisation that scale the objects size to the amount of CO2 produced? I teach primary school students and it is very difficult to get across the comparison with only numbers. I am a big fan of this blog, and I have been inspired more than once by the ideas here.

    Many thanks,

    Nathan

  • http://sustainableseattle.org/ Eldan Goldenberg

    I’ve been a long-time fan of your blog and your work, so I’m sorry that my first comment is a negative one, but I find this app highly misleading. For one thing, as a visualisation tool one would expect the sizes of the objects to mean something, as Nathan Phillips asked. Otherwise it’s really not giving us a visual display of anything much. But the part I’m more concerned about is the inconsistency between labels of tons and kilotons. Here are two use cases:

    Assuming that the numbers themselves are correct, a day of Eyjafjallajokull and [presumably the total for] the Yellowstone mud volcano produced roughly the same amount of CO2. But one is displayed as 150,000t and the other as 173kt. This means that on a quick scan one looks 3 orders of magnitude larger than the other.

    Enter “100″ in the “tons of CO2″ input box. You may either get a wedding, for 85t, or a year of Club Penguin for 136kt – this time a real 3 orders of magnitude difference that’s obscured by the interface.

  • Dominic

    Great app, but I just feel the need to point out a small error. By CO2-e I assume you mean CDE, which is not as you described it, but rather a measure of all green house gasses in a standard unit (ie: 1t CDE of methane is the amount of methane that has the same greenhouse effect as 1t CO2).

    What you’ve described is called “embedded GHGs”.

    If it doesn’t clarify check wikipedia.

  • http://www.davidbrown.me David Brown

    The Inventory of Carbon & Energy (ICE) may be of use, it has tonnes of information and is availiable here:
    http://www.bath.ac.uk/mech-eng/sert/embodied/

    I also have lots more if you need them, just email me.

  • kat

    I’d like to know how much carbon is in a tweet please.
    K

  • DicePlayGod

    I don’t see how this thing helps visualize -
    - how much a gram, kg, tonne, etc. of carbon is
    - how the different items’ values compare. Even a simple bar graph would be better.

    Isn’t this site devoted to how to visualize information?

  • Tim

    Thanks for this. I love seeing this sort of information.

    Does a laptop (with a 15″ screen) really use 1/3 of the energy of a 15″ LCD TV? Is the TV a higher number because of the hundreds or thousands of kilowatts that the broadcasting towers pump out?

  • Mark Duran

    Cool stuff, but the small icons can’t show the large numbers rendering some of the information unreadable, if you change the color of the numbers from white to black it would be readable. Also, listing the values in one measurement such as pounds as opposed to ounces, pounds, tons etc would make the information more accessible. Its a good start though. Nice work.

    –M

  • Zen

    You are a Carbon Based Lifeform.

  • Julian

    Thanks for the beautiful informative graphics. I love your site. Thank you!

  • http://scott-herbert.com/blog/ scott Herbert

    Their appears to be a discrepancy in your underlying sheet. You have JFK to LAX as producing .438 tonnes of CO2 but the site cited as the source says .550 tonnes.
    The same thing happens with JFK to LHR and London to Tokyo.
    I guess there was a transcription error, I’m missing some conversion or the original site changed their data.
    Initially highlighted by “J Fisher”. Confirmed and reported by me.

  • David Leppik

    I have to agree with other commenters; this doesn’t help me visualize anything. If you click on a category, you get all the numbers and pictures jumbled together in no particular order. I’d expect some graphical representation of the scale of how much CO2 is used. If you click on one of the pictures, it moves to the middle, changes color, and the other pictures move around. It does more to confuse than explain. A big disappointment, considering how good your graphics usually are.

  • Jonas

    I was wondering (and amused and of course delighted about the reference to my alma mater)… what exactly made you choose the Aachen cathedral to represent a “large university”? :)

  • http://the666bbq.blogspot.com the666bbq

    hmm, 1-1,5 kg/bottle wine vs. 150kg/year for wine, that makes 100-150 bottles of wine per year, which makes me perform below average thus very unhappy. Need more wine !!

  • Debra Storr

    Really (under energy) – a low energy light bulb emits more CO2 a year than a patio heater per year.

    I guess it depends on how much the patio heater is used but on a per hour of use basis surely this is misleading. I think the problem here is selecting the appropriate units and comparisions. But I’d really hate a naive user to go “goodie”, I’ll forget the lightbulbs and use the patio heater instead.

  • http://juliekinnear.com Julie K.

    I do not really understand how does sending e-mail create any extra output of CO2. Computers would be running anyway, I just cannot see the direct causation there. Maybe I am just not skilled enough in IT. I could not read all of the values properly as well, for example the one on a Malawian person. Is it a 01t or 0.01t?

  • John G

    Wonderful. I was wondering what was the carbon footprint for an idea so I have been adding up the airmiles that people use to go to a TEDtalk conference but this viz is way better. Thanks.

    @Julie K. Your personal computer might be running, but the computer servers that process the email might not be running if there were no emails to send.

  • Andrew

    When I was at school, 1 mole (ie 44 grams) of carbon dioxide (CO2) occupies about 24.5 litres at 25C.

    So 1 tonne (1,000,00 grams) of carbon dioxide = about 22,730 moles, occupying 557,900 litres, or nearly 56 cubic metres. A living room 6m x 4m x 2.5m is 60 cubic metres.

    I hope this is helpful.

  • maika

    All the information is still quite meaningless. The most important anchor I feel needs to be how much CO2 a person breathes out (a cursory look tells me it is around 1kg per day.)

  • http://www.ellis-jones.com.au/ Ellis-Jones

    Great work. Have been curious about how much CO2 a bag of apples emits for some time now(!). Well designed site.

  • http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~thescarletmanuka/ Heather from NZ

    Way cool! I really enjoyed this. I heard your interview on Kim Hill’s show here in NZ yesterday and really enjoyed that, and have since been having fun browsing your blog.

    My husband and I have been obsessing about embedded carbon for some years. We are exploring what a sustainable life would look like: one that retained the ‘good bits’ of modern technology (ICT, modern health care etc.) but that could be scaled up to the whole global population without destroying our habitat! As part of that we’ve developed a CO2e auditing spreadsheet that we use to keep track of our own emissions. It has lots of figures that aren’t on yours (although you have some that we’ll be putting on ours now, too!), and they all have sources. You can download it from here:

    http://homepages.ihug.co.nz/~thescarletmanuka/carbon/index.html

    and see if you want to merge any of it into your app.

    Cheers,

    –Heather :-)

  • Tegiri Nenashi

    carbon crazy

  • Ellen

    CO2 is vital for life. Not only is it vital for crop growth but it actually increases yield. Let’s go back to 4th grade science, shall we?

  • Ron

    It’s a good thing GE spent all this money so we can track all that evil carbon that makes up less than 1% of the atmosphere!

  • FS

    Dear Mr McCandless, I really like your book and I am having a lot of fun reading it. But now, I discovered a graph in your book about which I am not happy. I really like your idea to visualize the carbon emissions per year per different objects/animals… to better illustrate these somehow abstract numbers. However, if I did understand the graphs in your book as well as the interactive visual landscape correctly, you seem to actually obscure the information by your graphic displays. The book by E. R. Tufte, that you listed as inspiration and source material in your book, spends some time on the discussion of the relationship between data numbers and graphic surface area. This is not considered in your displays. How else do you explain that on page 26/27 in your book one ton of shrimp (12 tons) is smaller than the “250-guest-wedding-cake” (11 tons)?
    Thank you for your reply,
    with kind regards,
    Filipp

  • http://www.foolsavenue.com Sally

    Great visualisation.
    Just a small point on your text – CO2e does not mean supply chain emissions. The word you’re looking for is embodied carbon (sometimes called embedded carbon). This is all carbon emissions associated with the life cycle of the product or service, excluding those created by the actual use of the product.

  • Nyree Gracey

    Is there any chance you might redo this? Could you do a version that’s more like the Billion Dollar-O-Gram, breaking down the main sources of carbon emissions? (ie air flights, cars, different industries). That could be really enlightening. Thanks for your work :)