Visualizing Your Carbon Footprint: A Six Story Compressed Gas Cylinder

I’m not sure why that I have waited this long to calculate my carbon footprint.  After inputting my information to the calculator at goBEYOND, it spit out my footprint:

3.464 Tonnes CO2 per year

I hate weight measurements because they give you no sense of how “much” of something there is (i.e. a gram of lead and a gram of water have very different volumes since lead is more dense than water).  I much prefer to think about chemistry in mols (think: atoms of stuff).   It is far more intuitive to visualize a certain number of atoms than the weight of atoms since atoms are actual, countable “things”.  So, how many mols is 3.464 Tonnes of CO2?  Approximately 75300 mols, or about 45 thousand trillion trillion atoms of carbon dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere as a direct result of my lifestyle.

I admit that 45 thousand trillion trillion atoms is hardly any more useful than 3.464 tonnes, so lets put this into more intuitive form: volume.  Using the ideal gas law (Dr. Ng covered this during the climate change section of ASIC), and assuming a few things (1 atm of pressure and room temperature), I can calculate the volume of air that my CO2 takes up each year: about 1800 cubic meters.

If I were to enclose this gas in a building (assuming it has a 100 squre metre base), the building would be the equivalent of a small apartment complex.  This value is only for a single year.  Assuming that I have been emitting 3.464 Tonnes of CO2 every year I was born (averaging out my greener baby/toddler year with my driving-to-the-corner-grocery-store teen years), I have been responsible for 45,000 cubic metres of Co2.  This same building would be over 450m, or 150 stories tall.  Holy shit.

Granted, there are more efficient ways to store gases.  However, even if I were to store all of the CO2 emited during the course of my life under 25atm of pressure (from my recolection, this is ballpark  pressure that most gas cyclinders are kept), I would have a 6-story compressed gas cyclinder in my backyard.

For an average American (and, presumably, North American), their cylinder would be double that height (source).

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Dave Semeniuk spends hours locked up in his office, thinking about the role the oceans play in controlling global climate, and unique ways of studying it. He'd also like to shamelessly plug his art practice: