Editor's Note: This post reveals a new way of visualizing the problem of CO2 emissions in the United States by comparing them to the more-talked-about BP Gulf oil spill. For more on the systemic ramifications of, and solutions to, the oil spill, see Alex Steffen's "Seeing Past the BP Spill."
Official estimates are in for BP's Gulf oil spill: it's pegged at about five million barrels of oil total. That's a mind-bending amount of fossil fuel.
And yet it's not much. Or, at least it's not much compared to what the United States emits in greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, our carbon pollution is so huge that it's like taking that five million barrels of oil, burning every drop of it, and then doing the same thing again every 2 hours and 41 minutes. We do it without stopping. We do it almost 9 times a day; 61 times a week; more than 3,000 times a year.
Fortunately, BP finally put a cap on the ongoing catastrophe in the Gulf. But the US Senate, by contrast, has declined to put a cap on the bigger catastrophe. It's too politically risky, we're told. And it doing so might shave a few decimal points off the nation's GDP growth over the next 40 years, so never mind the economic afflictions that an altered climate is predicted to deliver. Unfortunately, we should expect that the damages from climate change will far outstrip the harm that BP dealt to the Gulf.
Notes: I estimated that the US produces seven billion metric tons of CO2-equivalent annually, based on the most recent EPA inventory [PDF] for all sources of emissions, not counting emissions sinks. I assumed that the carbon content of a barrel of oil is, on average, 0.43 metric tons, consistent with EPA's published calculator, though in reality this figure can vary based on several factors. Tweaking these assumptions could alter my figures a bit.
This post originally appeared on Sightline's Daily Score blog.
Image added by Worldchanging: black balloons from the ad "Each balloon represents 50g carbon pollution" -- the screenshot shown occurs when the narrator says, "the average New South Wales home produces about 160,000 balloons a year."
As an aside, did you know that BP ran a national advertizing campaign in the US in 1998 saying
"We are bringing oil to your shores"