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Gigatons of carbon dioxide - getting your head around it

 Here is a fun way of relating to billions fo tons of carbon emissions.


As we burn fossil fuels, we send up carbon dioxide ( CO2) up into the atmosphere. In 2016, we sent up to heavens 35.7 billion tons of CO2 https://www.eia.gov/beta/international/data/ , but what does this really mean? I have no idea of what one billion tons of anything is. But, I can get around it, and help you to do the same, by imagining what would happen if I took all the carbon atoms in 36 billion tons of CO2 and made them into diamonds. Not an easy task, but it helps us to see how huge emissions are. Do you know the size of the diamond that you would have? Imagine a cube with an edge of 1.4 km (0.88 mi). This giant cube of pure diamond would contain the same amount of carbon atoms as the emissions of 2016. The cube is too large to handle? No problem, we can just as easily make smaller diamonds, say 1 carat ones.  In this case, there would be enough of 1 carat diamonds to cover the whole of the land mass of the Earth surface (150 million square kilometres) with 330 carats of them per square meter, or 33 carats per square foot. Ask any lady whether she would like a 10 carat diamond of the highest quality. Go past a jeweller and ask her or him to show you a 10 carat diamond. It has to be a very expensive jeweller, I warn you. The lady better say no, because you might need something like US$ 200,000 to buy it for her. Our imaginary 10 carat emissions diamonds would fetch a market price of around 100 billion billion dollars, or 1 billion Bill Gates! Anyway, that would never happen, of course, because by then diamonds would be so abundant as to be as worthless as pebbles. Think of it: we may have no idea what 36 billion tons of CO2 are, but, if we convert that into diamonds, we get a small and comprehensible, but not less scary, number. Moreover, keep in mind that we are talking about only a single year of emissions. These CO2 emissions have been going on for more than two hundred years, although not in the same intensity as in the last hundred years.




 A gigaton is more than 6 million blue whales. So that in 2016, (35.7 * 6 = 214.2) we sent the equivalent of 214 million blue whales into the atmosphere.

1 gigaton = 1 billion tons


Humans have increased the CO2 in the troposphere by 48% since about 1800.

We now have  3,245.3 gigatonnes of CO2 in the troposphere.

I like the idea of relating the amount of CO2 to something familiar.
Try this:
A litre (35 fluid ounces) of CO2 weighs around 1.96 grams at N.T.P.  [Normal Temperature (20 C) & Pressure]*
That is, 0.00196 kg
1 tonne  (1,000 kg) of CO2 would thus be approx 510,204 litres
An Olympic-sized swimming pool (25m x 50m x 2m) can hold 2,500,000 litres  (of water or in this case CO2)
A swimming pool of CO2 would weigh approx 4.9 tonnes
37 billion tonnes per year, equals  (37,000,000,000 / 365) / 24 =  4,223, 744 tonnes CO2 per hour
=  861, 988 of the swimming pools.

So that's not far off 1 million Olympic-sized swimming pools of CO2 going into our atmosphere every hour of every day.


* yes, chemistry nerds, I realise gases expand or contract at different temperatures and pressure but it's just a simple analogy to help visualise the approximate amount of CO2

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In 2016, we sent up to heavens 35.7 billion tons of CO2 https://www.eia.gov/beta/interna3onal/data/ , but what does this really mean? I have no idea of what one billion tons of anything is. But, I can get around it, and help you to do the same, by imagining what would happen if I took all the carbon atoms in 36 billion tons of CO2 and made them into diamonds. Not an easy task, but it helps us to see how huge emissions are. Do you know the size of the diamond that you would have? Imagine a cube with an edge of 1.4 km (0.88 mi). This giant cube of pure diamond would contain the same amount of carbon atoms as the emissions of 2016. The cube is too large to handle? No problem, we can just as easily make smaller diamonds, say 1 carat ones. In this case, there would be enough of 1 carat diamonds to cover the whole of the land mass of the Earth surface (150 million square kilometres) with 330 carats of them per square meter, or 33 carats per square foot. Ask any lady whether she would like a 10 carat diamond of the highest quality. Go past a jeweller and ask her or him to show you a 10 carat diamond. It has to be a very expensive jeweller, I warn you. The lady better say no, because you might need something like US$ 200,000 to buy it for her. Our imaginary 10 carat emissions diamonds would fetch a market price of around 100 billion billion dollars, or 1 billion Bill Gates! Anyway, that would never happen, of course, because by then diamonds would be so abundant as to be as worthless as pebbles. Think of it: we may have no idea what 36 billion tons of CO2 are, but, if we convert that into diamonds, we get a small and comprehensible, but not less scary, number. Moreover, keep in mind that we are talking about only a single year of emissions. These CO2 emissions have been going on for more than two hundred years, although not in the same intensity as in the last hundred years.

In surveys, as general science intelligence increases, belief in global warming diverges based on political party.  A Republican with ability to understand the prior comments here, will still deny that CO2 emissions caused by human actions, causes global warming.


Dr. John Sterman, MIT Sloan, "Research shows that showing people research doesn't work."

Richard, you're correct that climate deniers can't be swayed by evidence and that feelings and tribal allegiance have a huge impact on people's views.
But the above analogies aren't meant to persuade people who don't accept the science. Rather, they are meant to help those who are trying to understand the magnitude of the problem, to visualise it.  For example, this might help teachers trying to convey it to students. I did the maths on the swimming pools as I wanted to understand it better myself.


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