Chances are that when you see a picture related to global warming in the US, you see one of two images: a traffic jam in California or a large coal-fired power plant in the Midwest. These are big sources of carbon dioxide to be sure, but our work in putting our Environmental Impact Calculator together suggested that this wasn’t all fair. On average, Californians drive fewer miles per year than many other parts of the country (but at much slower speeds unfortunately), while there are dirty power plants and industries all over the place, not just in the Midwest. Without resorting to lots of charts and graphs, though, it’s tough to see all of this … until now.
A just-released study produced by the Vulcan Project at Purdue University shows US carbon emissions trends in a truly compelling (and scarily beautiful) way. The team has built some amazing graphical simulations that literally show the US “exhaling” carbon dioxide each hour of each day of the year. Huge clouds of CO2 are emitted each day, and much smaller amounts each night. The carbon cloud hovering over the US looks like a living, breathing organism that covers the map like a huge blob when energy use is the highest (make sure you watch the video beginning at the 2:30 mark to see this effect).
What’s it all say? Well, for one, certain areas stand out. California and the West have a few hotspots, but the map is dominated by the emissions coming from the Southeast, Midwest and Northeast. This makes sense, since the density of development (and thus population) in the eastern US is much higher, the use of dirty fuels such as heating oil and coal is greater, and the number of petrochemical and manufacturing plants is higher.
Two, it really brings home the point that we all have a role to play in cutting carbon emissions - regardless of where you live, we’re all contributing in a pretty significant way. So, have a few minutes of fun (and learning) watching the carbon blob eat the US, and then try our Environmental Impact Calculator to figure out what you can do. It happens to take many of these same factors into account, so you get a truly regional estimate of your carbon footprint.