In this article, I will try to make CO2 more tangible and real, so that you can visualise what greenhouse gas emissions look like from your daily perspective.
Difficulty to visualise 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide
With the emission of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide (or CO2) causes a change in the atmosphere, which causes global climate change. The climate problem is not going to go away, and we must do our utmost best to limit our emissions and impacts on the climate.
However, it can be difficult to understand what a tonne of CO2 looks like as it is a transparent gas present within the air that we breathe.
This article will try to make 1 tonne of carbon dioxide is a more tangible and real, so that you can visualise what greenhouse gas emissions look like from your daily perspective rather than a term that scientists and politicians use without any real explanation.
Rather than looking at climate change in terms of the cost in pounds or dollars, or energy used, such as kWh, it is important to reframe any discussion on climate change by understanding the significance of carbon dioxide – What is looks like, How to visualise a tonne of CO2 and bring that visualisation to live by relating it to our everyday life.
What is the size of 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide?
First, lets look at how big 1 tonne of CO2 is. There are various representations of one tonne of carbon dioxide as a sphere about 11 metres high, well over the height of a typical tonne bus.
Or has a cube 8.2 metres on each side, which is larger than the typical semi-detached house in the UK.
Indeed, two tonnes of CO2 could easily fill up the two half’s of a semi-detached house.
With the UK average carbon emissions per person at about 13 tonnes, that means that a couple will produce enough carbon dioxide to fill the Elizabeth Tower housing Big Ben each year.
What is 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide at home?
Now, let’s relate the size of 1 tonne of CO2 to our homes and everyday use of electricity and gas.
So, 1 tonne of CO2 is equal to…
Using 5,171 kWh of electricity, which could power a mid-terrace or flat for about a year and 10 months or a bungalow or detached house for 15 months based on UK average electricity consumption.
For the same 1 tonne of CO2, you could use 495 cubic metres (or 5,555 kWh) of natural gas, which is the equivalent of 70% of the typical low consumption of gas or 30% of the typical high gas consumption in the UK.
What is 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide in our travels?
Next, lets relate that same 1 tonne of CO2 to our travelling, whether for commuting to work, at business travel or personal travel for the weekly shop or holidays…
Here, 1 tonne of CO2 is equal to…
Running a small petrol car like a Peugeot 107, Volks Wagen Up or Citroen C1 driving for approximately 5,737 (or 9,234 km), which is about 85% of the average mileage of 6,800 miles per year in the United Kingdom.
Or a larger car, such as the BMW 5 series or Audi A5 or A6, would drive for about 3,556 miles (or 5,724 km) or just over 52% of the average UK annual mileage.
We can see the benefits of an electric powered car, like a Tesla, as taking the same 1 tonne of CO2 would allow for about 14,600 miles (or 23,500 km) giving over two years of low-carbon driving based on the UK average annual mileage.
Even better value is using public transport, such as the train, which would allow the same 1 tonne of CO2 to provide for over 17,500 miles (or 28,000 km of train journeys the equivalent of 107 journeys between Manchester and London.
Although, you can expect that domestic air travel in the UK would be worse at 2,527 mile (or 4,067 km) for the same 1 tonne of CO2 giving only 15 and a half Manchester to London journeys compared with the earlier train, where we could get 107 journeys on, essentially, the same route.
Other ways to visualise 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide?
Outside of the home or travel, there are other ways to visualise, one tonne of CO2. We can take a look at typical items, such as a fire extinguisher found in our offices and factories. Here, one tonne would be not one, not two but 500 typical 2kg fire extinguishers. That’s a lot of fire extinguishers for the one tonne.
Or it could look like 161,290 litre bottles of cola or other carbonated drink based on the average carbonation charge of 6.2 g per litre.
Or, even a majestic 500 cubic metre hot air balloon floating about you in the sky.
How to remove 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide?
So far in this episode, I have cover what 1 tonne of CO2 looks like. This part looks at what it takes to remove carbon dioxide from our atmosphere using the most natural option of growing trees.
To capture of 1 tonne of CO2 emissions would need about 50 trees to be grown for one year.
With the latest figure for CO2 emissions for the UK at 409,523,000 that would require over 20,000 million trees to be planted each year, which would easily exceed the available space across the whole of the UK.
Put in context UK political parties have policies to plant 30 to 100 million new trees, in addition to the estimated 3 trillion trees already growing in the UK.
We can quickly see that planting trees is not going to absorb the excess carbon dioxide produced in the UK each year.
How to avoid making 1 tonne of Carbon Dioxide?
I hope that you are better able to visualise 1 tonne of CO2 and relate it to your daily personal or business life. By now, you can quickly see that the best way to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions is to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy, travel less or on more efficient transport options, such as trains or electric cars. And that is only a start…
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