Dot Earth – What if CO2 was “pink”

re: Dot Earth 10/22/09 on Keeping the Gas in the Pipeline

Ah yes Andy…If CO2 was “pink”, then we’d all SEE it. Good idea.

That’s something we might connect to one of the nice clear ways to clearly visualize it, imagining all the “pink gas” you’d need to “exhale” for each choice you make to consume fossil fuels. It’s a shocker, I warn you. This is actually very legitimate math. It’s based on the reality that most spending will naturally have about average embodied energy and carbon content. (see

A cubic meter of CO2 has a mass of about 1.98 kg, and that’s equal to the amount of CO2 produced by about 6 dollars worth of average spending, anywhere in the world, because the ratio of GDP to energy use is roughly the same everywhere in the world.

That means, on average, that a $6 beer generates about a cubic meter of fossil CO2. If you were to exhale that CO2 with average maximum lung inhales the size of a balloon (~2liter = .002m3) and it took you 10 sips to finish your beer…, you’d need to make 2liter pink balloons 50 times FOR EVERY SIP…! Check the math. It comes from our using fossil fuel in nearly every step of creating products of any value.

If you were to spend $120 on 2 hours at the Opera, of course, considered as average spending your carbon cost of the show would be 1000 pink balloon exhales, or about 8 per minute, along with everyone else in the room…! To put on an Opera that only cost a couple dozen lung fulls of fossil CO2 to linger in the atmosphere the tickets would need to be 1.5 cents. The temptation is to imagine that your own spending is going to be way way below average in energy and CO2 content, as that is just most everyone thinks who doesn’t see where the energy is consumed in delivering the goods and services they buy.

These are unfortunately very real numbers. What they expose, more than anything else, is the sort of deceptive understatement of the problem that the “problem solvers” have allowed, apparently to make their solutions seem more attractive. I think the truth is closer to our not having even begun to conceive of the scope of the problem we have created for ourselves by becoming addicted to ever accelerating use of cheap energy…

The real problem is that we simply can’t keep using cheap energy both because it is rapidly running out and rapidly disrupting the global ecologies. We’ve also spent remarkably little time or effort learning how to live with expensive energy. All the investment industry is actually motivated to do, in fact, is invent new ways of using up cheap energy even faster.


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