Friday, June 19, 2009

Clocking carbon

The carbon counter unveiled in New York City (report) is worth a look.

Its creators claim to have originated the idea of a real-time carbon counter as a way of providing people with a simple explanation of a complex problem.

But this is a creation with more than one paternity claim attached. At openDemocracy in 2005 we created a crude working model of a version proposed by E3G (see article here; the clock itself is no longer online).

Most conspicuous in the Deutsche Bank version is a display showing the total amount, in tonnes, of carbon dioxide (and other greenhouse gases represented in carbon dioxide equivalent) estimated to be in the atmosphere.

In our version we tried to show the rising level of total CO2(e).

Which works better as a communication tool? Two advantage of our version, I'd say were:
1) You could look at that number in relation to whatever is judged to be a 'safe' level of atmospheric concentrations; and

2) the figures increased at a slow but steady pace, clicking over every few seconds like the tenths of a mile of the milometer in a fast moving car (only in this case measuring thousandths and hundreds of thousandths of parts per million). This was, I think, easier for the eye to take in, and -- perhaps -- more conducive to reflection than the hell-for-leather breakneck speed of the DB clock.
But it had disadvantages too.

You could, of course, make a case for another measure on the clock altogether, such as a countdown of the remaining carbon - perhaps half a trillion tonnes - that it is (within explicitly stated grounds of uncertainty) 'safe' to burn.

Or you can take another approach altogether. It's good to be reminded, for example, of what may be one of the best pieces of communication on climate change so far.

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