At 70 feet across, Deutsche Bank Asset Management's new "carbon counter" billboard is advertised as the world's first real-time calculator of global greenhouse gas emissions.
This billboard, together with its web-based counterpart, were created as a way to not only bring into focus the problem of climate change but to highlight the economic opportunities that exist in transitioning our $6trln global energy economy away from its heavy dependence on fossil fuels.
The carbon counter itself measures the amount of greenhouse gas emissions we have already put into the air (3.6 trillion tons) and how quickly this number rises (about 800 tons a second) over time. The numbers are compiled and adjusted monthly by scientists at MIT and are expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent tons instead of straight tons of carbon dioxide. This is due to the fact that carbon dioxide is only responsible for about two-thirds of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, with the rest coming from methane (18.5%), nitrous dioxide (6.2%) and residual Montreal Protocol halocarbon gases (9%). If the counter were only measuring CO2 the number would be around 3 trillion tons.
While this carbon counter points to solutions that can help us address this issue starting today- from lowering your carbon footprint to contacting your Congressman about climate policy to investing in clean technologies- it also reminds us that the clock is ticking and the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. The DBAM carbon counter is effectively counting up to a climate disaster that will only get harder and harder to avoid if nothing is done to slow and ultimately reverse this trend.
Failure to acknowledge what this carbon counter is telling us may mean that some day we will be looking back to note how higher points on the billboard coincide directly with higher global surface temperatures. We will see how a business as usual rise in our greenhouse gas emissions through 2030 (using the EIA's latest forecasts) will lead to a 2 degree Celsius rise in surface temperatures by 2035 (under the Stern Report analysis) and how further inaction could increase temperatures by 5 degrees Celsius in the year 2100 (under MIT's latest analysis). A rise in temperature that would dramatically distabilize global commerce, create even more "failed" states around the world, and submerge vast amounts of the world's coastal plains.
In sum, Deutsche Bank Asset Management should be applauded for bringing this critical number to our attention. The general public should be aware of our progress or failure in meeting this challenge and it is now rightly on display at 33rd and 7th Avenue.