New York's carbon emissions

A Carbon Visuals Project


Exploratory project supported by Environmental Defense Fund


To apply our developing visualisation approach to the challenge of engaging the ‘person on the street’.


Dynamic animation showing total emissions and the rate of emissions of New York City and viewed over 300,000 times.

In 2010 New York City added 54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere (75% from buildings, the bulk of the rest from transport) but that number means little to most people because few of us have a sense of scale for atmospheric pollution.

Carbon Visuals, supported by Environmental Defense Fund, have created a film that makes those emissions feel more real - the total emissions and the rate of emission. Designed to engage the ‘person on the street’, this version is exploratory and still work in progress.

Emissions in 2010 were 12% less than 2005 emissions. The City of New York is on track to reduce emissions by 30% by 2017 - an ambitious target. Mayor Bloomberg’s office has not been involved in the creation or dissemination of this video.

See how we can help cities engage their citizens in carbon issues.

See video on YouTube

For the technically minded:

In 2010 (the latest year for which data is available) New York City added 54,349,650 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere = 148,903 tons a day = 6,204 tons an hour = 1.72 tons a second.

City of New York, Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions, September 2011, by Jonathan Dickinson and Andrea Tenorio. Mayor’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, New York, 2011

At standard pressure and 59 °F a metric ton of carbon dioxide gas would fill a sphere 33 feet across (density of CO₂ = 1.87 kg/m³).

If this is how carbon dioxide gas was actually emitted in New York we would see one of these spheres appear every 0.58 seconds.

This is how the size of the piles was calculated:

CO2 volume for a year: 29,063,983,957 metres cubed (= cube with sides 3,075 metres) CO2 volume for a day: 79,627,353 metres cubed (= cube with sides 430 metres)

packing density for unordered spheres: 0.64

Spheres volume for a year: 45,412,474,933 metres cubed (= cube with sides 3,568 metres) Spheres volume for a day: 124,417,739 metres cubed (= cube with sides 499 metres)

A 'pile' is somewhere between a hemisphere and a cone that has equal radius and height. So the height will be somewhere between the height of a hemisphere and height of a cone which each have the spheres volume:

Height of annual hemisphere: 2,789 metres; height of annual cone: 3,513 metres Height of daily hemisphere: 390 metres; height of daily cone: 492 metres

A selection of websites and blog posts where the New York emissions video has been displayed

A selection of websites and blog posts where the New York emissions video has been displayed


The Carbon Visuals video of New York's emissions features in over 100 articles and blogs. Here is a selection:

New York's carbon emissions visualised - as giant spheres, Simon Rogers,Guardian Data Blog

Think New York Has a Small Carbon Footprint? Watch This Video, Eric Larson, Mashable

NYC Carbon Footprint: Imagining Gotham's Greenhouse Gas Emissions As One-Ton Spheres, Huffington Post

Video: What does NYC’s carbon footprint “look” like? Melissa C. Lott,Scientific American

Mountain of balls engulfs New York to show emissions, Sandrine Ceurstemont, New Scientist TV

What If You Replaced All of New York City’s Carbon Dioxide Emissions with Big Blue Bouncy Balls? Smithsonian Blog

NYC’s carbon footprint visualized in turquoise bubbles, Jordana Divon,Daily Buzz

NYC’s Carbon Footprint Visualized As Blue Blobs, Carl Franzen, TPM Livewire

The Mayor Warns Us Of NYC's Carbon Emissions... With Balls!John Surico,The Village Voice

New video shows New York City's carbon footprint as turquoise bubbles, Daniel Martin, The Weather Network

This Week’s Scariest Video Comes From New York’s Mayor, Randall Gross,Little Green Footballs

New York City's greenhouse gas emissions visualized, Lucinda Broad,2 Degrees Network

Stunning video shows how quickly streets of New York would be buried up to Empire State Building by just on day's emissions MailOnline


The Co-director of the New York carbon emissions film was: Chris Rabét

A set of high resolution stills is available on Carbon Visuals Flickr page