And You Think the Oil Spill is Bad?
The latest estimate of the amount of oil being spilled per day in the Gulf of Mexico is 40,000 barrels per day. This is an epic disaster that we are all angry and saddened by. We should be! Many lives have been upended by the economic hardship that the spill has caused to Gulf Coast residents and marine and coastal ecosystems have been damaged for decades.
We should be angrier and sadder by our everyday carbon emissions, but we are not. We are not because most of us do not understand the scale of carbon emissions nor can we see any immediate negative effects.
Oil washing ashore and coating wildlife is highly visible much like a large, fresh cut on one’s body. However, CO2 emissions are like a hidden cancer that is eating a person away slowly and inexorably. Because it may not have any visible signs early on, it is easy to be blind to the problem. The cut will heal in time but the cancer grows worse and worse left untreated. In time, even treatment may not fix the problem. Early detection and early mitigation are the only solutions.
The amount of CO2 that is emitted globally each day that remains in the air is equivalent to almost 8,000 Gulf oil spills each day!
So how much does a barrel of oil weigh? From Wiki:
Texas Crude Oil Density = 873 kg / cubic meter
1 cubic meter = 264.172 gallons
1 barrel of oil = 42 gallons
42 gallons * (1 cubic meter / 264.172 gallons) = .15898 cubic meters / barrel
.15808 cubic meters / barrel * (873 kg /cubic meter) = 138.8 kg / barrel of oil
Each barrel spilled adds 138.8 Kg (0.1388 metric tons) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Each day 5552 metric tons of oil are released into the Gulf.
In the past few years humans are adding CO2 at a rate of nearly 2 ppm per year which is equivalent to 15.6 Gt (billion tons) CO2 per year. (About half of the CO2 emitted is removed by natural sinks such as the oceans, plants, and soil. The amount that remains in the air is listed in parts per million or ppm.)
15,600,000,000 tons CO2 per year / 365 days / 5552 metric tons oil per day = 7,698 oil spills per day.
The amount of CO2 emitted EACH DAY that remains in the air is comparable to almost 8,000 Gulf Oil Spills EACH DAY!
The planet (air and oceans) has cancer. That cancer is human-induced climate change (global warming). The doctors have detected the cancer. The doctors in this case are just about every scientist working in fields related to climate change. The experts tell us the cure is to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. These experts also tell us that we may not be able to stop this cancer if we delay much longer. (Some say it is too late already.)
BP has set aside $20 billion for the cleanup. Some estimates are that the total cost will reach $100 billion. Sadly, $100 billion is pennies in a bucket to the many trillions of dollars that global warming will cause the world this century – not to mention that mass human suffering and loss of wildlife.
I hope you are very angry and very sad.
Note: Thanks to David at Realclimate.org for doing something similar before this post.
Disclaimer: In no way am I minimizing the huge disaster that is the BP Gulf oil spill. This post is an attempt to expose a much greater long-term threat that we face due to massive GHG emissions every day. Furthermore, my use of the cancer analogy is not meant to offend those that have struggled with this awful disease. My family has struggled so I understand the hardships families face. The cancer analogy is understandable and conveys the grave danger associated with not dealing with a serious threat when first detected.
Update (09/01/2011): About half of the CO2 emitted is removed by natural sinks such as the oceans, plants, and soil. The amount that remains in the air is listed in parts per million (ppm). We emit about 16,000 Gulf oil spills worth of CO2 each day but only 8,000 remain in the air as an average.