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April 9, 2008

America's Biggest Belchers?

Posted: 09:34 AM ET

Want to know exactly where in the U.S. the biggest belches of fossil-fuel carbon dioxide are emitted? Researchers at Purdue University have just released a map that shows you, in more detail than ever before.


Source: Purdue University

The Purdue scientists say their system, called Vulcan, is more accurate than earlier inventories of CO2 sources, because it's based on actual emissions of greenhouse gases, as measured by the EPA and other agencies, rather than estimates.

Another reason it's more accurate, they say, is because it uses data collected every hour at local levels, rather than monthly on a state-by-state basis. The data are broken down into areas as small as 6 miles across.

Vulcan takes into account carbon dioxide from all sources that burn fossil fuels like gasoline or coal: vehicles, factories, home heating, power plants.

The Purdue researchers say when they combined a huge amount of data into a format that's easy to grasp, they got some surprises.

"For example, we've been attributing too many emissions to the northeastern United States, and it's looking like the southeastern U.S. is a much larger source than we had estimated previously," says Kevin Gurney, the leader of the project, in a written statement.

At first glance, you may think that the CO2 emissions follow the roadways with amazing precision – for instance, along I-80 in northern Nevada. But that's actually because the researchers built the map that way; all the emissions attributed to cars and trucks were shown hovering over the major roads.

Check out the little patch of clean air in upstate New York, close to the Vermont line: that's the state's 6-million acre Adirondack Park, created in 1892.

The Purdue researchers have also posted some videos from the Vulcan project on YouTube, including a cool animation of CO2 emissions over months, which are shown billowing off the map in a big brownish-purple cloud.

The researchers say because of the accuracy of the Vulcan tool, it could help policy-makers come up with more precisely targeted ways to battle greenhouse gas emissions.

And they say the project is not about assigning blame for greenhouse gases. "What Vulcan makes utterly clear is that CO2 emissions cannot be exclusively affixed to SUV drivers, manufacturers or large power producers; everybody is responsible," Gurney says in the press release. "It's not about politics. It's about doing good science and solving the problem, and we can all be a part of that."

The project included researchers from Purdue, Colorado State University and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. It was funded by NASA and the Department of Energy.

–Kate King, Writer,

Filed under: climate change • environment

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Ken in Dallas   April 9th, 2008 11:45 am ET

Is it really a good idea to headline a story like this so that it looks like a big joke?

It's an interesting presentation, but the story doesn't really go into any depth, even to the level of telling the reader how to understand the data, or even what the units on the map are. Kate could have spent another half hour or so on this.

pdykstra   April 9th, 2008 1:38 pm ET

Hey Ken!

Two comments from the Editor of this piece:

1) We're glad you're here, and hope you come back - wanting more substance is never a bad thing! The links provided in the piece will lead you to all the content on this you'll ever need.
2) Chill out a bit on Kate! She's one of the smartest people in the building, and the blog assignment was for about 300 words. What we generally try to achieve with the blog is to point CNN readers and viewers toward big stories. For better or worse, covering them exhaustively - whether it's in a short blog item or a two-minute TV story - is not always possible.

Also, the admittedly-cheesey headline was my choice...... Since I doubt that I'm one of the smartest people in the building, I will graciously accept your criticism here.

Peter Dykstra

Mr. Spock   April 9th, 2008 2:56 pm ET

What's interesting is if you super-imposed a night photo showing light-pollution of the United States over this CO2 one, they would match up perfectly. Carbon is where the people are. My dad was telling me that scientists have done studies like this on different days of the week for different countries, and CO2 levels actually drop over these countries on religious days like Sunday (Christians), Saturday (Hebrews), and Friday (Muslims). So going to church does decrease your carbon footprint after all. Good story, Kate.

Franko   April 12th, 2008 7:30 am ET

Warm is good. Food is good.
More CO2 and warmer means more food and comfort.
Ice Age is Hell.
Let us aim for Heaven, Utopia, Garden of Eden, Paradise.

Ken in Dallas   April 12th, 2008 9:06 pm ET

To Peter and Kate: my apology for harshing your work to any degree, I know it's hard to popularize topics of substance, to strike a balance between hard science and capturing a reader's attention.

It's an important story, and it lends itself to making an important point you've been trying to make, but there's a key conclusion you need to carry further than you have: we need to be much more efficient in the ways we use energy; this map shows very clearly that we have the power to change the world, and that we're doing so, thoughtlessly.

We need to look at where we use energy in the least efficient ways, and at how to improve those usages, no matter how dearly we love the ways we're wasteful. There is a single most wasteful use of energy in our lives, and it is what most transformed life in the twentieth century: the internal combustion engine. We love our cars, we love the freedom they give us, and we hate to think about changing them, but about three quarters of the energy they consume is wasted.

It's time to start working very seriously on more efficient transportation technologies than Internal combustion engines, to stop the greatest advancement of the twentieth century from becoming the bane of our lives in the twenty-first.

Franko   April 13th, 2008 2:37 am ET

Opposite to the position of Prophet Al Gore
We have to produce more CO2 to feed the world in the coming cooling period.
There will be less area to support agriculture, more CO2 increases plant growth.

Interesting presentation by David Archibald on Global Cooling:

Ken in Dallas   April 13th, 2008 3:29 pm ET

David Archibald is perhaps the most discredited voice in the world of climate science.

The Lavoisier Group, with which Archibald is closely associated, and to which he presented the paper to which Franko refers, defines the purpose of its existence in terms of its ideological opposition to the Kyoto Treaty and the Howard government's embrace of the principles of that treaty; the group identifies no positive purpose for its own existence. Like the American Enterprise Institute, The Lavoisier Group appears to derive its funding primarily from the coal and oil industries, making its credibility dubious, at best.

Archibald's presentation is, on its face, a tissue of statistical sophistry. He proposes no coherent explanation for the data he cherry-picks to tenuously support the conclusions from which he appears to have tried to work backwards. In other words, he starts with the conclusion he wants to reach, and grasps at bits and pieces of data and explanations to (tenuously) connect his conclusions with a tiny selection of the available facts. His story grasps at dust and sunspots in a fairly incoherent attempt to refute the world scientific consensus on climate science.

It all leads me to wonder who's paying Franko to encourage us to waste energy and burn anything combustible.

We really do have the power to change the world. Can we really afford to use such power thoughtlessly and ruthlessly?

Ronald Adamowicz   April 14th, 2008 11:06 pm ET

Franko   April 15th, 2008 1:09 am ET

Points raised by David Archibald:
    CO2 has little effect on climate,
   but is beneficial to agriculture

   Solar Cycle 24 will cause colder climate

CO2 effect is correct
Weak Solar Cycle 24 prediction is questioned:


Googling for Global Cooling,
Freeman Dyson has a reasonable position: more data


Are we doomed by Solart Cycles, or can we engineer and renowate Earth to conditions existing 6,000 years ago ?

therealist   April 15th, 2008 11:09 am ET

This study highlights the need for a regional carbon tax code. Why should everyone pay for the ignorance of the few??

New England, California and Flordia should be carring the majority of the cost burden since their creating the majority of the carbon burden.

Franko   April 16th, 2008 3:55 am ET

Look at 2008 International Conference on Climate Change

Especially important is Ferenc Miskolczi and Miklos Zagoni
Greenhouse effect is self – limiting
One effect is negated by another, and only little change.

All the extra CO2 will not save us from the coming Ice House ?
Hell on Earth will not be warm !

ltydog   April 17th, 2008 12:08 am ET

Can someone explain the climate change/peak oil Doomsday Paradox to me?

Supposedly, we are ruining the planet with the ever increasing CO2 emmisions we are putting into the atmosphere, something which is melting the ice caps and will ruin the lives of billions of people with rising sea levels.

However, on the other hand, we have supposedly surpased Peak Oil (or are close to it), the point in which we will see ever decreasing amounts of oil produced.

So my question...How is it we are going to continue our exponential rate of atmospheric polution when we are running out of the very material (oil) we use to polute? If we are running out, we won't have anything to polute with? On the other hand, if we do have it, all of the dying people (due to global warming) will likely kill the demand anyway. I'd just like an unbiased economist to tell it to me straight, without the politics involved.

Ken in Dallas   April 17th, 2008 8:11 pm ET

That's an easy one, ity.

We've reached "peak oil" more than once already. For instance, in the US, we've only depleted around 40% of the oil estimated to exist in the ground. The more of that remaining oil we go after, however, the more work it takes: oil that wasn't profitable to produce at $10/barrel is highly profitable at $115/barrel. That takes care of oil.

The next obvious fact you're missing is that oil accounts for only around 25% of the energy we consume. About half of our energy comes from burning coal, which is an even worse source of CO2, sulfur, and general pollution than oil is. The available reserves of coal are many times the available oil, so we can keep polluting with coal for at least 250 years, or until we're all dead, whichever comes first.

Take heart, though. Climate change is already causing widespread famine and pestilence around the world. In case you haven't heard, there's currently a worldwide food crisis inflating the price of basic food grains like rice, wheat, and corn to the point that a subsistence diet costs poor families more than half their daily income. The lack of safe water supplies is bringing about a resurgence of cholera, dengue fever, malaria, and any number of diseases that adapt to changing environmental conditions far faster than people do.

You may not be surprised to learn that the millions of people subject to starvation and sickness are becoming discontented with their lot in life, and have begun rioting and overthrowing their governments, as happened in Haiti last weekend. As living conditions continue to deteriorate, we can reasonably expect more and more desperate people to start fighting for their lives, trying to take what they need to survive from the rich (that's us).

Is any of this sounding familiar yet? Famine and pestilence are here now, on a rapidly-increasing scale; war is on the doorstep; there's only one horseman left, and he can't be too far behind the rest.

To answer your question, you don't need an economist; you just have to take a step back from arguing about oil, look at what's going on the world around you, and try to care a little. I know that last part's hard, but it'll come to you when things get bad enough.

There is no Doomsday paradox. We have more than ample means to put an end to human civilization just by clinging to the status quo that's not-so-slowly killing people already. Don't worry about running out of oil; if we last long enough for that to happen, there's plenty of coal to finish the job.

Franko   April 18th, 2008 6:07 am ET

Ken in Dallas is correct about available energy. Here in Canada, there is an oil boom at the tar sands. Even Dick Chaney, second in command of the Global Empire visited. However, with Zubrin's methanol proposal, oil might go back to $50 a barrel ?

One unexpected result of pollution is Global Dimming, altering weather patterns, suspected cause of famines in Africa. (see google video)

DR   April 18th, 2008 11:54 pm ET

I am requesting CNN correct an error in it's April 8 internet article entitled " Global warming: A natural cycle or human result?"

The story concerning 'Warming Island' is not true and should be corrected.

The facts about 'Warming Island' are here:

This myth has been propagated throughout the news media, and it is blatantly untrue.

pdykstra   April 19th, 2008 10:52 am ET

Thanks David - the source you cite for criticizing the story, the World Climate Report, is bankrolled by a non-profit arm of the Western Fuels Association, a coal industry consortium.

The research cited by Manaev, who wrote the story for CNN, is solid and peer-reviewed. The "truth" you cite is, with all due respect, on a little bit of thin ice.

I always cringe a little when the messengers get shot for delivering the message. I don't know of any of my colleagues in the media who doesn't hope that the overwhelming scientific consensus on global warming turns out to be wrong. I really hope we get egg on our faces on the global warming story. It beats having my kids cope with the dramatic, mostly bad, changes we apparently have in store.

You are right that there are dissenters. Pat Michaels, the editor of the World Climate Report, is one of the most prominent. We've had him on CNN a lot – by my informal count, more than any other individual scientist on any side. But the weight of the research that disagrees with hm, and with the Western Fuels Association, is substantial and growing.

Peter Dykstra

Franko   April 20th, 2008 3:42 am ET

"Too bloomin' cold . . ..
The nursery is also way past its frost-free date, which is usually March 22"

Hail yesterday, snow this morning, very cold outside.
USA warmest was in 1934 or 1998 ?
Heading for Little Ice Age or colder ?
Even if we dodge Solar Cycle 24, Solar Cycle 25 will get us.

Bad news is that Earth is in Greenhouse effect saturation;
Burning more carbon will only decrease warming effect of water vapor.

Sea level is a lagging temperature indicator. Last 3 are down.

Not vegetation, but frozen water in the future.
The Greenies need to change their color to white  ! 

Don   April 22nd, 2008 10:40 am ET

Why are there always idiots like "therealist" who want California to pay for the sins of the world? I find it bizarre that leftist liberals go after their motherland–California. Besides that, Atlanta, Chicago, and Detroit each look far worse on that map than either the Los Angeles basin or the enitre San Francisco bay area. But if you still believe that all pollution is only a California problem then we can settle the issue by dividing the state into 2 separate states. Then there is a more equal comparison a state to state basis–well except for those heavy polluting yet tiny states like Delaware, Rhode Island, well heck, anything from Vermont down to Virginia. Point is, if you compare land mass to pollution output California comes out looking really clean.

dorksamongstus   April 23rd, 2008 4:02 pm ET

"if you compare land mass to pollution output California comes out looking really clean."

Not if they map Methane emmissions. (snicker)

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