Breathing Earth

Multimedia artist David Bleja has created an interesting simulation entitled "Breathing Earth". Breathing Earth catalogues and projects birth and death rates for the globe as well as the amount of CO2 emitted into the atmosphere... all in real time. As such, it is a simulation, but based on pretty realistic sources (including population data from the CIA World Factbook and CO2 rates from the United Nations Statistic Division).

What is interesting about Breathing Earth's organizational output, is that it does not calculate CO2 emissions per capita (which is great for finger pointing) but rather by how LONG it takes to emit 1000 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere, highlighting the pressing issue of time. Quickly scrolling over the animation, comparisons do emerge however; for instance, in North America, it takes 52 seconds for Canada to emit 1000 tonnes of CO2 compared to 5.2 seconds in the US and 1.2 minutes in Mexico. Compare that to 4 hours in Mozambique. While most of the 'developed world' prides itself on making things faster and more efficient, it seems that the pace in the 'undeveloped world' coincides with a reduce rate CO2 emissions. While Breathing Earth is organized around political divides, it does not account for where the atmospheric winds carry these emissions. Satellite sensor studies conducted between 2002 and 2005 by NASA revealed that pollution does indeed travel. NASA’s investigation stated that approximately 4.5 teragrams (or 10 billion pounds) of pollution aerosols traveled to North America from China over the four years of the study. This pollution could cross the Pacific in about a week, and was equivalent to 15 percent of the local emissions in North America. The data was collected by NASA’s MODIS (Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer) Instrument, which is stationed on the Terra satellite. The MODIS instrument is able to differentiate between broad particle types in the atmosphere and records these every day or two. This allows us to understand not only where pollution is produced but also where it is going. While NASA’s study did not look at the where the pollution from North America, Europe or Australia finds its way to, it will not be long before we have a clear sense of pollution flows throughout the world.

I've been watching this animation for close to thirty minutes, and since I've been plugged in, 6 240 people have been born, 2490 have died, and 1224000 tonnes of CO2 have been injected into the atmosphere. Breathing Earth is a gripping reminder that we have supersized the capacity of our planet.

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