Deutsche Bank’s New Carbon Counter

Deutsche Bank launched a carbon counter in the heart of Manhattan (Herald Square, 7th Ave @ 33rd St) last week. The counter, which is based on NASA and NOAA data and projections by MIT scientists, displays a running total of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Today’s count: 3.64 trillion metric tons. The numbers grow quickly in real time (800 metric tons per second) and leave viewers jarred by the fast growing total. You can watch the counter in New York or download a widget for your desktop.

Deutsche Bank says it built the counter to raise awareness about global climate change. “The carbon counter is a bold new experiment in communicating climate science to the public,” said Ronald Prinn, Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT. “With climate change in the news around the world, it is useful to have an up-to-date estimate of a single integrating number expressing the trends in the long-lived greenhouse gases contributing to that change. This number can help convey how fast these greenhouse gases are increasing, and the progress, or lack thereof, in slowing the rate of increase.”

But will the counter have a positive benefit? Won’t viewers just get depressed seeing the numbers go up and up? Even if ambitious climate legislation is passed in Washington and the world reaches a climate deal in Copenhagen, it will be a decade or more before scientists could measure a slower rate of increase in GHGs. And it will be still longer before a human eye could detect a slowing rate on the counter.

What can viewers do with the information on GHG levels? Deutsche Bank points people to a web site with energy-saving tips (pretty thin, in my opinion). My most hopeful perspective is that in New York’s fast-paced business world, investors may catch a glimpse of the carbon counter during a taxi ride or walk to the subway and make decisions that factor in the future of our planet. Wishful thinking? What’s your take on the counter?

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  1. curmudgeon - June 24, 2009

    Let’s be honest. The primary response these big public counters elicit is, “Well that’s disturbing. Akk, I forgot the dry cleaning.”
    This counter doesn’t give us feedback on rate of change, which is what we really need to see in order to assess whether our efforts are making a difference. Nice try, but I don’t want one on my desk, thanks.