Visualizing a Tonne of Change

What Does a Ton of CO2 Look Like?

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the average person living in an industrialized country emits 12 metric-tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere every year.  For Americans, it’s 23 tonnes.

Recognizing how abstract big numbers like that can be for most people, a group called Millennium ART (in conjunction with the United Nations Department of Public Information) created a clever art installation to demonstrate.  They’ve constructed a HUGE cube that sits on a barge on St. Jorgen’s Lake (just outside Copenhagen, Denmark – where the UN Climate Change Conference – COP15 – took place in December, 2009) that approximates the space occupied by one tonne of carbon dioxide gas.

But that’s not all.  The cube is constructed from shipping containers, with plasma media screens on all the faces.  Millennium ART rigged the cube so that media can be displayed on the visible faces via a live portal, making it a giant multimedia installation.  Over the course of a day, a series of images and statistics (all related to the topic of climate change) display on the faces of the cube.  Here is a short video showing the way the cube was constructed and here is a seven-minute video of the cube, displaying it’s content, as people walk by.

Measured at standard atmospheric pressure, one metric-tonne of carbon dioxide takes up a cube the size of a 3-story building (8.2 meters x 8.2 meters x 8.2 meters) – the size of this demonstration cube.

What a great idea, eh?  Not only is one metric tonne difficult to visualize, but since no one can actually see CO2, this is a double-bind visualization problem.  It’s also wonderful to think of a group of scientists, architects, designers, and media technologists working together to meaningfully interpret this environmental problem for people.  Powerful message.

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