If We Could See Our Carbon Emissions, Would It Affect the Way We Spend Energy?

The debate over whether global warming is real continues to rage on between scientists, the media, and the masses of wildly under-informed citizens of the world. Whether the sides ever come to an agreement is irrelevant: carbon emissions, the culprit behind global warming, are a reality and they have very real effects. Many of the effects, however, are completely invisible: increased acidity of ocean water, a depleted ozone layer, climate change, air pollution, and a list of others.

Carbon emissions are produced by so many activities we have deemed necessary for our everyday lives, yet they are completely invisible. When you turn on the lights in your room or turn up the heat, you do not suddenly see a column of smoke reminiscent of some particularly grisly trucks on the highway.


Visible carbon emissions show the flow and concentration of carbon emissions.

The ocean absorbs a major part of the carbon in the environment, but the climbing CO2 emissions have caused the ocean to become more acidic. This damages coral reefs and food webs. Ozone depletion leads to more UVB rays leaking through to the Earth’s surface, instigating climate change and raising the risk of skin cancer. Air pollution can seriously affect health and agriculture. The impacts of climate change range from human health effects to an increase in pests as well as more frequent hurricanes in some places, yet decreased water availability in others. All of these are ramifications of carbon emissions. None of them are immediately visible to the human eye, yet over the span of a few decades, they will wreak major havoc on the environment.

This videosmokestack truck shows what Earth would look like from space if carbon emissions were visible to the human eye. If we could see carbon emissions in our daily lives, like the smokestack coming off a truck coming out of a wall socket when we leave our computer plugged in all night even after it is fully charged, would we use less energy and produce less carbon emissions? When the effects as well as the emissions themselves are invisible, it can be hard to save energy or even realize how much carbon you are emitting. Accurately calculating your carbon footprint can be a time consuming and confusing endeavor, especially because many of the activities that relate to your carbon footprint, such as how local the food you eat is and whether you eat a meat- or plant-based diet, do not seem to have obvious carbon ramifications. So if our carbon emissions were as obvious as the smoke coming off a truck, would there be such a struggle to move towards lowering carbon emissions? Whether such a change would make us realize the benefits to lowering our emissions ourselves or if a sense of public embarrassment– the idea that others can see just how much you are damaging the environment– would catalyze a change, there would likely be a great deal more accountability for our actions.