Take Carbon County, Pa., a relatively lightly populated area of about 58,000 in coal country. Industrial pollution there accounts for more than 95 percent of the total carbon pollution with the metric tons released more than double that of Brooklyn. That’s a lot of carbon.

The graphic for Carbon County is, well, black.

While expending computer power to play with this new tool, you also can locate power plants directly, and see how the host counties or those upwind suffer from pollution from power generation. No surprise there. But having the exact numbers, and so many ways to slice and dice this enormous collection of data (supplied in large part by the EPA) could make for more pointed debate over clean energy solutions and greenhouse gases.

Further, while you’re prowling the thing, the map will show where you can hide, places where the air is clearer, such as South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas (though Sunflower Electric keeps reapplying for a permit for a big coal plant in Western Kansas that could muddy the picture for the Sunflower state.)

Carbon emissions are not absent in these areas, just notably less than in major population and industrial centers which are mostly detailed in red, the color that connotes the highest carbon emissions. And they do get high in urban areas: Consider Dallas County, with 6,655,674 metric tons of carbon emissions and a population around 2.2 million. Simple math shows that Dallas beats LA in per capita carbon emissions; in this competition you don’t want to win.

Where’s the pollution coming from in the prairie city? Fully 50 percent of the offending fumes came from onroad pollution.

And CO2 is worse today than the levels captured by the map, which relies on 2002 government readings.

It’s safe to assume that in 2009, in many of the hot spots, we’re off the map.

The project, unveiled Thursday and fittingly named Vulcan for the Roman God of Fire and our present day penchant for burning fossil fuels, is sure to stoke public interest in this carbon emission problem shaking up the planet.

At the least, it will make it graphically obvious to everyone in the United States with a computer on which to view it that we don’t want to move any farther into the danger zone on this particular chart.

Yes, there’s something a little sad and creepy and alarming about being able to google the details of our own disintegrating atmosphere, as though we’re watching alongside Captain Kirk from the command deck.  But knowledge is power.

Scotty, turn this thing around!

(Images credit: CO2 Emissions from Fossil Fuels map, Google.)

  • For more information see the Purdue website on the Vulcan Project, which was developed with collaborating researchers at Colorado State Univesrity and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.)

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