In 2012, EcoMotion conceived and fabricated “The Ton” to raise awareness about greenhouse gases and their enormity. Our climate action planning made clear that greenhouse gases are “out of sight, and out of mind.” Citizens and businesses lack a frame of reference for greenhouse gases and individual footprints. Then we saw a visual from the United Kingdom of a metric tonne of CO2, dwarfing a double-decker bus. This is about a month’s emissions for every Californian.
The Science We Teach: It’s tough to think in terms of metric tonnes of CO2, the new vernacular for climate protection. Megatons and gigatons rule. The average American is responsible for 20 tonnes of CO2e annually. This compares to normal human respiration (oxygen in, carbon dioxide out) at 250 – 500 kg/year, a quarter to a half tonne a year. We are oxidizing carbon resources at a pace 48 times that of hunter/gatherers.
The Earth’s atmosphere is made up of the troposphere (up to 20 km), stratosphere (50 km), mesosphere (85), thermosphere (690), and exosphere (10,000). Space stations orbit at 400 km. Most greenhouse gases, however, stay within the troposphere, or up to 20 kilometers, a bandwidth only one tenth of a percent of the Earth’s 12,756-kilometer diameter.
If the Earth were a basketball, the troposphere would represent two layers of latex paint, a thin life-support system being challenged by 30 gigatons of CO2e per year. Our atmosphere is now well past the 350 parts per million CO2 that many atmospheric scientist consider the upper safe bound, with a current concentration of 380 parts per million.
Specifications: We decided to simulate a ton of CO2, and to make it an ugly black ball, we gravitated to the consensus of the world’s leading climate specialists that increasing the concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere.
The Ton is a super-sized inflatable that was fabricated by Inflatables 2000 in Azusa, California in April 2012. It is a 31.4 foot sphere with a donut-shaped base.. It is cold-air filled, ground tethered, similar to a large bounce house. It’s made with Grade A vinyl with UV inhibitor coating to prevent sun damage and scratching. Its NFPA/CSFM Fire retardant certified and meets all fire code requirements in the United States. When deflated, it weighs 150 pounds and is like a giant, super-sluggish air mattress. It is ballasted and engineered for up to 20 mile per hour wind gusts.
The Save a Ton Campaign: On a parallel track, EcoMotion created the “Save a Ton” campaign to galvanize action on an individual basis that collectively will result in significant emissions reductions. The Ton serves as the community outreach icon for the “Save a Ton” campaign. It is intended raise awareness and to motivate individual actions that will save a ton of money and a ton of carbon dioxide. Imagine if each of us saved a ton this year.
We’ve developed worksheets, CO2 savings packages, and pledges for adults and young students. At assemblies on campuses, we limit the fear factor – we let the Ton speak for itself — and instead “shower the people” with good ideas, ideas that will mitigate the threat of climate change. These range from simple steps like turning off lights and TVs when not in use, to lifestyle changes and investments in hybrid cars and solar systems. EcoMotion has also created a skit featuring “Eco-Man” and “the Pollution-ator!”
EcoMotion has inflated the Ton in Glendale (where it was covered by an ABC Channel 7 news helicopter), Irvine, Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Desert Hot Springs, Anaheim, Thermal, and at the Los Angeles Convention Center where it dwarfed other exhibitors. Lots of photos are snapped. Many students want to touch it, or punch it, a tactile reinforcement of the awareness raising demonstration.