May 21, 2012 – Volume 14, Issue 4
I N · T H I S · I S S U E


The Experiment

The challenge is a good one: How can we engage the Coachella Valley’s leaders in discussions about climate action, and then convince them to take action? Thanks to special funding from Southern California Edison, EcoMotion is preparing greenhouse gas inventories and climate action plans for six cities there, plus a tribe. How can we make this work relevant? Meetings weren’t working.

Like many other regions, the Coachella Valley has a range of officials, from progressive to conservative, most silent on climate change. Some make derogatory remarks; it’s certainly not a platform item. We’re under contract to raise awareness among these leaders, and to incorporate green initiatives in their governance. How can we bring climate action to life? We seek creative solutions.

We needed a new way to engage the public and Valley leaders. The “carbon issue” is so conveniently out of sight, it’s easy to ignore and given its atmospheric scale, it’s hard to comprehend. The time to take action to strategically cut emissions is now. California Assembly Bill 32 is taking effect, and by law, statewide emissions will be reduced to 1990 levels. Logically, every industry, every city, will have to “de-carbonize” by about 25% in eight years.

Back to our experiment, and raising awareness. It’s tough to think in terms of tons of CO2, the new vernacular for climate protection. The metric ton, or “tonne,” is the currency. Megatons and gigatons rule. In the Coachella Valley, the average citizen is responsible for eight tonnes each year, about 27 times normal respiration (oxygen in, carbon dioxide out: 250 – 500 kg/year/capita).

To bridge this gap, and to make real the climate issue at hand, EcoMotion elected to experiment with and invest in a pretty overt strategy. We’d seen a slide prepared by Carbon Visuals in the U.K. with a metric tonne of CO2 dwarfing a double-decker bus. We decided to simulate a ton of CO2, and to make it ugly, and to look like a time bomb. The extra-large inflatable was fabricated in April and is now making vivid the enormity of the climate challenge. The 32 foot inflatable, Emissions Time Bomb, is an awe-inspiring sight and visual representation for people unsure of how they impact their environment. Funny how many people want to touch it at events.

The name of the giant representation was the subject of considerable office discussion. Sensitive to its violent connotation, there is a consensus of the world’s leading climate specialists that increasing the concentration of CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere is much like a ticking time bomb with quite dire circumstances to come. We are well past the 350 parts per million CO2 that many consider the upper safe bound. Our goal is not to strike fear in the public; our intent is to spur action through the “Save a Ton” campaign. And it is a very serious issue.

The Emissions Time Bomb went from concept to reality quickly and now commands attention.

It hit the L.A. evening news when a helicopter flew over our test inflation in Glendale. It towered at our office complex in Irvine. It’s already been used for four special events in the Coachella Valley, one involving leading politicians and the other hundreds of students.

(We discovered another simulation in Copenhagen (Danes think alike), though it is orange.)

The Time Bomb has been the subject of blog posts; we’ve received emails from as far as Australia.

So far, the experiment is getting attention, putting an abstract concept into better focus. Even for those that think climate change is a scam, and/or oppose government regulation of greenhouse gases, get an unusual impression of scale.
"The message is actually incredibly positive, that you can save a ton and it’s not that hard.”
Jordan Garbayo, Emissions Time Bomb Project Manager

You said, "A TON?"

The numbers are daunting, but even more, they are unfathomable!

Imagine, if you will, 30 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year, that’s 60,000 trillion pounds. Does that help?

In 2008 mankind spewed 29.88 gigatons of carbon dioxide and its companion greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere. That’s 29.88 billion emissions time bombs globally. China, “the world’s factory,” eclipsed the U.S. as the world’s largest GHG emitter and now releases 7 gigatons, followed by the U.S. (5.4 GT), India (1.7), Russia (1.7), and Japan (1.2). The top ten nations emit 68% of global emissions.

Per capital emissions tell another story: The average global citizen is responsible for 5 tonnes each year. Oil producing nations like Qatar emit as much at 53.5 tonnes per capita followed by Trinidad and Tobago (37.3), the United Arab Emirates (34.6), the Netherlands Antilles (31.9), and Bahrain (29). The U.S. per capita value is 17.5 tonnes per year. Consider Ireland (9.8), Germany (9.6), and Denmark (8.4). Equatorial countries are typically 3 – 5 tonnes per capita.

California emitted 452.97 million tonnes of GHG emissions in 2009, according to the State’s April 2012 inventory, approximately 12.2 tonnes per capita. Of this, the big emitters were transportation (172 million tonnes), electric power (104), residential and commercial fuel use (43), industry (81), agriculture (livestock, fertilizers, and general fuel use) (32), and waste streams and landfills (7.3). Emissions were 5.8% lower in 2009 than 2008 due to factors punctuated by economic downturn. According to the U.S. DOE’s Energy Information Administration, only Vermont, New York Idaho, and Rhode Island have smaller per capita footprints than California.

So how can leaders lead and take action? The McKinsey Company presents a supply curve of avoided CO2, a roadmap for the United States to cut emissions by 3 – 4.5 gigatons annually by 2035. Based on current technology and economics, 40% of the 250 measures considered are sound investments today. Proactive leaders and their cities will focus on these measures first, leveraging jobs and savings to strengthen their economies while preparing for impending regulation. They will create infrastructures to support the new solar economy, and they will focus on engaging the public and getting voluntary action through behavioral change.

Our team is now focusing on no-regrets strategies for our project cities in the Coachella Valley, Palm Springs having the highest energy and carbon intensity.

Layers of Paint

The Earth’s atmosphere is a layer of gases retained by gravity. Where does it end?

At 120 kilometers, re-entering spacecraft report distinct changes in the density of the Earth’s atmosphere. The “Karman Line” at 100 km has long been regarded as the boundary between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. The atmosphere becomes less dense with altitude; 31 km marks the point at which 99% of the atmosphere’s density has been accounted for.

Scientists present layers of Earth’s atmosphere that extend far beyond these limits. The 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. And this brings back the layers of paint: Imagine the Earth as a basketball. Two layers of latex is the thickness of the atmosphere – including the stratosphere -- where we live and thrive. A tenth of an inch (or 2.9 millimeters) on a 75 centimeter diameter, NBA-approved basketball. The 20 km troposphere is our life-support system, our climate controlled ecosystem, now being challenged by 30 GT a year and parts per million CO2 rising.

The Math, Size and Chemistry

The Emissions Time Bomb is designed to simulate, to create a visual representation of, a ton of CO2.

For those inclined, let’s dig deeper: PV=nRT. Like all gases, CO2 compresses at higher pressures and expands at higher temperatures. Our team decided that the emissions time bomb ought to be an actual size, and we’re pretty close.

Turns out that we could not fabricate a metric ton of CO2 using local suppliers. A metric ton, or 2,204.6 pounds, is 33.2 feet in diameter. That was over the 32-foot production limit for our spherical design.

We also feared that labeling the bomb with “1 Tonne” would be confusing, and that “Metric Tonne” would be grammatically inaccurate, or at least redundant. So we settled on a “short ton” or 2,000 pounds of CO2 and the clear messaging of “1 Ton CO2.”

“At what pressure?” some will ask. One atmosphere is the answer, 14.7 PSI, or pounds per square inch, which results in 1.977 grams of CO2 per liter. “And at what temperature?” We used 0 degrees C (the freezing point, 32 degrees F) to develop the 459 cubic meter, 31.4 foot in diameter bomb. At a more comfortable 20 degrees C, the volume increases to 493 cubic meters and the diameter to 32.2 feet.

"Inflations:" We've Only Just Begun!

The Time Bomb was manufactured by Inflatable 2000 in Azusa, California following EcoMotion’s specifications for graphics, size, and message. They’d never built an inflatable so large, and we hit their production limit. Tear-drop balloons are available up to 30 feet in diameter but we did not want to look like we were selling furniture, nor a ballooning company gone mad. We wanted to be technically accurate and to simulate the ticking time bombs that some of us played with as kids. Blue was rejected, as were grey clouds. We wanted big and black and ugly. A fuse was added later.

Production delayed. Problem with inflation and supporting base, the three-foot high donut to cradle the bomb lacked structural integrity. More stitching needed. Inflatable 2000 had to test it in a local park. We used my house in Glendale for EcoMotion’s first test to the surprise of the mailman. My neighbor asked later about the helicopter.

The Emissions Time Bomb 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.

Our backyard inflation took 45 minutes. We took it down and found a large rip. Duct tape is awesome. The front yard inflation took 25 minutes and drew the Glendale News Press and an ABC News helicopter! We made the L.A. evening news that night and the message was just right: “That’s a lot of carbon dioxide.” And the bomb went back to Azusa for repairs.

Two days later, repaired and with new blower, the Emissions Time Bomb was tested at the EcoMotion office in Irvine. “You want to do what?” asked the office park manager Melissa P. Yes, we were granted a lunch-time inflation in front of our office and across from the local café. The spectacle was covered by the Orange County Register. What a way to meet the neighbors.

Days later it was Palm Springs for Bike Awareness Month. Massive it is, the Bomb sat peacefully adjacent to the farmer’s market. Quick inflation and then in place for four hours at 100 degrees. Hot stuff. One of our most positive interns said later, “The bomb makes shade!” We bought twelve pairs of gloves for next time, and were featured in the Desert Sun newspaper and K Kaufmann’s Green Blog. Then the Environmental and Sustainability Exposition at CSU SB PDC, that’s California State University, San Bernardino, Palm Desert Campus. Our first significant winds. Four hundreds kids from the “green academies” and eco-programs throughout the Valley. These are key stakeholders in climate action. Pledges signed; the stickers are a hit. The Emissions Time Bomb was an evening news feature on the local television station, KESQ, climate action in prime time.

Contact EcoMotion with your ideas for the Emissions Time Bomb. We welcome suggestions. Showings are provided at no charge in the Coachella Valley throughout 2012 to support the Green for Life project. School assemblies are planned and seem ideal to raise awareness, to create “photo opps,” and to begin grass-roots movements to take action on climate protection while saving a ton of money.

Interns and Save a Ton

EcoMotion is proud of its intern programs. Since we opened our doors in Irvine in 2006, we’ve had 38 University of California at Irvine interns, we’ve fielded a gold-shirted “Solar Squad” in Santa Monica, and we now have a “Climate Crew” in the Coachella Valley that is ten-interns strong, with a companion “Eco-Squad” for high school students in the works.

And strong they are, and diverse, some students, others re-crafting their careers. This is their future, their passion, and their Valley. Under the expert care of Virginia Nicols, our interns are valued and valuable. They learn basic business basics (dress, speech, grammar, compassion), and they take sophisticated messages to the public. Yesterday, our interns were in action in Santa Monica and Palm Springs raising awareness about emissions and actions.

“The Time Bomb is a great visual tool. We’re putting a lot of pollution into the air and we just can't see what we're doing. Showing them something like this is what really makes an impact,” said Intern Susanna Romig of Cathedral City. Even in the 104 degree desert heat, for Intern Miguel Gutierrez, “It’s a good feeling that you’re trying to make a difference out there.”

The Emissions Time Bomb serves as the community outreach icon for the “Save a Ton” campaign. It is intended raise awareness and to motivate individual actions that will collectively save a ton of money and a ton of carbon dioxide. Imagine if each of us saved a ton this year. In the Coachella Valley, Green for Life Interns managed by EcoMotion are at the forefront of the Save a Ton campaign. The Emissions Time Bomb in conjunction with Green for Life interns is having an effect. Clad in dress white golf shirts with prominent emblems, or Green for Life blue T-shirts for outdoor events, the interns are a force. “This visual represents a ton of CO2. It’s what you can offset this year through small actions.” They engage the public, they’re “talking the talk,” they are genuine, and they promote pledges. The goal is for everyone to save a ton in the coming year. And we have lots of suggestions – quantified – to make it happen.

Sure, many of us, and especially the EcoMotion Network members, are already saving tons compared to the national average. We salute action and commitment. In Palm Springs, a Prius driver thanked for his action by an intern. “You’ve already saved a ton or two!” Solar system? “That’s 2 – 5 tons per house!” And now, more of us, thanks to the interns, are taking make many, small but meaningful steps each and every day, each one reducing emissions by 5, 10, 25, 100 pounds at a time.

“It’s not that hard.” Things like riding to school once a week, or composting food scraps at home. “Are the lamps in your home efficient, and off when not in use?” Some ways to save a ton cost nothing, for instance, planning trips for errands and reducing driving by 20 miles a week. The interns’ pledges (basic, Spanish-version, business version, and elementary) are being signed. Awareness is being raised, actions are being tee’d up!