Sunday, December 9, 2007

CO2 and the lawn ornament, or Santa Sequestration

‘Tis the season – the time of year when suburban lawns start sprouting inflatable lawn decorations, Santas, Snow Globes, Snowpeople, Grinches, and other jolly seasonal symbols. Being a person who spends his life quantifying things, I found myself wondering how many of these ornaments it would take to hold my annual CO2 emissions. I always find I do better when I can actually visualize my sins – after all, how many of us can visualize a ton of a colorless, odorless gas.

First of all, a ton of CO2. The actual volume of a ton varies depending on temperature and pressure, but using a balmy California winter day of around 65 degrees (sorry to all of you who live in chillier climes), and an atmospheric pressure around sea level, a ton of CO2 occupies roughly 540 cubic meters. (adjusted for temperature). At freezing it drops to about 500 cubic meters, but at an altitude of Denver, at 32 degrees, it grows to some 570 cubic meters. So far so good, but 500 cubic meters is still hard to visualize, so to put that in context it roughly equal to the volume of a 2,000 SF home (including attic), or three 1,000 SF apartments. Now lawn ornaments come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but using a 7’ Santa as a model, I would estimate that each one holds somewhere in the range of one third to one half of a cubic meter, which puts each ton at around 1,000 to 1,500 Santas.

According the carbon calculator at,, the average is 7.5 tons per person per year, or 7,000 to 10,000 Santas, roughly 140 per week, or 20 per day. Now even if you happen to be someone who loves lawn ornaments, I suspect that inflating 20 per day would get a bit wearing after a while, and pretty soon most of us would run out of lawn space.

Burning one gallon of gasoline generates enough CO2 to fill ten to fifteen such ornaments, a cross country flight would fill about a thousand (per passenger, each way). The total US production of CO2 would be enough to cover about third of the total land area of the United States, with Santas, shoulder to shoulder.

Simple tons of CO2 are not visible enough for me to change my ways, but perhaps the thought of filling the nation coast to coast with Santas in three years will help me. Perhaps visualizing my morning commute dropping half a dozen ornaments on the freeway, will inspire me to cut my gasoline consumption. Twelve Boeing 737 full of inflatable Santas for each of my cross country trips might make me think twice about hopping a plane to the east coast. Perhaps Santa can help change the world.

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