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New York's Towering Digital Counter Tracks Rising Greenhouse Gases

NEW YORK, New York, June 19, 2009 (ENS) – Crowds moving past the corner of 33rd Street and 7th Avenue outside Madison Square Garden and Penn Station in New York City can now keep track of atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations on a new giant digital billboard.

The 70-foot-tall carbon counter keeps a running total of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases as part of a climate change awareness and education initiative sponsored by Deutsche Bank Climate Change Advisors group.

Kevin Parker, global head of Deutsche Bank’s Asset Management Division and a member of Deutsche Bank’s Group Executive Committee, flipped the switch on the world’s first scientifically valid, real-time carbon counter at a rainy ceremony Thursday morning.

Carbon counter at the corner of 33rd St. and 7th Avenue in New York City. (Photo courtesy Deutsche Bank)

“Carbon in the atmosphere has reached an 800,000-year high,” said Parker. “We can’t see greenhouse gases, so it is easy to forget that they are accumulating rapidly.”

“It will be a huge task to bring global emissions under control and my hope is that putting this data in the public view will spur both governments and markets to move us more quickly to a low-carbon economy,” Parker said. “The science shows that unless this trend is addressed now there is a growing likelihood of increased warming and more severe disruptions for economies and societies.”

Parker said the display is not a just message for New York City or for the United States, but for everyone around the world. The belief that information catalyzes action underpins the Carbon Counter’s creation.

The numbers on the Carbon Counter are based on measurements developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that include all long-lived greenhouse gases covered under the Kyoto and Montreal Protocols – a total of 24 gases, excluding ozone and aerosols.

“The Carbon Counter is a bold new experiment in communicating climate science to the public,” said Ronald Prinn, professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT. “With climate change in the news around the world, it is useful to have an up-to-date estimate of a single integrating number expressing the trends in the long-lived greenhouse gases contributing to that change.”

“This number can help convey how fast these greenhouse gases are increasing, and the progress, or lack thereof, in slowing the rate of increase,” Prinn said.

The current quantity of long-lived greenhouse gases in the atmosphere as shown by the Carbon Counter is 3.64 trillion metric tons, increasing by approximately two billion metric tons per month.

According to an evolving consensus of scientists, as this trend continues there is an increasing probability that a series of macro-climatic shifts will set up a self-sustaining cycle of rapid climate change.

The number on the Carbon Counter is based on global measurements, Prim explained. “It shows the total estimated tonnage of these gases expressed as their equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide, with seasonal and other natural cyclical variations removed to more clearly reveal the underlying long term trends driven by human and other activity. It is indeed a number to watch.”

Using work from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report as a starting point, greenhouse gases are tracked by equipment operated in dozens of locations around the world by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment, run by Prinn.

The carbon counter’s real-time display is a running projection of the current quantities based on the latest measurements available. The projection is recalibrated every month as new data are received.

The Carbon Counter sign is carbon neutral. Low-risk carbon credits are in place to offset its energy use, while the digital numbers are displayed by 40,960 low-energy light emitting diodes, LEDs.

The Carbon Counter Number is available 24 hours a day at http://www.know-the-number.com/ and updates will be available at http://twitter.com/knowthenumber.

A panel discussion on climate change held Thursday to mark the launch featured climate change experts Robert Socolow of Princeton University, John Reilly of MIT, Tim Wirth of the UN Foundation, Jeffrey Sachs of Columbia University and Fred Krupp from the Environmental Defense Fund.

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