A Guide to CO2 Told by Cats, Cars & Kegs – text

BY Sam Laird Bank of the West

Nov 12th 2020

You’ve probably seen greenhouse gas emissions quantified by “metric tons” of carbon dioxide (CO2). But what in the world is “a metric ton of CO2″?

Let’s find out.

A metric ton is not a “U.S. ton,” or “short ton,” which weighs 2,000 pounds.

And it’s not a British “long ton,” which weighs 2,240 pounds.

1 metric ton = 1,000 kilograms = 2,205 pounds

Also called a “tonne,” it’s what’s typically used when discussing carbon emissions.

Another term you’ve probably seen is “CO2 equivalent,” or “CO2e.”

What is this?


Greenhouse gases don’t all warm our planet equally. For example, methane doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2 does. But for the first 2 decades after its release, methane is 84 times more potent as a greenhouse gas, according to the Environmental Defense Fund.

“CO2e” simplifies by converting the warming impacts of other greenhouse gases — like methane — into CO2 terms.

Think of it like an exchange rate for greenhouse gases instead of money.

Besides CO2, the most common greenhouse gases are methane, nitrous oxide, and a group of synthetic substances called fluorinated gases.

But CO2 is by far the most prevalent, so other gases are equated to CO2 when discussing overall emissions – CO2e.

Now we know how CO2 and other greenhouse gases are quantified. So let’s make some comparisons.

1 metric ton is the approximate weight of…

Mazda Miata car

LeBron Jameses

16 full beer kegs

220 house cats

5,155 iPhone 11s

According to the EPA, 1 metric ton of CO2e is produced by driving from San Francisco to Atlanta in an average car.

Or by charging 127,000 smartphones.

5 metric tons of CO2e are produced by the average car driven for 1 year.

Or by about 200 propane grill tanks.

10 metric tons of CO2e are produced by powering 11 refrigerators for 1 year.

Or by gassing up an SUV 46 times.

But! We can take positive actions.

According to the EPA

Switching 38 incandescent lamps to LEDs saves 1 metric ton of CO2e emission.

Recycling instead of landfilling 3,400 pounds of waste saves 5 metric tons of CO2e emission.

Growing 165 tree seedlings for 10 years removes 10 metric tons of CO2e emission.

Author image

Sam Laird Bank of the West

Sam joined Bank of the West in 2019 after more than 10 years in journalism. He’s also worked as a teacher, a grant writer, and a janitor, and prefers to spend his free time in nature.

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Source: EPA Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator: www.epa.gov/energy/greenhouse-gas-equivalencies-calculator