Recent reports on airborne Carbon Dioxide

Andrew Vu, Satirist/ Columnist

Note that numbers like this (1) reference the calculations at the end of the article

In 2010, humanity collectively released around 36.7 tonnes (metric tons, equal to 1000 kilograms, or around 1.1 tons, or 2,200 pounds) of CO2. Most of you probably read over that, thinking it another random fact in an endless slog of global warming statistics, but it’s important to take a second and make note: that is a lot of carbon dioxide.

When I was in 7th grade, I once had an idea: we could take all of the CO2 in the air, compact it into solid form, and store it underground so it wouldn’t clog up our atmosphere. Of course, this is impractical, since CO2 freezes at temperatures colder than Scrooge’s attitude during Christmas. CO2 freezes at -78.5 degrees Celsius, or -109 degrees Fahrenheit. CO2’s specific heat capacity is 37.135 J/ K mol, and the average atmospheric temperature is 15 degrees Celsius. Using some gobbledygook math (1), commonly known as thermochemistry, I would need 2,865,091,846 Joules (2.87×10^9 J in proper chemistry terms, with significant figures) to freeze all of the CO2 emitted in 2010.

This calculation implies that:  

  • All of the CO2 in the world from 2010 was gathered into one place.
  • The average atmospheric temperature was 15 degrees Celsius, which is probably too low, since CO2 tends to trap heat around it
  • I  have a perfectly efficient way to cool down CO2 (spoiler alert: I don’t)

Technically, I only need to buy half a barrel of oil to meet this energy requirement; one barrel of oil contains around 6 GJ (6 billion Joules) of chemical potential energy. Since oil costs, at the time of this writing about $33.16 per barrel, I can save the world with less than $20.

However, even if I magically invent a machine that can freeze all of the CO2, I’ll then have to do something with the 36.7 tonnes of frozen CO2. Since solid CO2’s density is around 1,562 kg/m cubed, I will have about 23.5 cubic meters of the stuff(2). This would form a cube about 2.8 meters on all sides, which would fit inside our PCS campus hallways.

These numbers are too small for me, so I might as well calculate all of the CO2 ever released by humans. This is a surprisingly difficult number to come up with. Based on lots of websites, it appears that humans have increased the CO2 concentration about 116 parts per million (ppm) (also, 0.0116%) since the 1800’s, when the Industrial Revolution started. The atmosphere is 1.4 billion cubic kilometers, so 116 ppm is 162,400 cubic kilometers of CO2. This could be contained in a giant cube measuring 55 meters on all sides, theoretically. Of course, since CO2 is a gas, I could also theoretically compress it into a pill that would fit in your pocket. Unfortunately, reality has a way of thwarting even my most brilliant plans.

Assuming that the atmospheric CO2 is at standard atmospheric pressure (shocker),  the total CO2 would weigh about 82,020 kg since CO2’s density is 1.98 kg/m cubed.

I didn’t convert to kilometers cubed. Adjusting for the ridiculous conversion factor of 1 km cubed equaling 1,000,000,000 m cubed, the total CO2 would weigh about 82,020,202,020,202 kg, or 82,020,202,020 tonnes. To freeze this much CO2, I’d need about 6 quintillion Joules (3). This would be the same amount of energy released in the detonation of 10,000 Hiroshima-grade nuclear bombs.

To avoid this scenario, each human alive currently is responsible for about 11,717 kilograms of CO2 (4). Every day, after work, just freeze a kilogram of CO2, and you’ll be done with your allocation of CO2 by retirement (5).

What you just read was undoubtedly edited by the ROAR’s editors to make it more appropriate and less… trolly. For the original version, contact me at [email protected]




  • – 36.7 tonnes * 1,000,000 grams / tonne = 36,700,000 grams


36,700,000 grams * 1 mol / 44 g = 834,000 mols, including sig figs

– 15 C – (-78.5C) = 93.5 C (total temperature difference)

– (37.135 J/C*mol) * (834,000 mols) * (93.5 C) = ~2,900,000,000J

– No offense, Mr. Gianino

  1. -36,700,000 grams * 1 m cubed / 1,562,000 grams = ~25 m cubed
  2. (37.135 J/C*mol)*(1,864,095,500,459,136 mols)*(93.5 C) = ~6,472,367,929,292,926,436J
  3. -82,020,202,020,202 kg / 7,000,000,000 people = ~11,717 kilograms
  4. -11,717 kg / (50 years*230 days per year)=~1 kg/day. 30 days vacation, 5 day work week


Works Cited

“Global Carbon Emissions” Web.

Gianino, Mark. “Chemistry.” Science Department. Pacific Collegiate School. Face to face.