The Rise in Carbon DIE-Oxide (if we don’t act soon!) Emissions

Chloe Ching
6 min readApr 12, 2021


By Chloe Ching | OIDD 245: Data Project 2

Carbon dioxide emissions. What are they? Whenever I hear that phrase, I am instantly transported back to my elementary school science class where I can clearly hear Bill Nye emphatically describe how carbon dioxide, or CO2, is a greenhouse gas that hurts the Earth because it traps in too much heat. Today, about a decade after my time in elementary school, carbon emissions have become more relevant than ever. Back in September 2020, the “Climate Clock” was broadcasted in New York City to emphasize how little time we have left to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius if we want to “avoid some of the worst impacts of climate change, including unsustainable rising sea levels, flooding, loss of coral reefs, wildfires and other disasters” . Thus, reducing carbon emissions has become an action we need to take if we want to slow down global warming and hopefully give our home a fighting chance.

The Problem: Increasing Carbon Emissions

Over time, as the world population increased, carbon emissions also steadily increased. However, in the early 1900s, as technology started improving at a rapid rate, carbon emissions began to exponentially increase. As seen in the “Carbon Emission Trends (over time)” chart, although emissions have decreased since 2000, with a sharper decline around 2020 due to COVID, this is still not enough. According to the Nature Conservancy,

“ The average carbon footprint for a person in the United States is 16 tons, one of the highest rates in the world. Globally, the average is closer to 4 tons. To have the best chance of avoiding a 2℃ rise in global temperatures, the average global carbon footprint per year needs to drop under 2 tons by 2050.”

This is a scatterplot that shows the exponential trend of carbon emissions.

Specifically, taking a deeper look at where exactly these carbon emissions come from, you can see that there are a couple of activities that contribute the most. In the “Carbon Emission Sources (over time)” chart, it is evident that Energy, Electricity/Heat, and Transportation are the categories that continuously have the most carbon emissions.

This is a stacked bar chart that shows the breakdown of total carbon emissions each year by the source they came from.

Although Transportation is not the largest contributor, I believe it is one of the easier ones people can do something about right now. Over the past year, COVID and work-from-home have changed many people’s lifestyles. Since people have been adjusting to their routines and commutes during this pandemic, now is the perfect time to encourage more environmentally friendly habits that will then have a better chance of sticking after COVID, as it takes about 66 days to form a habit.

Furthermore, by examining the “Carbon Emissions by Mode of Transportation (2018)” chart, it is clear that the large and small cars that use petrol or diesel emit more carbon emissions compared to the large and small cars that are electric or hybrid. Thus, it can be concluded that non-electric cars are problematic and one of the biggest contributors of carbon emissions within the Transportation category.

This is a horizontal bar chart that shows which mode of transportation produces the most carbon emissions. Although this data is from 2018, it is recent enough to assume the trends are roughly the same.

With this information, your first instinct is to probably blame New York City for polluting our Earth because that’s the “city” stereotype we are all used to. However, before you jump to any “hot” conclusions, it is important to consider carbon emissions based on populations to truly understand where geographically this issue stems from. By analyzing the “Transportation Carbon Emissions by City Population (2016)” chart, you can see that Houston shockingly has the largest proportion of carbon emissions compared to other cities in the United States. It is important to note that all humans, even those that are not in the most populated areas, should still be conscious of their carbon footprint.

This is a pie chart that shows carbon emissions based on the population of a couple of large cities in the United States. Although this data is from 2016, it is recent enough to assume the trends are roughly the same.

The Solution: Alternative Modes of Transportation

Now, I know what you’re probably thinking — global warming is a HUGE problem and there’s no way that my actions will do anything to help. But if everyone always though that their actions and opinions were too small to matter, nothing would ever get done! The truth is, every action to reduce carbon emissions, including yours, can and will make a difference.

Assuming that your life, like mine, was also abruptly interrupted by COVID, now is the perfect time to start using alternative modes of transportation that are often cheaper, healthier, and more fun, all while helping Mother Nature! To encourage these alternative modes of transportation, there are a variety of actions that cities and individuals can take, such as 1) increase bike share stations (cities) or 2) switch to a different type of car (individuals).

First, since Houston was the city with the largest carbon emissions per capita, I decided to take a closer look at the availability of current bike share programs that could encourage citizens to bike more. In the “Bike Availability in Houston (2017)” map, it is noticeable how most of the bike share stations are centered in the downtown area. Although this is initially intuitive because most people would be congregated in that area, in the long-run, this does not encourage people to use biking as an alternative to driving. Thus, cities such as Houston should work to build more bike share stations in the suburbs and other parts of town to make it more convenient for people to bike regularly, such as to work.

This is a map of places in Houston with bike share stations. Although this data is from 2017, it is recent enough to assume the trends are roughly the same.

On an individual level, if people are set on having a car, rather than biking or taking public transportation, they should consider exactly what type of car they own. As someone who does not know much about cars, I was shocked to learn that depending on the manufacturer, cars on average emit different amounts of carbon emissions. Looking at the “Carbon Emissions by Type of Car (2020)” chart, FCA, Ford, and GM cars emit the most carbon while Tesla cars emit 0 carbon emissions because they are electric vehicles. However, if a Tesla is not really your type of car, I would recommend switching to a Honda, Hyundai, or Kia as the emit relatively less carbon emissions.

This is a bar chart that shows the level of carbon emissions based on the type of car.

What YOU can do!

Besides writing to your city government to build more bike share stations, or buying a new car, I implore you to find an alternative mode of transportation that makes you AND Mother Nature happier. You can’t solve global warming all by yourself, but something as simple as walking to the grocery store or carpooling with a friend to work can reduce carbon emissions and truly make a difference.