How Much Arctic Ice Are You Personally Responsible For?


How Much Arctic Ice Are You Personally Responsible For?

The image above shows the remarkable reduction in Arctic ice coverage from 1979 (left) to today (right).
The image above shows the remarkable reduction in Arctic ice coverage from 1979 (left) to today (right).

We all know the Arctic Ice is melting. But how much of it, we don’t really know. And what’s more, we can’t really relate our own actions to the arctic ice melt. Dirk Notz, a climate scientist at the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Germany, has actually made the calculations. He estimates that a 2,500-mile car ride, or a round-trip from New York to London, equals to about 3 square meters (about 32 sq. feet) of Arctic Ice melt.

Human-fueled carbon dioxide emissions have long been documented to be the cause of the planet heating up. And this man-made development is directly influencing the amount of ice melting. In a paper published Thursday in the journal Science, Notz and his colleague have detailed the calculations that allowed them to estimate just how much ice melt is attributed to a metric ton of CO2 emissions into the air. The answer is about 3 square meters.

Top CO2 emitters by country per capita. Each metric ton represents 3 sq. meters of ice melt or 32 sq. feet. via Wikipedia

These results help us illustrate how much each individual is responsible for the disappearing ice, on average. Pollution, unlike many other of Earth’s problems, cannot be confined within a country’s borders, and thus the amount of CO2 produced per country is not helpful in dealing with the situation. A better look would come if we could narrow it down to each individual. The best we can do so far is to look at how much CO2 emissions is attributed to each individual on average per country.

Like this graph above shows, in 2014, each person on the globe was given 5 tons of CO2; that’s 15 square meters of ice or 162 square feet. But if we narrow it down, we can see that a Qatari person is responsible for almost 120 sq. meters (1292 sq. feet), whereas a person from Germany is responsible for 28 square meters (300 sq feet). These numbers, of course, are attributed to each individual on a national average and doesn’t mean that everyone produces this much; or this less, but it is a good way to make an idea.

Graph with how much CO2 emissions each state is pumping into the atmosphere
Graph with how much CO2 emissions each US state was pumping into the atmosphere in 2013.
CO2 emissions per person per state
CO2 emissions per person, per US state.

In the United States, each individual is responsible for almost 16 tons of CO2 emissions per year. That’s about 48 square meters of ice in the Arctic (518 sq. feet). But if we look at these graphs above, we can see that, even though Texas is producing the most CO2 overall, due to its large population, it drops to the 15th place when it comes to CO2 emissions per capita. Wyoming, on the other hand, is close to a whopping 120 tons of CO2 per person; 360 sq meters or 3,875 sq. feet.

“This makes it possible to intuitively grasp how we all contribute to global warming,” said Notz, who co-wrote the paper with Julienne Stroeve, a senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Colorado. “It’s really possible to translate how individual actions contribute to the sea-ice loss.”

via journal Science
via journal Science

These numbers shouldn’t be used to pass blame on those who on average pollute more, but to give each individual a basic idea of how much he or she is impacting the planet as a whole. Because in the end, there are people in Wyoming who produce less CO2 than others from New York, or even India for example. As we said before, pollution cannot be confined within any borders, and each individual has to do his best to have as little impact on the environment as possible.

These measures, of course, are small. Things like: using low-energy light bulbs instead of normal ones, riding your bike to the supermarket instead of your car, taking the train for a longer ride than your own vehicle, eating less red meat, turn off the light when you leave the room, installing a solar panel on your roof; stuff like that. Though small, these things add up over a large number of people, and one shouldn’t worry about what others are doing per se, but try to be a better person himself, and bring his own area of melting Arctic ice down.


The planet today is in a very delicate balance of hot and cold, a balance that keeps the planet as we know it. Oceanic currents, which flow all through the Atlantic and Pacific, are driven by the ice in the Arctic, and if the ice goes, so will the currents. This means that northern regions will become much cooler, while tropic regions, hotter. Already dry regions of the world are seeing even less rain, while wetter ones experience deluge-like floods. As time goes on, these extreme weather events will become worse. The Arctic Ice acts like the motor of a planetary air conditioning, and making it disappear will have repercussions all over the globe.

“When you’re changing the Arctic, you certainly expect to have ramifications outside the Arctic,” said Walt Meier, a sea-ice scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. “The climate system is interconnected. The Arctic is not like Las Vegas. What happens in the Arctic doesn’t necessarily stay in the Arctic.”

Ocean Currents Image Credit: NASA
Ocean Currents – Image Credit: NASA