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The Most Comprehensive Map of a City's Carbon Footprint Ever

By focusing on emissions from goods consumed in a city, Berkeley researchers paint a more accurate picture.
This map shows carbon emissions from the consumption of goods, with red marking high rates of emissions and green marking low.
This map shows carbon emissions from the consumption of goods, with red marking high rates of emissions and green marking low.Jones and Kammen/ Bay Area Air Quality Management District

The nations of the world committed to slashing carbon emissions at the COP21 summit in Paris last month, and now cities and communities must figure out how to actually do that. In order to pull it off, local leaders will need to pinpoint the geographical sources of greenhouse gases and figure out what activities produce them. A new mapping tool from the University of California, Berkeley’s Cool Climate Network does this for the Bay Area in a ​uniquely granular way.

Typically, carbon footprint maps tally up the emissions coming out of a particular geographical area. For instance, my colleague Laura Bliss wrote about an atlas that visualizes energy use by building type and other Census variables in Los Angeles. That’s great for informing construction policies to make the built environment more carbon-efficient, but it doesn’t tally the life-cycle emissions of goods and services. Under the Berkeley map’s consumption-based accounting, households are responsible for the carbon emitted through the production and shipping of the goods they purchase, regardless of where in the world that takes place.