Using visuals for decisions

In the USA at the end of January, the Senate approved construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from the Canadian tar sands to the Gulf coast. While the House of Representatives has already approved a version of the bill, President Obama has said he will veto it. Now the Environmental Protection Agency has informed to the State Department that the pipeline would cause a significant increase in carbon emissions.

Data provided to us by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) a couple of years ago indicated that extracting and processing tar sands oil is 81% more carbon intensive than average oil in the US. Although the emissions from driving would be the same, each gallon of tar sand gasoline would add an additional 4 lb (1.8 kg) of CO2 to the atmosphere. On average, a US car burns 535 gallons of gasoline each year.

EDF asked us to show this difference in a way that would make sense to citizens. We compared them in terms of a single gallon of gas and a typical car's annual emissions and EDF published our pictures here.

We didn’t expect our images to be the deciding factor in any decision about the pipeline. But if we have helped inform policymakers and the public by giving them a better sense of one of the additional impacts that would result from going ahead with the pipeline, then our contribution has been worthwhile.

Peter Martin Carbon Visuals

For more images produced for EDF explaining the difference between gasoline from tar-sands and regular gasoline.