• 10.10.12

Tracking The Emissions Of Every Single Power Plant On Earth

A web tool lets you see what the companies near you are spewing out, and which countries are doing the best and worst to keep emissions down.

Ominously, it’s called CARMA. The cycle of cause and effect–what goes around comes around–is perhaps an appropriate name for the Carbon Monitoring for Action (CARMA) tool, which tracks the greenhouse gas emissions from 60,000 power plants worldwide.


The tool, produced by the Center for Global Development, a non-partisan think tank located in Washington, D.C., may be the easiest way to find out how much CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions are coming from your country, state, county, city, zip code, or individual power company each year. The Center says it’s the first global inventory for this major emissions-producing sector of the economy, which accounts for about one-quarter of global CO2 emissions, and 40% of the total in the United States.

The most polluting powerplants in the U.S.

You can slice and dice the data anyway you like. The “dig deeper” tool lets you dive down into any level of detail you wish about how much heat (or the gasses that trap it) we’re releasing, and the alarmingly little we’re doing to slow their growth. You can find out that four monster coal-fired power companies in China and one in South Africa are the highest energy-sector emitters in the world (although the most polluting individual power plants are not in China). The first U.S. entry is eighth with the Southern Company (145,140,000 tons of CO2, 187,340,000 MWh of energy produced).

CARMA is the idea of former World Bank economist David Wheeler. After operating for years, it has been updated with a new interface and global datasets (or estimations, as emissions data is disclosed by just about 15% of the world’s power plants). CARMA is designed to influence personal and policy decisions through public information disclosure, says the Center for Global Development, a strategy that proved successful in reducing traditional pollutants.

But this does not seem to be working the same way with greenhouse gasses. Unlike traditional pollutants, carbon dioxide is far more difficult to decouple from energy generation than more visibly destructive toxins such as sulfur dioxide (acid rain) or mercury. “You get the sense that psychologically, and we may just be exquisitely designed not to deal with climate change, everyone is focused on their little piece of the pie, says CARMA Project Manager Kevin Ummel in Scientific American. “What we’re doing right now is not revolutionary, and frankly, I don’t know what’s going to get us out of this equation.”

About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment.