Interactive map tracks city carbon emissions

    Banner at Milwaukee climate march 2019
    Banner at Milwaukee climate march 2019 (Photo by Isiah Holmes).

    An interactive map developed by the New York Times is giving fresh insights into city-level carbon emissions across the country. The detailed heat map provides data on increases in emissions between 1990 and 2017.

    It was compiled using Boston University’s Database of Road Transportation Emissions. Regarded as the most accurate estimates for local Co2 emissions, the database identified transportation as the largest source of localized carbon emissions. The New York Times’ interactive map organizes the data into both the total emissions increases, and emissions per person.

    According to the data, Milwaukee’s total emissions have increased 30% since 1990, and 18% per person. Madison overshadowed those numbers, however, with the capital’s total emissions having increased by 43%. In contrast, however, Madison’s per person emissions only increased 2% over the past three decades. By comparison the next nearest city with available data, Chicago, Illinois, has experienced a 66% increase in total emissions, and a 43% increase per person. Madison and Milwaukee were the only two Wisconsin cities included in the map with available data, which focused on municipalities with the largest emissions increases.

    The New York Times reports that nearly 60% of the emissions analyzed in the data originated from passenger cars, S.U.V’s, and trucks. Over 250 million passenger vehicles are on the road  throughout the country, with freight trucks adding another 23% emissions increase. Gradual changes in American lifestyle and work patterns may be partially responsible for rising carbon outputs. Boston University’s data suggested that suburban driving patterns have also contributed significantly.

    The data is particularly timely as cities begin re-envisioning transportation and energy efficiency. As part of a recently signed budget, Milwaukee County attempted to boost financial support for its public transportation system. Taxes were also raised for ride-share services like Uber and Lyft, which some residents complained was an attempt to discourage their use and steer residents back to using the bus.

    Localized emissions data is becoming an increasingly useful resource, as city and state governments move forward with climate commitments regardless of federal policies. In Wisconsin, climate task forces at both the state level and in Milwaukee County this year will work to create recommendations for mitigation and adaptation.

    Among the topics discussed during the Milwaukee task force’s first meeting was getting a better grasp on city carbon emissions data, and the role the state’s power provider We Energies plays in disseminating that information to city officials. As long as utilities including We Energies resist handing over emissions data, independent studies like the interactive map published by the Times are valuable  tools for city and state governments.

    Many city, state, and tribal governments affirmed commitments made during the Paris Climate Accords to reduce carbon emissions before 2050. The United Nations COP25 climate conference is now underway in Madrid, Spain. The conference began on Dec. 2, and will continue until Dec. 13, with cities continuing to brainstorm ways to come into compliance with the Paris accords back at home on the local level.

    Isiah Holmes
    Isiah Holmes is a journalist and videographer, and a lifelong resident of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Holmes' video work dates back to his high school days at Wauwatosa East High, when he made a documentary about the local police department. Since then, his writing has been featured in Urban Milwaukee, Isthmus, Milwaukee Stories, Milwaukee Neighborhood News Services, Pontiac Tribune, and other outlets.