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Now Counting Carbons

New Yorkers have been keeping track of the national debt for two decades, thanks to a large billboard near Times Square. Now they're getting a chance to keep an eye on greenhouse gases.

Deutsche Bank unveiled a 70-foot tall carbon counter Thursday in New York City that tracks the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The counter is meant to spur conversation, increase awareness about climate change and affect change.

"It makes this concept of climate change and greenhouse gases something tangible," said Kevin Parker, Global Head of Deutsche Bank’s Asset Management told reporters after unveiling the counter. “We think the world is moving way too slow to fight climate change.”

The counter, located next to highly trafficked Madison Square Garden and Penn Station, is about ten blocks away from the National Debt Clock that has been counting the nation's public debt since it was first erected in a different location in 1989.

One thing they do have in common: the numbers on both are increasing at an alarming rate. The debt clock had to be reformatted last fall when the national debt crossed $10 trillion and the sign had run out of space for all the numbers. As for the carbon counter, the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is increasing at a rate of about 2 billion metric tons a month. Currently, the number is at 3.64 trillion metric tons.

“It’s good to get this information constantly in front of them [people]," says Joel Makower executive editor of GreenBiz.com. At the same time, however, he says that such a huge number could be intimating to some people, who might question whether they could actually make a reduction in those numbers. "Big numbers are impressive, but they make us feel impotent," adds Makower.

Deutsche Bank teamed up scientists at MIT to track greenhouse gases by picking up the data from equipment located around the world by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA’s Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment.

Obviously, a carbon counter has to be carbon neutral. The bank says that's been achieved by outfitting it with over 40,000 low-energy light emitting diodes—known as LEDs—and is offset with carbon credits. Deutsche Bank announced last year that it would cut its own carbon emissions by 20 percent annually and become carbon neutral by 2013.

Parker says the firm choose the location because “New York is the financial capital of the world and the media capital of the world. It would get the most attention and the most airplay.” He said about 500,000 people will pass the sign everyday.

Those outside New York City can keep tabs on the number on the counter’s Web site, know-the-number.com, which also allows users to download the counter onto their desktops.

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