CO2 Timeline Tool: A New Tool for Youth Climate Leaders (and all the rest of us too!)

Timeline graphic

This view from the CO2 timeline tool allows student leaders to show the expected tenure of key administration leaders (in gold) along with possible milestones in the student leaders’ own lives (in blue) on a century-long timeline. The shaded grey bar at the bottom of the graphic shows how much CO2 from a pulse released during thee student’s four years in college remains in the atmosphere throughout the century.

Youth climate leaders rightly argue that it is they – not current-day politicians, executives, and administrators – who will have to live with the consequences of today’s decisions when it comes to fossil fuel use. As these young people mobilize in hundreds of fossil fuel divestment campaigns we are excited to release a new tool designed to help them make their case powerfully, creatively, and rigorously.

  • With the CO2 Timeline tool, a first year student making a presentation to a board of trustees can show, with accuracy and confidence, that at the time she reaches the age of retirement around 65% of the CO2 released during her four years in college will still be in atmosphere, by which time the trustees she is addressing will be 90-120 years old.
  • Another youth leader could use the tool to find out how much CO2 from his college years will still be in the atmosphere around the time he would start a career (93%) or become a grandparent (70%) and use those benchmarks to explain to his roommate or his uncle why the divestment campaign matters to him.

The CO2 Timeline tool takes analysis we have shared previously on this blog, and makes it customizable to particular colleges or universities. Students can input the names and the likely tenure of key administrators at their schools who are making decisions about the inclusion of fossil fuel investments in the school’s endowment and the tool will compare the amount of time these decision-makers will be in their positions relative to the long duration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Student’s can also create their own personal ‘timelines’, estimating when key milestones in their own lives might unfold and seeing how much of the CO2 released during their college years will still be in the atmosphere, say when they enter graduate school (about 98%) or when their grandchildren begin careers (64%). The graphic can be easily copied and pasted into slide-shows, reports and flyers, or even better, can be used interactively, in meetings or presentations.

timeline table

In the table view climate leaders can easily see what percent of CO2 remains in the atmosphere at given point in time, and see their own age, and the age of administration figures at that time.

The Timeline Tool has a second view, shown below, which allows students to see the percentage of the CO2 released during their college years that will be in the atmosphere when they reach a specific milestone, and how old they and today’s administrators will be at that point. For example, around the time today’s college students begin to think of retiring 65% of the CO2 released in the next four years will still be in the atmosphere, and a Trustee who is 55 years old today would  be 105 years old.

Check out the video introduction to the tool below.

We’d love to learn how the tool is being used, whether it is helpful, and how we might improve. Please comment below, or send your thoughts to

[vimeo 61020722 w=500 h=281]

CO2 Timeline Tool Intro from Climate Interactive on Vimeo.