By Justin Worland
November 4, 2016

Study after study has shown how human activity, from driving a gasoline-powered vehicle to running air conditioners, has contributed to man-made climate change. But understanding exactly how much damage your personal lifestyle is doing can be difficult.

Now, new research published in the journal Science gives a sense of how much damage an individual’s everyday actions cause. One metric ton of carbon dioxide emissions results in three square meters of Arctic sea ice melt, researchers found. The average American emits about 16 metric tons of the pollutant annually, according to World Bank data. That means the average American melts nearly 50 square meters each year.

Put in other terms, melting three square meters of Arctic ice would result from driving 2,397 miles, consuming two months of electricity in the average American home or using 2.3 barrels of oil, according to EPA data.

Researchers behind the study found a linear relationship between sea ice levels in the Arctic in September—the lowest point of the year—and total carbon dioxide emissions in the past three decades. Without action to slow carbon dioxide emissions, ice could disappear entirely from the Arctic in warm summer months in a matter of decades. Sea ice reached the second-lowest point on record this fall.

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