It’s the future in a major Canadian city. Streets hum with electric buses and every burger is made with lab-grown beef. Just after New Year’s Day, people gather around their televisions to watch the annual global carbon count. One by one, an envoy from each country on earth submits their emissions total, then waits nervously as the governing body checks that number against the official list. How is there an official list? Because satellites have been circling the planet all year, not only able to read the amount of carbon in the atmosphere but to trace where it came from. Canada, it turns out, has underestimated its emissions and is slapped with a penalty. This futuristic scenario isn’t quite as far away as it seems. Carbon-counting satellites have been around for more than 15 years, with a rash of higher-tech ones in development. Ahead in the field, a Montreal-developed satellite can already pinpoint, from space, the origin of methane emissions so precisely that it can spot individual leaky gas wells. “Within a period of [about] a day we got ahold of the operator and alerted them to what we saw,” said Stéphane Germain, the president of GHGSat Global Emissions […]

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