The United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen is only a month away, and soon all the world -- particularly the embattled developing world and low-lying countries -- will be focused on the specter of global warming. Massive challenges remain when it comes to building consensus on action, and there is a great deal of work to be done.
Yet in order to build a way toward a cleaner future we also need a good handle on the present. One place to start is with this handy new chart at The New Ecologist, mapping out the world's biggest polluters based on carbon dioxide emissions.
Note how coal-heavy China surpassed the U.S. in total emissions, yet lags far behind in per capita releases. Personally I was surprised to see Saudi Arabia and Iran as such big emitters, and it baffles me why Australia has higher per capita emissions than the U.S. or Canada, which are so much colder (a friend of mine who lived Down Under said she rarely even saw furnaces in homes, at least as far north as Sydney and beyond).
It's good to get a sense of the relative emissions we have now, and to look at which economies are booming and are likely to emit more carbon in the coming years. Still, it's frustrating that many Americans have been so resistant to any attempts to reduce emissions, when it's clear that we are responsible for a disproportionate part of the problem. I always thought it was a silly argument to complain that the U.S. shouldn't cut back if developing countries didn't automatically promise to do so. It made me think of the rich man who says he won't give a dollar to charity until every poor man on his block does so first. Had we taken an early lead, businesses would recognize the competitive advantage of doing the right thing (and reducing their exposure to future risk), technologies would be further developed, and we would have served as a good example to the rest of the world, instead of coming across like a greedy braggart (even if we were only acting in the name of preserving jobs, it didn't come across that way to many of our global citizens).
Maybe Copenhagen offers a chance to set things in a more sustainable direction.
See the article and graphics at The New Ecologist.
Oh, and how severely disappointed am I with SuperFreakonomics? Terribly, in no small part because I was a big fan of their first book and was looking forward to the second. As this open letter from an actual climate scientist points out, you did the planet wrong boys.
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