Carbon emissions map

NPR has put up a map it calls “Climate Change Trends: Carbon Emissions Giants.” It actually only describes emissions in carbon dioxide rather than all the carbon-based greenhouse gases. (To be fair, carbon dioxide is the greatest component of greenhouse gases and is generally considered the benchmark. There is also no reason to expect that methane production, for example, is disproportionately made (compared to carbon dioxide) geographically.) And the information is interesting, to say the least.

It has three different maps, each shaded for different quantities. The first is a map of carbon emissions by country. It shows the million metric tons of carbon dioxide each country emitted in 2006, the amount it is projected to emit in 2030 and the percentage of change. (MtCO2 means “million metric tons carbon dioxide.” The map’s caption says that the United States sends “around 5.8 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere a year.” That is incorrect. It should say “around 5.8 billion metric tons of CO2”–this is so if you look at the representation on the map or if you look at the underlying data. See, for example, the FAQ of the U.S. Energy Administration, Independent Statistics and Analysis page. A metric ton or tonne is 1,000 kilograms. It is slightly more than (or 1.1 times) the ton (short ton) used in North America. The North American short ton is 2,000 lbs. A metric ton is 2,204.6 pounds. The British (long) ton is 2,240 pounds, but the legal unit in trade in the UK is the tonne or metric ton.)

The second map shows emissions per capita. In 2006 the United States and Australia had by far the greatest emission per peron, at 19.3 MtCO2 annually. And while the United States is projected to have a decrease in per capita carbon emissions by 2030, the projection is that the per capita emission will be 19 MtCO2 annually, only a 0.5% decrease in emissions per capita. China is expected to double its per capita emissions of carbon dioxide by 2030 and India to increase by about 70%.

The third map is what makes a serious problem into a catastrophe: population growth. All of Asia is expected to have huge population growths: China adding about 100 milllion more people; India nearly 300 million; and the rest of Asia in the same range.

There are two other interesting charts below the map. One shows the rise in carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere since 1960 (from about 315 parts per million to about 385 ppm now).  The other chart plots carbon dioxide emissions against GDP and shows both the United States and (especially) China emit more carbon dioxide than average for their respective productions. The explanation is the heavier reliance on coal in the US and China for electricity. Coal emits more carbon dioxide than other forms of electricity-producing energy source.

These maps vividly show the unreality of blithe talk of the necessity of cutting greenhouse emissions by 80% to achieve some sort of climate stability. It really does not take an alarmist to say, based on past experience and current initiative (which are essentially none in the U.S.) that it will take a serious catastrophe before something will be done. (One big indicator is that the U.S. is not a signatory to the Kyoto accords.) The question is whether it will be too late then.

Update [August 7]: A similar map is now hosted by National Geographic entitled “Four Ways to Look at Global Carbon Footprints.” It graphically presents greenhouse gas emissions of the European Union (as a unit) and the 12 other [non-EU] countries which produce the most greenhouse gas. These 12 countries plus the EU are said to contribue 80% of greenhouse gas emissions; they are: The US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, South Africa, the Russian Federation, China, India, Japan, Indonesia and Australia. The data is from the World Resources Institute Climate Analysis Indicators Tool. There are four degrees of information illustrated: Current annual emissions (for 2005); Per capita annual emissions (for 2005); Cumulative emissions (from 1850 to 2005); and “Greenhouse gas intensity” — the tons emitted for millions of dollars of GDP (emissions data from 2005). All the charts used carbon dioxide and five other greenhouse gases, except the intensity which only uses carbon dioxide.

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