Thankfully, this headline does not single out the United States as the worst carbon polluter, although we have certainly done more than our part to choke the world in a gaseous greenhouse. No, the honor belongs to humans in general.
If you’re wondering which countries have emitted the most carbon over the past couple of centuries, take a look at the interactive map and graphs produced by Eric Holthaus and Chris Kirk with CAIT 2.0 software for the magazine Slate‘s “Future Tense” section, produced in collaboration with New America and Arizona State University. (Only a screen shot is shown here. To play out the years and nations on the interactive map, go to this link.)
Holthaus and Kirk used the Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT 2.0) from the World Resources Institute to put together this telling live infographic of global carbon emitters over time. The authors titled their interactive map “A Filthy History.”
In the mid-19th century, when the map starts, “Jolly old England was really the only game in town.” That’s where and when the Industrial Revolution began.
With the end of the American Civil War, the “taming” of the frontier West, and the rise of factories and industry—not to mention the coming of coal locomotives and electric power—the US took over as #1 carbon pollution emitter. For a long time, and with incontestable help from an invention popularized by Henry Ford, the US produced more CO2 than the rest of the world combined.
In 1991, China reached the #2 spot. Only after the turn of 2000 did China overtake the US.
Pointing fingers won’t help us out of the whirling spiral of climate change we humans have unwittingly brought on ourselves. And resentments are really just a big waste of time. What might help us out is universal recognition of the reality and wholehearted pitching in to meet, adapt to, and ideally transform the climate challenges into viable new ways of life.