Not so long ago, the United States of America pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The president of the US blamed countries like China and India for not doing enough while talking about how unfair the agreement was for the US. The world was surprised. Many people within the United States were surprised too. But it wasn’t the first time that an American president dumped a global climate agreement. In 2001, President George W Bush had done it too.
When we talk about the countries with the biggest global emissions, there are three names that come to most minds and these three names are the US, China and India. But many of us do not know the significance of historical emissions and also of high consumption rate.
Is climate change real?
Climate change is something that many people do not consider as an immediate threat. For many, climate change is not real. According to many experts, climate change has everything to do with unexpected soaring summertime temperatures, rising sea levels, unexpected cold-season storms, forest fires, droughts and very heavy downpours that result in flooding. Not only it causes damage to infrastructure, wildlife and economy but also it is responsible for the direct or indirect loss of human life around the world.
Before the Paris agreement, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in the city of Kyoto in Japan, and it happened on December 11, 1997. Since 1997, our sea levels have been rising and the world has been witnessing extreme weather events. In 2003, we witnessed a heat wave in Europe which was said to be the hottest summer on record since 1540. France was one of the worst sufferers. This heat wave killed nearly 70,000 people in Europe. Not just that, the Russian heat wave of 2010 killed more than 55,000 and in Asia, Philippines suffered from Typhoon Haiyan, which killed more than 6,000 and it happened in 2013. In 2012, Hurricane Sandy left more than 200 people dead in eight countries that included the US and Canada. The damage by Hurricane Sandy was estimated to be around 75 billion USD and then in 2017 there was Hurricane Harvey.
Who should be held responsible for this? Should we still continue to call these events as natural disasters or should we rather call them natural disasters that are man-made? Well, it’s time we talk about the countries that lead the world in damaging our planet.
You will be shocked to learn that Americans constitute only around 4.5% of the world’s population but still they consume around 18% of the world’s energy. According to US energy information administration, in 2014, the primary energy consumption of the whole world was about 539 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu), and U.S. primary consumption was about 98 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu). When it comes to total energy consumption in per capita terms, it is the United States again which so easily beats China and India. Well, even a country like Norway which many of us know for its natural beauty ranks very high when it comes to total energy consumption per person.
When it comes to average water consumption in per capita terms, it is the United States which leads everyone else. Interestingly, Australians are pretty close to the top spot and Norwegians seem to be not too far behind.
Wetlands in the USA
According to the US Department of Agriculture, 54% of wetlands in the United States were already lost by 1980. Not just that, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, it was estimated that the net wetland loss was around 62,300 acres between 2004 and 2009. Wetlands are a home to multiple species which include fishes, birds, reptiles and many more. Apart from being a recreation site, wetlands are useful when it comes to storing floodwaters and filtering pollutants. Apart from a massive deforestation that took place in the US, 99% of the tall-grass prairie was also destroyed in the last 200 years. Not just that, animal agriculture is also taking a massive toll on the United States.
When it comes to producing waste, Americans lead again. The total waste that America produces per day is the highest in the world. When it comes to per person statistics, an average American still generates far more waste than an Indian or even a Chinese. According to World Bank, in a day, the municipal solid waste generated per person in USA is 2.58 kilograms which is significantly higher than China and is almost eight times of what an average Indian produces. But Indian streets continue to look dirty not because Indians produce more waste than the developed world but it is because Indians are still very bad at modern waste management and they need to do a lot to fix their modern waste management infrastructure.
Countries like Norway, Switzerland and Canada are among the top waste producers per capita in the world. Surprised?
Food wastage is another major issue that does not help much as we should not forget that production and storage of food do require a lot of energy and it is something that happens worldwide. Wasting food is not only an insult to those who suffer from hunger but also it hurts our environment. The irony is that in the United States of America, 12-13 % of its population suffers from hunger and poverty while the country continues to have a lot of food wastage. India also needs to do a lot to get rid of this problem.
Greenhouse gas emissions
Now, let’s have a look at who is causing the most damage to our environment when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions per capita, and as you can see, the US beats China and India very comfortably. When it comes to per person carbon dioxide emissions by countries, we see the United States comfortably beating China once again. Very interestingly, India’s CO2 emissions per person are almost nothing in comparison to other countries.
It is very interesting to see Scandinavian countries on the list too, especially Norway, comfortably beating big economies like Japan and even Germany when it comes to carbon dioxide emissions per capita. There has been a trend of recommending the development model of Scandinavian countries by many people around the world and looking from this aspect, it is clear that when it comes to environmental damage per person, the Scandinavians should not be our role models.
It is believed that if the energy is produced through renewable sources, it causes lesser damage to our environment. Many countries are trying to shift their energy production to nonfossil fuel sources and that is why it is very important to know the percentage of renewable energy sources of every country. Many countries are starting to call themselves leaders in renewable energy just because they have a high net output of renewable energy. Instead of focusing on net output, countries should focus on a higher percentage and that will be a more fair way to understand how well a country is doing in renewable energy because the net renewable energy output of countries like China and USA is anyway going to be bigger than the net output of small countries like Thailand even if 100% of Thailand energy starts to come from renewable sources.
Today, in India the existing coal-fired plants are running below 60% of capacity and very soon the country could rely on renewable sources for all its future additional power requirements. That is why instead of building new coal-fired plants, the government is now canceling many which are in the early planning stages. Not so long ago, the government of India lowered the annual production of target for coal to 600 million tons which was 60 million tons lesser than what it was earlier. In Paris agreement, India committed that by 2030, 40% of its electricity capacity will be from nonfossil-fuel sources. And that does not look impossible. The price of renewable energy source is falling continuously and soon it will be cheaper than its alternatives. Even the storage of solar power energy is getting cheaper as the cost of lithium-ion batteries is falling too. India has highly ambitious plans as the country is even thinking of selling only electric cars by 2030. According to a report from NITI Aayog, India will perhaps be able to save $60 billion and reduce its projected carbon emissions by 37% by 2030, if it can adopt use of electric vehicles and more public transportation.
Well, the truth is that India is home to 1.3 billion people and since it has more people, the total greenhouse gas emissions from India are the third highest.
Per person damage to the world
But it is so visible that so many countries in the West cause a lot more damage to the environment on a per person basis. There is no way that if one lives in a huge country with a tiny population like it is in Canada, one has a right to cause more damage to the environment just because the overall emissions of their country may not be as high as the countries which are many times bigger than them in population. It is fair to say that our planet is something that we all share together and it belongs to all of us and on an individual basis, we all should take the responsibility to look after it.
Are historical emissions important?
Yes, they are extremely important. It is important to understand that even though developing countries like India have started to increase their emissions only in the recent years, countries like the USA, the United Kingdom have continuously destroyed the environment for the last many decades. The truth is that carbon dioxide can stay in our atmosphere for centuries and all the historical pollution that countries like the USA, the UK, Germany, Japan, Russia and even China has caused can’t be ignored because even if these countries become 100% renewable energy driven in the future, the emissions that they have already caused in the past are going to lie in our atmosphere for many more centuries and it will continue to affect our lives.
And if one wants to calculate the historical emissions on a per person basis, then even countries like Luxemburg, Belgium and even many other European countries go a lot higher. This so easily indicates the irresponsible behavior of so many countries which love to blame others for climate change.
Many say that one should not focus on where emissions are produced because manufacturing based economies like China are producing goods for the developed nations which are eventually consumed there. But if China wants manufacturing-related jobs, economic prosperity, big foreign reserves, then of course, it has to blame itself too and of course, those individuals who love to consume big are to be blamed too.
What is emission outsourcing?
Many of us have heard about outsourcing of jobs. Just like you outsource jobs to a country, you can also outsource your emissions. In the recent years, China has been working out a plan how it can move its most pollution causing industries to other nations. China has plans to move its factories to Africa and it is definitely a very tricky situation for those nations which are going to benefit with new jobs by the Chinese FDI but at the same time they will also be hurt by the ”outsourced emissions”. India, a country which wants to be the most attractive destination for FDI, should be careful in choosing the industries that it wants to allow on its territory especially when some of these industries can cause a lot of pollution. Well, democratically chosen governments around the world face tremendous pressure by their opposition parties and their people who want jobs at any cost and sometimes the situation is really very tricky for the ruling governments.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that countries like the USA and many other European countries have not only caused emissions in their own country but also have caused emissions in other countries by outsourcing their emissions together with their factories and most importantly, they also consume a lot.
How do we use energy?
When we think of energy consumption, many of us tend to think of only our electricity bills. But we must remember, that every time we buy an article from a shop, we are also buying the energy that was used to produce that article. So what we consume and what we waste does affect our environment and that is the reason why I have been talking about consumption statistics in this film. Since the overall consumption in the western countries is so high, every child born in the western countries has a bigger burden on our planet’s climate than a child who takes birth in a country like India.
Well, if all of us around the world start to live how an average American does, we will need a few Earths. But India and other emerging countries must realize that they may not be as lucky as some Scandinavian countries or Canada as these countries have bigger ecological reserve per person and also are less likely to face ecological deficit even if they hurt the environment more on an individual basis. Every country has a different proportion of ecological wealth and faces the dangers of ecological deficit if the importance of understanding sustainable growth and ecological footprint is ignored.
There is no doubt, that when it comes to climate change, the statistics that I mentioned, do give a rough picture of the problem that we are actually facing.
In the end, It is all about our lifestyle.. Industries are established to produce what we consume. In the recent decades, many countries from the Middle East have also started to emit a lot more which includes the likes of Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. Well, there is no doubt that emissions are very much directly related to consumerism and that is why all of us around the world and mostly those who are from the so-called developed nations have to be held accountable and responsible for our activities which support consumerism.
Who should be blamed for destroying our planet?
Should we be really proud of what we have done? Is there a way that we can reverse it? Perhaps not, as long as we have leaders like Donald Trump who for the sake of his very short term political targets is ready to put the world and even his own country at risk from something that we may call ”the man-made natural disasters”.And shockingly, this is happening when the whole world knows that the USA has to be called responsible for its share of historical emissions that are still lying in our atmosphere and will perhaps be there for many more centuries. Yes, climate change is real, its threat is real and the countries which have historically caused the biggest damage to our planet should be brave enough to admit it.
Yes, we are guilty and only we are to be blamed. Job creation, wealth creation, proper education, happiness and good healthcare can also be achieved without hurting the environment and ancient India had successfully demonstrated that for thousands of years long before the modern industrialization. In ancient times Indians were truly the masters of what in our times we know as ”a sustainable growth”. Can India repeat that again? Can India manage to have a better score in Human Development Index and not hurt the environment as others did? And can we come up with a more accurate tool to measure human prosperity than the Human Development Index? There is no doubt that for India, the road ahead is challenging but is also full of opportunities.
Only time will tell if India is able to continue this good work and create history that can inspire our future generations for centuries. Trump has definitely won some coal-powered jobs for his country even though it appears that collectively the whole world including the United States is staring at a loss in the long run. The world is watching and the people of India are watching too…
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