Infographic of the Day: When the Earth Warms, Who Suffers?

Those who pollute the least also stand to lose the most.

Infographic of the Day: When the Earth Warms, Who Suffers?

Westerners like you and me are the alpha consumers of the global marketplace — never in the world’s history have humans ever had so much. Which sounds awesome, except we know now that everything we consume comes with the cost of the carbons emitted to produce it.


Now, if the world were fair, we’d be the ones eventually footing that bill. But you know what they say about life, and this vitally important map shows exactly how true that old saw is. The ones least responsible for climate change are also the ones who pay the most dearly.


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The map, produced by Jason Samson, a PhD candidate in McGill University’s Department of Natural Resource Sciences, provides a quantitative measure of climate-change impacts; the red spots indicate the places which stand to be damaged the most. (And these results line up nicely with this infographic which we featured previously.)

You’ll see that they’re clustered around the equator, for a simple reason: In places that are already hot, it’s difficult to farm and get enough potable water. When temperatures rise, those difficulties grow exponentially. As Samson notes:


Take Somalia for instance. Because it’s so hot there, it’s already very difficult to grow things, and it will only become more difficult if the temperature rises. It’s also clear that Somalia is not a big contributor of greenhouse gas to the atmosphere. Now thanks to this map, we have concrete quantitative evidence of the disparity between the causes and the consequences of climate change at a national level.

But I’d argue that the greatest looming problem lies not in the red zones, but in the cool blue swathes of China. China is already the world’s largest carbon emitter. Meanwhile their per capita incomes are tiny, but are growing at astonishing speeds. As the Chinese assume the earning power of Westerners, their carbon emissions will swell to staggering levels.

If this chart is right the Chinese won’t feel global warming’s effects as keenly as Africans, for example. Climate change will continue to feel like someone else’s problem — and so, like us, the Chinese can just go on getting rich. You can’t blame them, and that’s the tragedy.

[Hat tip to GOOD]

About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.