climate change race social justice

Two maps: climate responsibility and climate vulnerability

When I talk about climate change, I often say that future generations may look back in horror at our attitudes. When the history of our era is written, people may wonder how we thought it was okay to carry on with no concern for our carbon footprints. Here are two maps that show why.

First, here’s a map of the world showing greenhouse gases per capita in 2011. It’s not a perfect proxy for responsibility for climate change, because that would include historic emissions. But it does show where emissions are high – the countries that are driving climate right now.

Second, here is a map of climate vulnerability. It shows the places that will be hit hardest by global warming, including extreme weather, drought, and sea level rise.

Flick back and forth between those two. The countries most responsible for climate change are – with a few exceptions – the least at risk. The places that will reap the whirlwind are the least responsible. They are also the least prepared, with fewer resources to adapt.

Flick back and forth again, and this time consider the skin colour of the people in each part of the world – those responsible, and those vulnerable.

Do you see why, in 50 or 100 years time, people are going to talk about climate change the same way we talk about the slave trade today?


  1. It seems that poverty and conflict prevents most of the vulnerable places from standing against the rest of us who cause most climate change. Convenient!?

  2. Looks like a revolution waiting to happen. Think whitey can keep his boot on the neck of the rest of the world forever? I doubt it.

  3. Sadly, I don’t think that knowing this information in the sense of “we green people should curtail our consumption so that those red people don’t pay the price” will have much effect, as it involves altruism and a concern for “others”. Maybe it would seem more relevant if it were couched in terms of: these red people are going to be coming to your borders in droves, unless they can continue to grow food and withstand the temps in their home countries. Still, anything that involves the future is unfortunately too abstract for most people to think about.

    1. Emily – I think very many people are seeking a way to enjoy life after their days at work and hence do not respond well to the dire matters of our future. If many more were made aware and even chose to object to those destroying lives on earth in exchange for their financial benefits, would it lead to effective and lasting improvement?

  4. I’m not sure altruism is the right word. That suggests recognising our common humanity and doing something good for someone. This is much more about stopping an injustice. We in the West are causing climate change, and others will suffer.

    I do take your point though – it will change some people’s minds and not others. And yes, it could be framed in ways that appeal to our self interest. Sadly those may not work. When faced with a migrant ‘threat’, very few people suggest improving conditions on the ground so that people can stay at home. They’re far more likely to demand border patrols, walls, policies like America’s family separation or the ‘hostile environment’ for migrants that Britain has deliberately fostered.

    It’s very difficult to emphasise the needs of others while framing them as a threat, and that’s why I’d hesitate to jump to quickly to talking about our own interests.

    1. Jeremy – But surely, these ‘injustices’ will, in due course, fall on us all, and self-interest is the ultimate tool to try to get us working together against such ills?

  5. Up to a point, but not all injustices are going to fall on us. Western consumers benefit from sweatshop labour, for example. It is in our interests for it to continue, so we can’t appeal to self-interest to motivate change on that front – at least, not without diminishing the humanity of those suffering.

    I write all the time about how tackling climate change is in our best interests. But on the specific issue of climate justice, I think we need the moral backbone to say that it’s wrong. Like slavery or apartheid, it’s wrong because it’s wrong, not because it might inconvenience us at some point. That will impact some people and miss others, so we need the full range of messages on climate change.

  6. “I would rather have questions that can’t be answered than answers that can’t be questioned.”

    ― Richard Feynman

    For the greenhouse theory to operate as advertised requires a GHG up/down/”back” LWIR energy loop to “trap” energy and “warm” the earth and atmosphere.

    For the GHG up/down/”back” radiation energy loop to operate as advertised requires ideal black body, 1.0 emissivity, LWIR of 396 W/m^2 from the surface. (K-T diagram)

    The surface cannot do that because of a contiguous participating media, i.e. atmospheric molecules, moving over 50% ((17+80)/160) of the surface heat through non-radiative processes, i.e. conduction, convection, latent evaporation/condensation. (K-T diagram)

    Because of the contiguous turbulent non-radiative processes at the air interface the oceans and lands cannot have an emissivity of 0.97.

    No GHG energy loop & no greenhouse effect means no CO2/man caused climate change and no Gorebal warming.

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