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ecomii guides guide to global warming
In partnership with:  Union of Concerned Scientists

Does the United States deserve its bad rap?

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So does the United States deserve its reputation as a nation of gas-guzzlers and fossil-fuel burners? A quick look at the facts shows that the United States has made its mark on the world in more ways than one. Unfortunately, our choices are affecting the rest of the world.

Consider this sobering statistic: The United States contains only 5% of the world’s population, but contributes 22% of the world’s carbon emissions.1 Put another way, Americans contribute the equivalent of 54,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per person per year—or about five times the emissions of the average global citizen.2 Scientists today refer to this measure of the amount of carbon dioxide emitted during daily activities as a “carbon footprint.”

A carbon footprint is basically a representation of the effect you (or a company, organization or industry) have on the climate in terms of the total amount of greenhouse gases you produce. To come up with your carbon footprint, most carbon footprint calculators estimate carbon dioxide emissions from transportation and energy use, the two most significant sources of U.S. emissions and the two most easily measured. In reality, your true carbon footprint is actually substantially larger: it would account for the energy used to produce all the products and services you consume, as well as all your other activities. (A carbon footprint is different from an “ecological footprint,” which estimates how much land and water is needed to produce all the resources an individual uses, and dispose of all the waste and pollution he or she generates.) Knowing your carbon footprint can help you understand your individual impact and what lifestyle changes will generate the greatest reduction in emissions.3 You can learn how to calculate and reduce your emissions (and save money) here.

Unfortunately, the problem is going to get worse before it gets better. Greenhouse gas levels will rise as developing countries begin to grow and use the same carbon-emitting, global warming-causing gas and coal technologies that industrialized countries used to get ahead.

Encouraging developing countries to use cleaner, climate-friendly technology as they grow will be one of the world’s greatest challenges moving forward. As one of the leading global carbon emitters, the United States could be a leader in reducing emissions and developing clean technologies that will benefit us and the whole world—if we put our minds and muscle to it.

The World’s Top Carbon Offenders

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:


“The world's countries contribute different amounts of heat-trapping gases to the atmosphere. The table below shows data compiled by the Oak Ridge National Research Laboratory, which estimates carbon emissions from all sources of fossil fuel burning for a maximum period from 1751 to 1996 (or as long a record as is available). Here we list the 20 countries with the highest carbon emissions (data are for 1996).

Comparision of Mean Annual Global Emissions

Source: Marland, G., T.A. Boden, R. J. more

1. The Nature Conservancy. [undated] Available from: [28 November 2007]

2. The Nature Conservancy Magazine, Summer 2007 [online]. Available from: [28 November 2007]

3. World Resources Institute. [undated] Available from: [17 December 2007]

4. Union of Concerned Scientists. [1 February 2007] Excerpted from: [28 November 2007]

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