By now, you’ve likely seen the Taylor Swift media frenzy over short jet flights the superstar chanteuse has taken to get from Fabulous Town to Magnificent Island (or wherever she goes). Swift was among a number of celebrities called “climate criminals” after Yard, a U.K.-based sustainability marketing agency, ran the numbers on their private jet usage. We won’t get into her response here since it wasn’t her; she was lending it out to friends.
When we all get over our shock, shock! that celebrities are often extravagant, the coverage does start us thinking about how us noncelebrities — down here, see us? — harm the environment. Do regular Americans need to stop trolling celebrities, look in the mirror and say, “How much am I contributing to climate change?” whether it be by plane, train, beef or any of the many other number of ways we sully the environment?
To answer that question, Grid pulled some data looking at which countries produce the most greenhouse gas emissions. Here’s what we found.
Per capita, the U.S. doesn’t make the Top 5, but it’s still pretty high on the list at No. 11
Data out of the World Bank reflects per-capita emissions, meaning smaller countries with outsized emissions are at the top. And that makes sense when you consider that nations in the Arabian Peninsula have economies that depend on fossil fuels.
- United Arab Emirates
And if you compare countries overall, the United States is second only to China as the world’s largest carbon emitter.
Break it down by income and yes, the U.S., again, deserves a finger point
Data from the World Inequality Database shows that the richest 10 percent of people across the world emitted nearly 48 percent of global emissions in 2019. Meanwhile, the poorest half of the global population was only responsible for 12 percent of global emissions.
And in April, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that the richest 10 percent of people, most of whom lived in developed countries, consume about half the world’s energy. The average carbon footprint of the richest people on the planet is a whopping 175 times the footprint of the poorest 10 percent.
And what qualifies as rich? You might be surprised to find that “a $59,000 [household] income in the United States has enough buying power to put you in the 91st percentile globally for per-person income,” according to the Washington Post’s income calculator.
Since at least 60 percent of Americans make more than that, then, yep, the United States (when looked as a whole) is pretty much like Taylor Swift.
When did the United States take a bad (air) turn? The industrial revolution is a good starting point. Since then, around 2,500 billion metric tons of CO2 have been emitted by humankind, the World Inequality Database wrote in a 2021 report.
And what about now? Based on current emissions rates, the same report estimates that the world will emit enough carbon to exceed 2 degrees Celsius of warming — or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit — within only a couple of decades. Breaching that threshold would make some devastating climate impacts inevitable, the IPCC has said.
Yikes! Looks like we can’t just “shake it off.”
Thanks to Alicia Benjamin for copy editing this article.