Al Gore’s Nobel Prize speech, as reported by the NY Times:

… he singled out the United States and China — the world’s largest emitters of carbon dioxide — for failing to meet their obligations in mitigating emissions. They should “stop using each other’s behavior as an excuse for stalemate,” he said.

Much as I love him, Gore’s sentiment here is far too generous to the good ol’ U.S. of A. There is simply no fair comparison with China. We’re not equally responsible for the problem. Not even close.

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Considering the last 115 years — you know, the period that caused climate change — North America is responsible for more than three times as much global warming pollution as China, North Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam put together.

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carbon comparison_334

And that’s not the half of it.

Not only are we North Americans vastly wealthier, but on a per capita basis we bear far more responsibility for the climate pollution that’s already in the sky.

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This chart compares historical carbon emissions with the number of residents alive today. The North American legacy has been vastly more damaging to the atmosphere than Asia’s. So, as individuals living today in what Gore rightly calls "an era of consequences," we bear an outsized share of the responsibility.

By the way, country-by-country emissions data was not readily available — I’ll tease it apart later — but I think the regional comparison makes my point adequately.

Carbon emissions data is from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Population data comes from the CIA World Factbook.