Every story needs a villain -- and climate change is no exception.
Knowing which countries and industries contribute to climate change, and in what proportions, is key to understanding how we can fix this problem and avoid 2 degrees Celsius of warming
, which is what policymakers regard as the threshold for "dangerous" climate change.
Plus, this story is complicated by the fact that nearly all of us -- certainly those reading this column on a mobile phone or computer -- contribute to climate change in some way.
We're all partly to blame.
I'm going to be exploring this idea of "climate villains" for the next month or so, as part of CNN's Two° series
, which looks at that threshold for dangerous warming. That's the point at which some island nations are expected to be submerged
, drought risks go up considerably and water availability goes down.
I'd like your help in deciding which bad guys to target.
Below, you'll find a Facebook poll that lists four of my favorite climate villains, all of which came from your suggestions. Pick the one you find most interesting and I'll go out into the world to report on the winner. The poll closes at 5 p.m. ET on Sunday, August 16.
Before you vote, though, you should know some of the basics. In talking to people about climate change this year, I've found there is SO MUCH confusion
about what's causing warming and why.
I've met people -- smart people, reasonable people -- who think that climate change is caused by aerosols from hairspray (it isn't) or that it's just part of a natural warming cycle (it's not). Burning fossil fuels for electricity and heat, as well as chopping down rainforests, contributes to climate change.
Here's a breakdown of global greenhouse gas emissions by sector, according to 2012 data synthesized by the World Resources Institute. This is kind of a "blame" chart.
On Wednesday, I asked people on Facebook to identify their preferred climate villains
. Among the most interesting (and sometimes humorous) responses you submitted: dinosaurs ("they turned into the oil that we want to get at, right?"); millennials ("It is always millennials' fault for everything ..."); parents ("the process of procreation ... results in increases in demand of the earth's resources and is the driving force for most of our planet's woes"). I was mentioned by name ("John Sutter. I bet he's double secret super villain. No doubt."), as was Willis Carrier
, the guy who commercialized the modern air conditioner, and James Watt, who invented an efficient steam engine
You also identified more nebulous bad guys, like apathy, greed, ignorance and consumerism. Geography found its way into the mix, too. China, America and the "3rd world" all made your list.
Some countries are more to blame than others, sure. But it turns out that the most industrialized countries -- the United States, European countries and, increasingly, China and India -- are among the biggest contributors to climate change, because they burn the most fossil fuels.
Here's a list of the top 10 countries in terms of their overall contributions to global greenhouse gas emissions. This list is measured from 1850, the start of the Industrial Revolution, to 2012, and it's based on data synthesized by the World Resources Institute
- United States
- United Kingdom
Those are the countries most responsible for the warming we're already seeing, as well as for much of the warming that we will seen in coming years. According to the World Bank, the atmosphere already has warmed 0.8 degrees Celsius above preindustrial times
, and about 1.5 degrees of warming is already "locked in" to the atmospheric system because of how much carbon we've burned.
Remember, 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is the danger mark.
For context, here's a list of the top climate polluters today. They create about 70% of all current greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, according to the World Resources Institute
- United States
- European Union
All of this data is a rough guide to help you vote. Each of the four topics you suggested for this poll is a worthy candidate. Our diets, our reliance on fossil fuel reserves, our willingness to turn precious forests into farms and our addiction to gas-burning cars and other dirty modes of transit -- all of these contribute to climate change. And each is worth exploring in depth.
I don't want to play the blame game forever. I agree with those of you who said we need to move past finger-pointing and toward solutions. I do think, however, that by exploring who and what's causing climate change, we'll have a better sense of how to solve this urgent problem.
So, please vote. Tell your friends. And thank you for helping decide where I'll focus my energy.
I'll announce the winning topic in Monday's edition of the Two° newsletter
. And, as always, if you have story suggestions for this series, please email me: email@example.com