Very early in the book, there are a couple plots showing the respective pollution rates and historical emissions levels of different countries. Being a part of a traditional book put somewhat of a constraint - I feel - on the reader's ability to really appreciate trends in emission levels: each of the plots was a snapshot of a single instance in time or an aggregation of a large amount of historical data.
It occurred to me that I could get the data for myself and then make something new that would perhaps make it easier to appreciate the situation. I got historical emissions data from CAIT and the following is a preliminary set of visualizations.
The plots on this page will generally order the countries from left to right in descending order of total emissions. So when rectangles switch places it means that one overtook the other in emissions levels at that point in time. You can hover over the rectangles for country information. The colours of the rectangles don't mean anything in particular: I just gave different countries different colours and stuck with the assignments throughout.
OK, so here's are the 30 countries that had the highest total pollution levels in 2011 - the last year in the CAIT dataset: China, USA, India, Russia, Indonesia, Brazil, Japan, Canada, Germany, Mexico, Iran, South Korea, Australia, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, France, Italy, South Africa, Malaysia, Argentina, Venezuela, Turkey, Ukraine, Thailand, Spain, Pakistan, Poland, Dem. Rep. of Congo, and Kazakhstan.
So, it's more or less relatively affluent and very large countries. To be expected I suppose.
(If you noticed that Malaysia isn't always there, I apologize. I have to check something out in the data and clean that up.)
Well, here are the top 10 polluters per capita: Kuwait, Brunei, Belize, Qatar, Equatorial Guinea, Oman, Trinidad & Tobago, Australia, Canada, and UnitedArabEmirates.
So the list is dominated by smaller countries with strong energy industries.
(I don't mean for that to be too judgmental when I use the word "polluters" to refer to these countries as a lot of these emissions are in service of things other countries are very happy to benefit from.)
You probably noticed that the countries in this plot are ordered by per capita emissions. That seemed to be the natural ranking here. Later plots will maintain that convention when looking at the countries that lead in per capita metrics.
I was taught that Carbon Dioxide made of 0.03% of the atmosphere. CO2 is up to 0.04% these days.
CAIT actually provides three decades more historical data for CO2 emissions. So this plot can perhaps serve as a better demonstration of how the situation has evolved from the mid-20th century to the present day. It does come with the caveat that the data only provides CO2 emissions excluding Land-Use, Change and Forestry however.
Maybe you noticed that Oman doesn't show up till 1964. That's in the underlying dataset.
Everything I've read seems to indicate that methane has a much more pronounced effect in the short term before trailing off whereas CO2 has a persistent low-level effect over long periods of time.
Kuwait and Libya had much higher levels than all the other countries in that last plot, so I'll take them out to perhaps better see the other 28 countries.
Here we can see that China had surpassed the United States in methane emissions for at least a decade and a half prior to doing so for CO2 (and total) emissions.
From wikipedia: Nitrous oxide gives rise to NO (nitric oxide) on reaction with oxygen atoms, and this NO in turn reacts with ozone. As a result, it is the main naturally occurring regulator of stratospheric ozone. It is also a major greenhouse gas and air pollutant. Considered over a 100-year period, it has 298 times more impact per unit mass (global warming potential) than carbon dioxide.
Nitrous Oxide is emitted by bacteria and many activities associated with Agriculture catalyze these emissions.
Central African Republic is on a whole other level. I'll take it out for clarity.
The top 5 countries in 2011 are all in Africa. Central African Republic is noticeably higher than all the other countries but its own trend has been downward since 1990 and more or less flat in the last decade and a half.
Here's what the European Commission has to say about F-gases: Fluorinated gases (‘F-gases’) are a family of man-made gases used in a range of industrial applications. Because they do not damage the atmospheric ozone layer, they are often used as substitutes for ozone-depleting substances. However, F-gases are powerful greenhouse gases, with a global warming effect up to 23 000 times greater than carbon dioxide (CO2), and their emissions are rising strongly.
Sounds like something to keep an eye on.
As a reminder: all these plots are in CO2 equivalent terms so don't go multiplying these heights by that 23,000 number in that above quote. It's already baked in.
Keep an eye on extremely-narrow Antigua & Barbuda sliding up the y-axis and distorting the scale for everyone else. I wonder what's the deal with that.