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 just not fair—to China. There is simply no reasonable comparison between the two nations. We’re not equally responsible for the problem. Not even close.

Considering the last 115 years—you know, the period that caused climate change — North America is reponsible for more than 3 times as much global warming pollution as China, North Korea, Mongolia, and Vietnam put together.

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.

climate burden_338

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 outsize 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 from Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. Population data from CIA World Factbook.