Graph showing global carbon dioxide emissions: 50% from the richest 7% and 7% from the poorest 50%

A common scapegoat for global warming is overpopulation. Skyscrapers drowning in a sea of smog in China certainly point to the country’s detrimental impact on the environment.  It’s true that growing populations, especially ones undergoing industrialization like China, hurt the environment. However, many people are not aware that richer countries’ contributions to climate change are much greater than the Global South’s.

Fred Pearce’s article, “Consumption Dwarfs Population as Main Environmental Threat,” highlights several statistics that point to wealthy countries’ abuse of privilege:

  • The richest 7% of Earth’s population emit 50% of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions. Conversely, the poorest 50% are responsible for only 7% of emissions.
  • The average American’s footprint, or the area of the earth required to provide each of us with food, clothing, and other resources, is 9.5 hectares. For comparison, the world average is 2.7 hectares. China is still below that figure at 2.1 hectares, while India and most of Africa are at or below 1.0.
  • The factory farming of meat is a large contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. Americans eat more than 120 kilograms of meat a year per person, while Indians consume 6 kilos.

Before you claim that people in the Global South are having “too many babies,” consider your own carbon footprint. In fact, try this carbon footprint calculator.  Our per capita emissions eclipse countries with larger populations. It’s time to challenge the Global North’s culture of overconsumption.