US responsible for 29% of carbon dioxide emissions over past 150 years, triple China’s share

Since the mid-1800s, U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide, the primary human-caused greenhouse gas, accounted for 29% of the global total.  Those 328,000 million metric tons of cumulative emissions are the most of any country and more than three times the amount emitted by China over the same period (93,000 MtCO2), according to data from data from the World Resources Institute.

Cumulative emissions are responsible for the high levels of CO2 concentrations that are destroying the climate, which means the moral responsibility rests with Americans to show leadership on emissions reductions.

Using WRI data, Greenpeace has written “America’s Share of the Climate Crisis,” which also looks at emissions since 1960:

cumulative-co2-emissions Greenpeace

Here are some more quotable factoids from their report:

  • Historically, no nation has emitted more global warming pollution than the United States. From 1960-2005, the U.S. emitted 213,608 MtCO2, 26% of total global emissions. The next biggest polluter, China, emitted 88,643 MtCO2 over the same time frame, 10.7% of global emissions.
  • The U.S. also exceeded almost every other nation in per capita emissions. Per capita, the U.S. emitted 720 tons of CO2 per person per year from 1960-2005. This is more than ten times China’s per capita emissions (68 tons of CO2) during the same period, and ninety times the per capita emissions of Kenya (7.7 tCO2). Even considered individually, the 50 U.S. states are among the nations that are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide on earth.
  • Even considered individually, the 50 U.S. states are among the nation that are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide on Earth.
  • The average U.S. state emitted 4,449 MtCO2 from 1960-2005, which would rank 30th among the nations of the world. The combined historic emissions of just seven states””Texas, California, Illinois, New York, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Ohio””totalled 96,517 MtCO2, more than any other country in the world, including China (92,950).
  • If Texas were its own country, it would rank sixth out of 184 countries in the world in total emissions, trailing just China, Russia, Germnay, Japan, and the United Kingdom.

Hmm.  “If Texas were its own country….”  Isn’t that what Governor Rick Perry proposed (see AP story “Gov. Rick Perry: Texas Could Secede, Leave Union“)?

Hmm.  Two fewer GOP senators … only 59 votes needed to break a filibuster … a lot easier for progressives to win Presidential elections.  Something to dream about….  But I digress.

Time for Americans to lead on emissions reductions.

14 Responses to US responsible for 29% of carbon dioxide emissions over past 150 years, triple China’s share

  1. Using historic totals is merely a statement that the US has for long been a rich counry. In 2004 China was just behind the US and may even now be ahead of the US. India now has more emission than any European Union country. The difficulty for emissions is to find a way of satisfying the aspirations of developing countries and balance that with the reluctance of rich countries to change their lfiestyles.

    For more information see:

    For a complete breakdown (sourced from UN) go to the above site and click on downloads.

  2. Ronald says:

    A few years ago I read that the United States was 40 percent of total emisssions. But that would change over the years as the rest of the world puts CO2 out there.

    I disagree with the notion that the rich countries have to change their lifestyles to burn less CO2. There are all sorts of things that people and businesses can do that would reduce CO2 emissions and have no effect to a less rich lifestyle. In fact with energy efficiency, it quite probably would be an increase to a rich lifestyle. The links to that are in other articles on this website.

    We don’t have to be less wealthy to use less carbon fueled energy. Unless you own a coal mine.

  3. Steven Biel says:

    Small tweak-the country data is from WRI, but the state-by-state numbers are created by Greenpeace based on EIA data on fuel combustion.

  4. Gary says:

    I completely agree with Ronald. Cutting carbon emissions and maintaining a high quality of life aren’t mutually exclusive. Like Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu says, energy efficiency is the low hanging fruit that we have to grab. Whether its painting roofs white or retrofitting buildings to be more sustainable, there are so many easy ways for us to lower our carbon footprint. for more on the historical responsibility of climate change see

  5. Jacal says:

    China’s CO2 Output Passes US
    Posted June 20, 2007
    (Newser) – China has overtaken the US as the world’s biggest CO2 emitter. A Dutch study says China is coughing up 9% more fossil fuel into the air than last year, compared with a 1.4% increase from the superpower across the Pacific. And the trend is up: China’s industry is growing so fast, it’s building two new power stations a week to meet energy demands. ————–

    Which means the moral responsibility rests with Americans to show leadership on emissions reductions?? Stop bashing the US and put the focus on where it belongs- China.

    It seems as countries become industrialized, increase GDP, and have profits., they eventually decide to clean up- as did the USA over the last 20 years. Will anyone argue that any country has cleaned up more, relative to GDP? (Hmm, France due to 80% NUCLEAR energy generation)

    China, India, etc are trying to build their economy, and the sliver of money spent on (marketing) their green efforts pales in comparison to what the US has achieved. We’ll have more climate Co2 from China in five years than the US will produce locally.

  6. hapa says:

    hoh interesting, it looks like they picked 1960 partly because that’s when there was consensus that global warming was an issue.

    The first widely read scientific work suggesting a link between global warming and human activity was published more than 100 years ago, in 1908. Following half a century of slowly emerging evidence that the burning of fossil fuels was causing the planet to heat up — accompanied by the simultaneous and massive growth of fossil fuel burning in this country — the [US] federal government first began funding serious research into global warming in the early 1950s. By 1961, the start of the period covered by this report, this research had produced reliable scientific evidence that global levels of carbon dioxide were, in fact, increasing due to human activity.

    however by doing that they let victoria and the other emperors off the hook. UK share is a WEE BIT LARGER than these charts indicate, and china’s is probably smaller, in relation, but maybe since 1960 also shows us the carbon debt in relation to current earning power, it’s more realistic, as long as it’s properly asterisked and all.

  7. hapa says:

    russia/USSR numbers? really? really and truly? and — are ya sure about those chinese numbers? not that communists ever fudge energy stats. why, just yesterday, i was reading that china’s current stats are 237% accurate.

  8. hapa says:

    that’s up 16% from last year! in a recession!

  9. K L Reddington says:

    Yes America is great. America has used a lot of farm equipment and shipping to export food for the world. We lead the world in food production.
    We enjoy a great rail and water shipping system. Actually we have a lot of city people that whine and are not productive. They absorb a lot of energy in large high rise containment housing. An annual subscription to the New York times is 572 pounds of paper. with shipping and paper processing, it is very wastefull. Small town papers are used for other purposes on the farm. Non farm population is the burden on the planet.

    CO2 emissions are not a problem They are part of the cycle of life.

  10. bob buczma says:

    co2 is not the primary greenhouse gas watervapour isi thought you would have known that.

    [JR: CO2 is the primary human-caused greenhouse gas, which is the subject of this blog, since it is human-caused emissions that we are responsible for and can reduce. Water vapor is a feedback, as discussed many times here.]

  11. James H says:

    How long does “emitted” CO2 stay in the atmosphere? I have seen wide variations, some studies showing 30-40 years and others several hundred years. If we emitted more over 150 years, but it only lasts 30-40 years, then the argument is moot.

    As we seem to be headed to prevent manufacturing goods here, where we have better emissions and environmental controls, China (and other developing nations) will have to pick up the slack. Demand for goods is not going away, only the means to produce them efficiently in the US. So, the same goods will be manufactured in China in a less-efficient manner and without any pollution controls. So the net effect is the opposite of the goal.

    [JR: About a quarter of emitted CO2 lasts for thousands of years or longer as the sinks saturate.]

  12. Chinese says:

    I have been wondering if we humans aren’t doing the earth a favor by bringing carbon back above the earth’s surface. Think about it: All of that carbon was above the surface to begin with and when those ancient plants/animals died, the ecosystems lost all of that carbon. Furthermore, the earth has been in a 3 million year cooling cycle, and we could be helping to stabilize the temperature by adding our global warming. Just a thought.

  13. Greg says:

    Millions of pounds of C02 are being used for shipping produce around the world. This is an antiquated method that has been around for 44 years.

    The largest berry growers in California, are the main users of C02 for shipping strawberry’s across the nation to the major chain stores. The amounts are astonishing. It’s the chain stores “dirty little secret”. The issue is that millions of pounds are used for this industry and there are no means of retrieval of the C02 from the enclosed pallets once they get to their destination. So this dangerous waste is released into the atmosphere at large numbers and which they are not following the footprint that they claim.

    The public does not know that this is in effect!

  14. Marc Gunn says:

    Twisting stats allows for us to blame others for our misdeeds. (Annual emissions by country is twisting it so we don’t appear worst.)

    The CUMULATIVE PER CAPITA CONSUMPTION is what matters realistically and morally. (CO2 lingers. Individual lifestyle is where correction can take place. Consumption is the basis for production.)

    We have cumulatively produced the most.
    We have the highest per capita production and consumption.
    Production of Third World CO2 is largely for export (up to 40% for china) to rich countries who consume and then blame poor people.

    Oh, ok, maybe those who criticize china are right. Time for me to take a hot shower in my 3000 sq ft home, get in my pickup truck and drive off to Best Buy, get some new computer equipment and start typing about how bad they are living in a factory at $1000/yr if they’re lucky.