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US & World Maps of CO2 Emissions

The US emits the most CO2 per capita of any country in the world, according to the U.N.

Matt found these two great maps the other day. The first map shows where carbon emissions are concentrated in the U.S. Obviously, the CO2 emissions are higher in urban centers of the country since there are more people there.

US Concentrations of CO2 Emissions:

Concentrations of US CO2 Emissions

But the second map shows U.S. CO2 emissions per capita. It’s a very different map.

U.S. Per Capita CO2 Emissions:

U.S. CO2 Emissions Per Capita

If you click on the map, it will enlarge and you can get a better sense of where the concentrations actually are. Zeroing in on Seattle, for example, shows an interesting result:

Seattle CO2 Emissions Per Capita

Seattle itself (the area to the left of the “S”) emits far less per capita than its outlying suburbs and more rural areas. The same trend can be seen in many other urban areas.

Overall the west and southwest aren’t looking so good here. The two maps almost show a reverse of one another: where the country is least populated, we output more CO2 per person. We have suburbs that sprawl further, requiring longer drive times. We have less public transportation. And… well, I don’t know. Anyone else have ideas about why we emit more CO2 in the western U.S.?

We in North America have a lot of work to do, no matter where we live. Here are some more maps…

Percentage of CO2 Emissions by Country:

Percentage of World CO2 Emissions


According to the UN, the U.S. emits 21% of the world’s total CO2 emissions, while we comprise just 4.6% of the world’s population. China emits 17.3%, Russia 5.3%, Australia 1.1%… click on the map to find out how much your country emits.

But again, the per capita maps seem to be a more important way of looking at it.

World CO2 Emissions Per Capita (in metric tons):

CO2 Emissions Per Capita


The U.S. emits 20.6 metric tons per person, Canada emits 20.0, Norway 19.1, Australia emits 16.2, Saudi Arabia 13.6, U.K. & Germany 9.8… click on the map above to see how your country measures up.

We have lots of work to do! We’re causing major climate damage, and we just can’t go on doing what we do. It’s time to stop this train from going full barrel ahead down the wrong track.

Today, make a change. Big or small, today do something to reduce your CO2 emissions. Something new. Something you’ve been thinking about doing but haven’t yet done. It’s time.

What Will You Do Today?

We have work to do, so put your energy into doing something right now! What will you do today?

If you’re looking for ideas, you can try making some of the changes we discussed in yesterday’s post and the wonderful comments. Not only will those changes help your pocketbook, but they will also help the planet!

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17 comments to US & World Maps of CO2 Emissions

  • My guess on the difference in personal CO2 output is travel distance. We love in town and can cycle or use the bus system, and we do. My friends who commute in from outlying towns to work and shop are the ones really stuck with the high gas prices, etc. Even if they sell their big vehicles and drive smaller ones, they drive more than we do. Their children must be driven farther for school events, sports, church youth group, etc. If you live in the Southwest, where towns are very widely scattered, it would be worse.

  • Melinda, but I’d say the difference is caused by the production of methane – the cattle industry. Not eating meat would make a bigger difference to your carbon footprint than giving up your car.

  • I just got home from the Coastal Clean-up. I walked the couple miles home (after walking the coast area) and I am proud but seriously pooped.

    Aside . . . I think that the Coastal Clean-up is positive in engaging the community, documenting the coastal litter (we kept records of everything we picked up and it was all weighed). But, I am having a problem with all the disposable gloves and plastic bags and paperwork. I suspect the effort used and threw away more resources than what was picked up on the beaches. There is still such a disconnect when it comes to what carbon emissions and lost resources, fossil fuels for each and every event, gathering, meal, purchase, etc.

    I know that if I suggested reusable burlap bags and cloth gloves the people would stare at me like I had snot on my face.

    Tonight is an Autumn Equinox party at my little community. I know that someone will but out the paper plates, plastic cutlery and paper napkins – despite the push at the last events to bring your own plate, utensils, etc.

  • I think if cattle were the cause, you would see more effect in Wisconsin, with it’s dairy farming industry, and the Kansas City area, with it’s stockyards. The cattle in Wisconsin, for instance, are raised at a higher head-per-acre, than beef cattle being raised in, say, Colorado or Texas. This difference does not appear to make a difference on the map, however. Also, western Illinois is considered to be the hog-raising capitol of the world. The effect does not show up there either.

  • Em

    Hi Melinda, interesting maps!

    It’s difficult to interpret stats without knowing how they were calculated.

    I’m reading it as just being CO2 – not methane or other greenhouse gases?

    If it is simply a map of where CO2 is generated (and dividing population to reach per capita rates) – then I’d be interested in a breakdown of the causes – how much is industry-generated, what sort of industry etc. Areas that may appear as low CO2 generating areas might not truly reflect what people living there are responsible for; if they buy in food and consume products (eg electricity from coal-fired plants) produced elsewhere, the map may not reflect their real CO2 footprint.

    I know for me that’s been difficult, to be conscious of the real cost of what we consume or choose – and I often don’t have answers for the Qs, but trying to think a little more helps. Just yesterday my 6yo (who is learning to read and delighting in this) sorted out the toybox into piles of “Made in China” and not MIC. He was doing it for the joy of using his reading, but when he showed me the pile of MIC (large) – I thought about the energy used to make and transport that pile of plastic rubble to our home. We actually don’t have a lot of “stuff” and much of this is 2ndhand, but I had a glimpse of this being repeated in millions of households and that was an uncomfortable thought.

  • Bird

    Are you talking about carbon or carbon dioxide? You mention carbon but the maps are labeled as carbon dioxide. If it is carbon as a whole the methane gases and public transportation totally make sense. Another possibility, if methane is included, is that landfills release a lot of methane and landfills are located in rural areas. Somehow the maps make sense, even though I can’t explain why!

  • INteresting maps. The suburb thing in seattle (from what I can guess) is that most manufacturing is done in our suburbs (Boeing is located in suburbs -Renton Everett, Auburn, Fredrickson), Jorgenson steel -Tukwila; Paccar -Renton
    Anywya the only thing I did here was I needed to go get some eggs- so I went by foot! No scooter, no car…I hoofed it! And I pick up so much better on the neighborhood. It didn’t kill me- I went to Fred Meyer- Approx. 1 mile each way got my eggs and two drill bits and came home! I understand the metro system, don’t use it- when I am not on strike, it doesn’t work out time wise for me- no bus late enough for me to get home- but I understand it

  • I have to say I don’t understand the maps at all. I have however tried to do more to reduce my energy consumption (yeah right — last night I left the lights on and my computer on for about two hours while I wasn’t in my room. that was a fluke I swear!). I’m starting to turn off my power strip at night/when I’m not in my room so that I use even less energy, as well as unplugging the laptop when it’s closed and I’m not using it. I don’t pay for my energy use but I figure it’s best to do as much as I can to get in the habit of saving now!

  • I am not sure exactly how these numbers are calculated. I think it’s important to always take these with a grain of salt, but also to remember that these indicators give us a pretty good rough indication of CO2 output in the world (and what areas of the world need to change the most). Also keep in mind that both the UN and Vulcan (a project of Purdue University) are trying to get as close to the truth as possible. As far as I know, neither has an ulterior motive.

    For the later two tables: according to the UN, the information is based on data from the Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center and “Refers to carbon dioxide emissions stemming from consumption of solid, liquid and gaseous fossil fuels as well as from gas flaring and the production of cement.” I believe that excludes deforestation and a few other possible indicators.

    For the US tables: “The Vulcan project has achieved the quantification of the United States fossil fuel CO2 emissions at the scale of individual factories, powerplants, roadways and neighborhoods. We have built the entire inventory on a common 10 km grid to facilitate atmospheric modeling.” That isn’t super helpful. But take a look at this page, where there are 3 maps: one of CO2 emissions from major power plants, one of CO2 emissions from major industrial plants, and one of CO2 emissions from “mobile sources” from US roadways. According to their YouTube video, they have combined those maps with “other inventories including commercial and residential” sources for the first map above. The second map, then, I assume takes the population and divides it into the total for each area in the grid.

    Obviously that poses a few problems, as you can see in the Central Valley of California (all that redness there). The Central Valley outputs a great deal of CO2 per capita. But I presume that is from meat and vegetable production which is trucked to all parts of the country.

    We can change that, however, by reducing our meat intake as Rhonda Jean suggests. And by eating locally-produced organic and sustainably-grown foods that do not consume the heavy fossil fuels that industrial agriculture consumes. Along with the resulting CO2 and other greenhouse gases that are emitted.

    These maps don’t seem to include those other greenhouse gases like methane, which is too bad. They should. The maps also don’t include deforestation, which results in the loss of carbon sinks. They should do that as well. I would imagine our Washington peninsula and inner mountain areas would have a lot more red if they included deforestation.

    And if they included deforestation, we would also see areas in South America with more problems per capita. Which can be attributed largely to our North American consumption of beef and other products for which those forests are cut down. So… our overall impact (shiver, shiver) may actually be higher.

    So, despite the idiosyncrasies in the data, I still think this is a good starting point for understanding the problem areas and questioning how we as individuals and groups play a significant part.

  • Joyce, In picking our new place to live, this was something we thought about very seriously. Last year we were far from everything and really learned how much many people rely on their cars. I am very heartened to see Seattle and other cities making an active effort to draw people back into their centers to live. I’m glad you’re experiencing these benefits as well!

    Rhonda Jean, A good point – I agree completely! And while I’m not sure if the maps include methane output, they most definitely should.

    Katecontinued, I think it’s great that you are taking part in these events. With you around, slowly I bet the groups will grow their awareness and begin to understand the implications of their actions. Even if only a few people bring their own plates and utensils, it will most likely include people that had never thought about it before. As we have seen in our blogosphere, one change leads to another. Slowly but surely!

    Em, Please see my lengthy response above. ; )

    What a great story! LOL. I love that your child separated the toys. What a great perspective children can bring.

    Bird, Please see my lengthy response above! Thanks for your comment.

    Rob, Good point that most manufacturing is done in the suburbs – hadn’t thought about that.

    And good for you for hoofin’ it! I wonder if it would help to lodge your complaint about the METRO hours to their office. Try calling em, and let them know you like the idea but it’s not useful because of the hours. Might help in the long run… But anyway, I totally feel the same way about walking: I feel like I am much more a part of my neighborhood when I walk through it.

    Stephanie, Let me know if you have specific questions about the maps that I can help answer. Basically, they’re showing where people output the most CO2, which is a greenhouse gas that causes climate change. Cars, factories, power plants, and a few other things contribute to this.

    So glad you’re making these changes! Great to get into the habit of reducing now. Also, even though you’re not paying for the electricity out of your pocket, we all “pay” for it. The electricity comes from a power plant, which outputs CO2 and impacts the environment in other ways as well. So the more you reduce, the less negative impact you have on our world!

  • Okay, it’s just a little thing. But I tried rose hip tea for the first time today (with rose hips from my garden). It was good, but it’s not going to replace coffee for me, so no help in cutting back there. :)

  • Fascinating. I’ve seen lots of worldwide maps but never ones just for the US. Folks, we have a lot of work to do here.

  • I love the idea of choosing your location based on information like this, but I have to say that I was quite shocked to see that the St Louis area, despite being powered primarily by coal, having a significantly undersized and still underutilized transit system, being extremely late in adopting any type of recycling or conservation efforts, and even with our largely suburban population commuting alone and by car, is extremely low on the per capita carbon output map. Maybe we don’t have as much industry as other areas that show up in brighter reds, but I’m still a bit confused. I do understand the red spots in Texas (presumably due in part to drilling operations and refineries), but I don’t quite get why the east coast appears so much better (again, per capita) than the west.

  • Rosa

    I like how my city was a big red blot on the first map and a light green space in the second. Per capita is an important thing to remember in all these numbers.

    Kate, I wonder if a sponsor would provide fabric gloves? If they were free, I bet the beach cleanup group would offer them. Our river cleanup group always gives away cotton gloves, though they still use plastic refuse bags.

    Some people wear latex gloves anyway but personally I feel like the cotton duck ones are better protection against accidental needle sticks than latex, and being outdoors negates most other biohazards.

  • Deb G, I’m impressed. LOL it’s difficult to replace caffeine with roses, eh? I’m attempting to grow tea and coffee, though I don’t hold out much hope. I’ll let you know how it goes. ; ) And thank you for doing something new today!!

    GB, We sure do.

    Lori, Take a look at the 3 maps I linked to in Comment #9. They might help elucidate it a bit – when you look at the CO2 produced by power plants, it is clear that the West is cleaner. The industrial sources are also higher in the Midwest and East… and California. But the roads… not so good for any of us, but the hot spots are in densely populated areas. And those areas are much more spread out in the west, with fewer people per square mile. We output less in total, but we also have less people….

    So I really think it’s the driving – and the incredible distances we drive – here in the West. And not just car driving, but also trucks. Our West Coast ports output an awful lot of gunk as well. But otherwise, I hear your question and I don’t really know the answer. If I have time in the future, it might be interesting to look at what the census indicates for commute times and distances… And an email to the Vulcan people also might answer some of our questions. I’ll let you know if/when I look into it further.

    Rosa, Great idea for the gloves!! Yes, per capita does make a big difference. In both the US map and the world map….

  • [...] We have seen the maps of CO2 emissions, we know who we are: the US, Canada, Norway, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kazakhstan, Finland, Russia, Japan, Libya, UK, Germany, South Africa, Korea… these are the world’s highest CO2 producers per capita. [...]

  • [...] U.S. emits 21% of the world’s total carbon emissions (according to and doesn’t appear to be making any changes soon. America relies too much on oil and the [...]

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