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Your World in Maps: Climate Change Edition

PH2009051701391.jpgThe scattered protesters received most of the coverage at the University of Notre Dame yesterday. But Barack Obama's speech merits some attention too.

Health care, the administration's top domestic priority, was nowhere to be found. But climate change appeared frequently. "Your generation must decide how to save God's creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it," Obama thundered. "You'll be called to seek new sources of energy that can save our planet." This isn't new: The Evangelical Climate Change initiative has long been arguing that global warming is particularly salient to the Christian activist. Scorching the earth is poor stewardship.

Which might explain the shift in Obama's language. he normally speaks of climate change in terms of American interests, jobs, and security. Not yesterday. Climate change was presented not as a domestic issue but as a global danger. It is not just our nation that's threatened, but the planet. That's actually a more honest approach. But it gets at one of the real difficulties of addressing climate change. America -- the world's leading emitter of carbon -- must make the most changes even as it derives the least benefits.

Last week, the British medical journal The Lancet released the product of a year-long partnership with the University College London that attempted to assess the impact of global warming on global health. "Climate change," they concluded, "is the biggest global health threat of the 21 century." But crucially, it's a terribly unequal threat. The graphic below -- click for full size -- presents two distorted maps. The first shows the world in terms of carbon emissions. America, for instance, is huge. So is China. And Europe. Africa is hardly visible. The second map shows the world in terms of increased mortality -- that is to say, deaths -- from climate change. Suddenly, America virtually disappears. So does Europe. Africa, however, is grotesquely distended. South Asia inflates.


"Loss of healthy life years as a result of global environmental change (including climate change) is predicted to be 500 times greater in poor African populations than in European populations," predicts the report. Which presents a particularly tricky political problem. The developed countries that benefit most from fossil fuels will suffer least. The countries with the maximum incentive to prevent climate change have no power to do it. At Notre Dame, Obama exhorted the graduates to recognize that "that our fates are tied up, as Dr. King said, in a 'single garment of destiny.'" But we are not bound equally. No wonder Obama is looking to create a new coalition.

By Ezra Klein  |  May 18, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
Categories:  Climate Change  
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Next: Jim Cramer's Contrition


Didn't I read somewhere that
China is now the largest contributor of Carbon emissions now?

Posted by: robc1 | May 18, 2009 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I am very encouraged by his use of language here. He's been using the euphemisms "energy independence" and "getting off foreign oil", which makes me nervous, because it is not really a straightforward assessment of the problem. Or it is the straightforward assessment of ONE problem, one that could be ameliorated by increased coal usage, to disastrous effect. The public needs educated on climate change, and, as you said, a new coalition is needed to do it.

BTW, the new blog looks great.

Posted by: nwgates | May 18, 2009 11:21 AM | Report abuse

Why don't they talk about this more often? People GET fairness.

Posted by: inquirium | May 18, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

The omission of health care seems more a reflection of the audience he was speaking to than anything else. Young people can address climate change in their actions and in their career choices. But aside from urging our leaders to change health care, there aren't many concrete steps young people can take to reform it directly.

Posted by: Squara | May 18, 2009 1:37 PM | Report abuse

The two-tone blue "garment of destiny" is really cool. Away with grey suits, bring back the Byzantine court robes of academic dressing up.

Posted by: JamesWimberley | May 18, 2009 1:52 PM | Report abuse

A fresh, honest and thoughtful new voice joins the WP!

Posted by: BradW_S | May 19, 2009 5:31 AM | Report abuse

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