Your World in Maps: Climate Change Edition
The 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.