why maps aren’t always enough and why blame isn’t always bad

There’s an interesting interactive map in today’s Guardian online – Which nations are really responsible for climate change.  It’s not a totally original infographic, but it is one that I find frustrating in some respects as I think it gives too much impetus to the ‘look!  We don’t pollute much at all!’ brigade.  Ignoring per capita emissions in favour of total emissions is dangerous because it allows us to abrogate responsibility.  If you look further, the linked FAQ page indicates that in terms of per capita emissions, Australia comes in at number one with almost four times the emissions per person of China.

It’s not that I think that the data is useless, or that it’s not well presented.  It’s just that the overall emissions always seem to be the ones that are most focused on, which takes away any real sense of personal responsibility.  Looking at the nation vs. the individual means that people can try to comfort themselves with the fact that they’re not the problem…it’s some arbitrary ‘other person.’  It’s even easier to do when the US and China are the only two bright red nations.

The Carbon Tax in Australia is a good first step towards awareness of the energy that we use.  But it still doesn’t apportion any blame, and I think that this is one of the few circumstances in which blame is actually a useful thing.  We should be blamed for the environmental impacts that we are having individually and corporations should be blamed  proportionately more for their greater impacts.  A lot of people say that guilt isn’t useful, but I think it’s more that guilt isn’t comfortable.  No one wants to feel responsible for the damage that they’re causing – hell, I don’t want to feel responsible either.  But even if it makes me take small steps to reduce my consumption, then that’s no bad thing.  We’re one of the most spoilt nations on earth and as a middle class person, I’m unbelievably privileged.  I don’t think a little more thought about my actions is really going to hurt me.

I’m interested to hear other people’s thoughts on how useful blame is in terms of climate change action.  Also, let me know if you’ve found any other good related infographics – they’re such an awesome way of sharing information.


4 thoughts on “why maps aren’t always enough and why blame isn’t always bad

  1. In my opinion, it would be ideal if every one and every nation would admit that there is a problem, that it affects everyone and that everyone has a responsibility and a need to act. Unfortunately, that’s not gonna happen.

    And so, I believe that guilt and blame is the next best thing because it is by passing the blame onto others that my country (Canada) and others are justifying their inaction on all things related to carbon emissions. They choose certain statistics that make them look “saintly” and avoid the ones that matter. However, the numbers that the infographic shows for Canada are actually kind of scary. I’m going to have to talk about this on my blog (with the required links to your site, of course!)

    Oh, and one last thing: regarding Australia’s carbon tax, I just finished reading an interesting critique of the tax and the process through which the tax came about. You may want to take a look:

  2. While I agree that it’s a Good Idea for individuals to take responsibility for their personal environmental impact, I’ve seen politicians use that guilt trip to help distract from the real environmental criminals — the corporations, which are (in theory at least) run by individuals; but the problem with The Corporation is that it has a legal responsibility to make money, whatever the environmental cost.

    • Pedantry, thanks for stopping by. I actually do agree with you that sometimes individual blame can distract from the bigger picture. My hope though is that informed individuals who care may be more able to put pressure on governments and organisations who can make the bigger changes.

      Also, thanks for the link. I’ll try to hunt the movie down.

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