The Earth has a problem. Maybe you’ve heard of it; the globe is warming at a frightening rate, putting all life on this planet in peril. Scientists agree that carbon dioxide emissions have reached a critical level, and it may already be too late to avoid catastrophic heat build-up even if we were to stop all emissions right this instant.
That may be the case, but we can all agree that taking action now is far better than taking no action at all, and may at least slow global warming down to the point where we can find another solution. Unfortunately for the Earth, there seem to be a lot of countries that put profit over the environment and are unwilling to make the necessary changes to bring the world out from beneath the specter of global apocalypse.
You may be thinking those countries that don’t seem to care might be third world countries that have bigger problems to worry about. Countries like in sub-Saharan Africa that have genocide and mass rapes, or countries like Iraq and Syria that have open conflicts still raging within their borders. But the biggest offenders are actually some of the wealthiest and most prosperous countries on Earth and have no excuse other than their own greed and malaise.
Here are the 15 countries that seem to not care if the world burns.
Anyone who lives in Beijing will not be surprised to find China on this list. Just take one look at the city in mid-afternoon and you’ll usually be greeted with a smog so thick you’d swear the country was permanently enshrouded in it. The city gets so bad that they have a warning system that tells citizens when it’s safe to go outside. Imagine living someplace where your government tells you to stay indoors for your own safety?
But even ignoring the country’s capital all you need to do is look at China’s CO2 emissions to know this is a country that really couldn’t care less about the environment. Almost a third of the world’s emissions come from China alone, emitting over 10 billion tons of gas in 2015. Combine that with the near ubiquity of polluted streams and ponds along with mountainous dump sites, and China is easily the worst polluter on the globe.
In the West, we don’t often hear about Russian environmental offenses, but they certainly happen as much as anywhere else. While their carbon emissions pale in comparison to America and China (hovering just below 5% of globally), Russia still has plenty to be upset about when it comes to safeguarding the planet.
Most of it has to do with their own disregard for the mess industrialization has left the country with. There are entire towns in Russia where the smell of sulfur and chemicals are so thick that citizens can’t even breathe, where the water runs orange with runoff and the remnants of industry sit idle, leaking oil and rust wherever they lay. The Russian government is also hungry for oil and is willing to get it at any cost to fill their own coffers, often at the expense of both environment and people.
We all remember the scenes from Rio in the 2016 Olympics: rivers filled with dead fish, garbage, and a color nobody would want to swim in let alone drink. Garbage is a chronic issue not just in Rio but the whole country, as inadequate landfills often mean that Brazil’s 200 million people find their trash piling up in streets and rivers.
Deforestation is another huge issue as Brazil is home to the world’s largest rainforest. As the population grows, and farmers need more and more land to feed the growing number of people, the rainforest is being exterminated leading to the extinction of countless species – many of which are still being discovered. The good news is that the Brazilian government has recently begun to tackle the issue, but it’s still the 13th worst emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide.
On a per capita basis, Australia is a worse emitter of greenhouse gases than nearly every other country in the world (except for a few Middle Eastern countries we’ll get to later). It’s worse than the United States, worse than Canada, and even worse than the oil capital of the world, Saudi Arabia.
Part of the problem is that Australia has a lower population than most countries, so even while each individual within the country pollutes more than anyone else globally, the country as a whole is still way down the list of greenhouse gas emitters. That’s why modern environmental protections such as the Paris Climate Accord take into account per person pollution levels when determining targets. Everyone should be doing their fair share to fight global warming.
11. South Korea
For many years South Korea blamed China for their increasingly poor air quality. Beijing, along with many industries found in the Shandong province, is just across the Yellow Sea, so it’s been an easy target for Korean government officials.
Unfortunately, there’s growing evidence to suggest that much of South Korea’s environmental problems are completely homegrown. The country has been increasingly getting its energy from coal and liquid natural gas power plants rather than much cleaner nuclear ones (owing to the nuclear scares Japan has suffered from in recent years), and government regulations haven’t been created to keep the pollution these power plants produce down.
The world’s largest island country is also one of the world’s worst polluters, but not just when it comes to greenhouse gases. Indonesia is not only poisoning the world’s air but also their own water.
The largest gold and copper open pit mine in the world, Grasberg Mine, has been a source of great wealth for the predominantly Muslim country for years. However, the environmental damage from the mine’s tailings are polluting rivers and groundwater to the point that the Overseas Private Investment Corporation revoked their insurance against environmental disaster in the 1990s.
It’s not just the mine either. Agricultural runoff and other industrial concerns are polluting so badly that most of the country doesn’t have access to clean drinking water and are forced to boil it for sanitation.
The world’s fourth-worst polluter is India and you just need to take one look at the wall to wall traffic of New Delhi to see why. But the problem with India’s air pollution actually goes much deeper than just an urban infrastructure constantly jammed with honking automobiles.
Most of India is still very poor and doesn’t have access to electricity or even clean-burning gasses to cook their food. As such, cooking fuel is mostly a mixture of hay, leaves, bits of dried wood, and primarily dried animal dung. The only thing worse than burning coal is burning poop: not only does it smell bad, it produces five times as many pollutants as coal does.
America is not far behind. They may emit half as many greenhouse gases as China does, but on a per-person basis, each individual produces twice as much greenhouse gases as China does. Combine that with a lust for coal and oil that seems to defy all logic, and you’ve got the second worst environmental offender on the planet.
Worse still is how the country as a whole doesn’t even pretend to try and deal with climate change anymore. The United States has officially backed out of the most important environmental treaty ever created, the Paris Climate Accord, essentially announcing its intention to pollute without limits with no plan to stop for the foreseeable future.
Canada likes to talk a big talk about being for environmental protection, but the numbers tell a different story for the country of poutine and maple syrup. On a per capita basis, Canada emits just as many pollutants into the atmosphere as America does, and the country’s history when it comes to environmental protection has been rocky at best.
Easily the worst offense Canada makes to global warming is the Alberta oil sands, a massive industrial project to extract oil from the bitumen-coated soil rather than massive underground reservoirs. The process is far more energy intensive and consequently far more polluting than traditional drill and geyser methods, making it the worst way to get oil from the ground.
6. Saudi Arabia
While we’re on the topic of oil, Saudi Arabia seems to have a lot of it and doesn’t seem to care how bad it is for the environment since it creates an ungodly amount of wealth. Funny how money and pollution seem to go hand in hand. It’s almost like capitalism is dooming the planet.
But enough from the political soapbox. Just like America and Canada, Saudi Arabia has a pretty abysmal per-capita emission rate, which might have something to do with the fact there are more gas inefficient cars like Ferraris and Lamborghinis there than anywhere in the world. Those car-loving Saudis usually live in Riyadh, which suffers from some of the worst smog on the planet. Funny how oil and cars that don’t burn gas cleanly can make for poor air quality too.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, when it comes to oil-producing Middle Eastern countries anyway, is Iran, the 8th worst greenhouse gas emitter on the planet. The country has been hit by economic sanctions for decades, and the result is an economy that has been in shambles for years. Consequently, Iran is filled with cars that haven’t been updated since the 70s, meaning they run on leaded gasoline and lack any kind of emission controls.
That combination of terrible cars and a government that’s far more concerned with pumping oil out of the ground to kickstart its troubled economy than environmental regulations make the capital of Tehran one of the most polluted cities around. It’s gotten so bad that many municipalities have begun to introduce pollution control programs, with many residents saying it was way too long in coming.
Next in line on the world’s worst polluters is Mexico. Take one look at Mexico City and you’ll see why: the smog there can be just as bad as Tehran or Los Angeles, although not as bad as Beijing. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that the city has periodically banned the use of cars during times of the year that smog has been particularly thick.
The combination of smog, industrial runoff, and garbage actually lead the United Nations to declare Mexico City the world’s most polluted city in 1992. Despite the driving bans, air pollution remains an enormous problem in metropolitan areas of Mexico – a problem that will only continue to increase as the country’s population continues to expand.
The worst polluter in the world on a per person basis is easily Qatar. In 2015, each person in the small Middle Eastern country produced 39.7 tons of greenhouse gases – that’s more than double the amount of the average American, and more than five times the amount produced by the average Chinese.
How could a country of 2 million people be so bad for the environment? The answer is money and a population that loves to spend it on air travel. Like many countries in the Middle East, Qatar is rich with oil and flush with cash, and their residents love to spend it on vacations to far-off locales. Qatar Airways is one of the largest air carriers in the world, and jet flight is the worst way to travel in terms of pollution. A single flight can dump as many as twice the amount of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as an equivalent trip by as many people taking their own car, and Qatar residents do both in equal measure.
Right behind Russia is Japan as the fifth worst air polluter in the world. The country known for the modern industrial revolution of robotics is also known for being pretty awful when it comes to pollution.
Part of the reason for that reputation is what Japan does with its trash. Rather than throw it in a landfill, a solution that’s not really a solution, Japan burns up to two-thirds of its garbage in massive industrial incinerators. While this sort of solves the problem of litter, it doesn’t at all solve the problem of greenhouse gas emissions. Worse still these incinerators have toxic levels of chemicals including tetrachloride dioxins, cadmium, mercury, nickel, chromium, arsenic, and lead.
We return to the Middle East for the second worst polluter in the world on a per person basis: Kuwait. Much like Qatar, Kuwait is an oil nation and is richer than most other countries in the world. Also much like Qatar, they have a national air carrier that flies their residents to wherever they want. And much like Qatar, they have a government that has attended the various climate conferences the world has held since the turn of the millennia and hasn’t done much to implement any of the agreements they’ve signed on to.
As soon as a law gets put to the Kuwaiti government for deliberation it gets placed in the hands of a nation that loves oil and the wealth it has produced and wants to do absolutely nothing to destabilize that situation. Despite the fact that Kuwait is a coastal nation and has much to lose if world water levels rise, the government is paralyzed to adopt any meaningful regulations.
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