Are these 100 people killing the planet?

Controversial map names CEOs of 100 companies producing 71 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

map of man made climate change
Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1
  • Just 100 companies produce 71% of the world's greenhouse gases.
  • This map lists their names and locations, and their CEOs.
  • The climate crisis may be too complex for these 100 people to solve, but naming and shaming them is a good start.

Editorial note: Big Think has issued a retraction regarding this article. This map was originally based on a July 2017 report entitled The Carbon Majors Database by CDP and all of the names shown may no longer be up to date.

Houston, we have a problem...

Do you carry your shopping home in a reusable bag? Close the tap while you brush your teeth? Well done! But saving the planet will require a more systemic approach.

A new UN-sponsored report (1,500 pages in full — consider the environment before printing!) details how the accelerating decline of biodiversity is threatening humanity's very survival.

It's not the first report of its kind, and despite their increasingly alarmist tones, unlikely to be the last.

What to do?

Between the relative futility of individual do-goodery and the seemingly unstoppable forces degrading earth's ecosystems lies a whole world of despair, paralysis, and tuned-out apathy.

But if those forces seem unstoppable, it's perhaps because they appear to be nameless and faceless. As this map points out, they aren't. The harm that's being done to the planet can be pinpointed, to a very specific list of companies. And those companies have CEOs that can be named and shamed.

The west vs. the rest

The map shows the 100 companies responsible for the biggest share of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, and their CEOs. Countries are inflated to represent their share of CO2 emissions since the beginning of industrialisation.

If we want to make a serious dent in the amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases we're emitting, this map suggests, it's these companies — and more specifically, these CEOs — we need to hold to account. Naming and shaming them is a first step.

The basis for this map is the Carbon Majors report from 2017 by CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), listing the top 100 fossil fuel producers in the world, responsible for 71 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.

In fact, more than 50 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions since 1988 can be traced to just the top 25 entities on that list.

Those are, in descending order: China (state coal production), Aramco, Gazprom, National Iranian Oil, ExxonMobil, Coal India, Pemex, Russia (state coal production), Shell, China National Petroleum, BP, Chevron, PDVSA, Abu Dhabi National Oil, Poland Coal, Peabody Energy, Sonatrach, Kuwait Petroleum, Total, BHP Billiton, ConocoPhilips, Petrobras, Lukoil, RioTinto, Nigerian National Petroleum.

The rogue's gallery of Europe

Even oil companies are now turning to invest in sustainable energy — but is it just window dressing?

Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1

If fossil-fuel extraction over the next quarter century continues at the same rate as the previous 25 years, the Carbon Majors report claims we're on course for a 4°C rise in average temperatures by the end of this century — accelerating the loss of biodiversity and the rise of food insecurity, to name but two consequences.

Granted, even oil companies are aware that the wind is blowing from a different direction now and have initiated programmes to produce energy in a more sustainable way. But in many cases, the discrepancy between the size of those programmes and the attention they are given in corporate PR makes them little more than window dressing.

Jakarta beats Beijing as emissions capital

Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, is the wider region's capital of greenhouse gas-emitting companies.

Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1

This overview refocuses the attention on the main issue — the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. And by naming each company's CEO, the issue is personalized.

That personalization should come with a few caveats.

First, these corporations thrive only because consumers buy their product — although it must be said that demand for energy is fairly inelastic: most people can't do without fuel to get from A to B, or to heat their homes.

Second, in all fairness: the true captains of industry are not the CEOs, but the majority shareholders. It's those shareholders' priorities — profit only or planet also — that drive corporate decision-making.

Those shareholders include large institutional investors, but also national governments. Up to 20 percent of investment in hydrocarbon extraction is done by public funding — i.e. us.

Clean Africa, dirty Middle East

Africa counts relatively little CO2 culprits, while the tally is much higher in the Middle East (as could have been expected).

Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1

On the other hand, we're running into the same problem mentioned above again. Big institutions, even if they include you and me, are nameless/faceless. These CEOs are picked to run and represent their companies. Perhaps they should get used to a new job: being the lightning rod for our growing concern about global warming.

The Decolonial Atlas, which published this map, quotes U.S. folk artist and labor organizer Utah Phillips: "The earth is not dying, it is being killed, and those who are killing it have names and addresses."

On that list is your name and address, and mine; because we could all do a lot more. But not nearly as much as these 100 people. Let this map be an invitation to acquaint ourselves with their intentions, good or otherwise.


Map released by The Decolonial Atlas. Many thanks to Roger Huisman for sending it in.

Strange Maps #973

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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