Are these 100 people killing the planet?

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

  • Just 100 companies produce 71 percent 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.

Houston, we have a problem...

North American companies (and their CEOs) most responsible for the emission of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Note the concentration of culprits in Houston. Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1

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 bigger the country, the bigger its share of CO2 emissions since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Image source: Jordan Engel, reused via Decolonial Media License 0.1

This 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, here. Many thanks to Roger Huisman for sending it in.

Strange Maps #973

Got a strange map? Let me know at strangemaps@gmail.com.

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Are modern societies trying too hard to be clean, at the detriment to public health? Scientists discovered that a microorganism living in dirt can actually be good for us, potentially helping the body to fight off stress. Harnessing its powers can lead to a "stress vaccine".

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that the fatty 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid from the soil-residing bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae aids immune cells in blocking pathways that increase inflammation and the ability to combat stress.

The study's senior author and Integrative Physiology Professor Christopher Lowry described this fat as "one of the main ingredients" in the "special sauce" that causes the beneficial effects of the bacterium.

The finding goes hand in hand with the "hygiene hypothesis," initially proposed in 1989 by the British scientist David Strachan. He maintained that our generally sterile modern world prevents children from being exposed to certain microorganisms, resulting in compromised immune systems and greater incidences of asthma and allergies.

Contemporary research fine-tuned the hypothesis, finding that not interacting with so-called "old friends" or helpful microbes in the soil and the environment, rather than the ones that cause illnesses, is what's detrimental. In particular, our mental health could be at stake.

"The idea is that as humans have moved away from farms and an agricultural or hunter-gatherer existence into cities, we have lost contact with organisms that served to regulate our immune system and suppress inappropriate inflammation," explained Lowry. "That has put us at higher risk for inflammatory disease and stress-related psychiatric disorders."

University of Colorado Boulder

Christopher Lowry

This is not the first study on the subject from Lowry, who published previous work showing the connection between being exposed to healthy bacteria and mental health. He found that being raised with animals and dust in a rural environment helps children develop more stress-proof immune systems. Such kids were also likely to be less at risk for mental illnesses than people living in the city without pets.

Lowry's other work also pointed out that the soil-based bacterium Mycobacterium vaccae acts like an antidepressant when injected into rodents. It alters their behavior and has lasting anti-inflammatory effects on the brain, according to the press release from the University of Colorado Boulder. Prolonged inflammation can lead to such stress-related disorders as PTSD.

The new study from Lowry and his team identified why that worked by pinpointing the specific fatty acid responsible. They showed that when the 10(Z)-hexadecenoic acid gets into cells, it works like a lock, attaching itself to the peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR). This allows it to block a number of key pathways responsible for inflammation. Pre-treating the cells with the acid (or lipid) made them withstand inflammation better.

Lowry thinks this understanding can lead to creating a "stress vaccine" that can be given to people in high-stress jobs, like first responders or soldiers. The vaccine can prevent the psychological effects of stress.

What's more, this friendly bacterium is not the only potentially helpful organism we can find in soil.

"This is just one strain of one species of one type of bacterium that is found in the soil but there are millions of other strains in soils," said Lowry. "We are just beginning to see the tip of the iceberg in terms of identifying the mechanisms through which they have evolved to keep us healthy. It should inspire awe in all of us."

Check out the study published in the journal Psychopharmacology.