This dubious honor used to belong to the United States. The economic boom in China, however, has led to a corresponding surge in pollution. While, per capita, Americans still cause more pollution, there are four times as many Chinese as Americans. A 2007 study published by the Netherlands Environmental Agency noted that Americans produce about 20 tons (18 metric tons) of carbon dioxide emissions per capita, versus five tons for each Chinese citizen and about 10 tons (9 metric tons) for each European. Industrialized nations emitted about 16.1 tons (14.6 metric tons) of greenhouse gases per capita versus about 4.2 tons (3.8 metric tons) per capita for those living in developing countries. The study also noted that if the increase in greenhouse gases is not halted within 10 to 25 years the planet will experience a runaway greenhouse effect with average temperatures rising several degrees Celsius, causing ice caps to melt and coastal regions worldwide to become flooded.
This July 2008 image was taken by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) about NASA’s Aqua spacecraft. It shows carbon dioxide distribution in parts per billion. (NASA/JPL)