Tipping the Scales of Climate Justice

Scott Gilman, Sofia Reinach, Maddie Pelz

The data say that while some countries contribute more than their share of harmful emissions leading to climate change, these are not the same countries that will suffer the biggest consequences due to climate change. We want to tell this story to point out the imbalance of cause and consequences of climate change, and to encourage people in the US and elsewhere to take action to reduce their climate footprints. Our audience is people of different ages visiting a science museum, who would see this as a part of an exhibit on climate change and its causes and effects.

Each scale represents a different variable related to either the causes or effects of climate change, gathered from World Bank, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, and other governmental data sources (linked below). For this sketch, some of the scales are physical and some are projected, but in future iterations they would all be physical. The three scales to the left represent the disproportionate contributions that the US and India are making to different aspects that drive climate change. The first scale demonstrates that the United States consumes more meat than India per person, which leads to increased methane emissions from agriculture. The second scale represents car ownership per person in each country, with the US again having significantly more vehicles per person than India, which contributes to CO2 emissions from fuel use and exhaust. The last scale representing cause shows percentage of non-renewable energy that each country uses. The large majority of US energy consumption comes from non-renewable resources, while India utilizes a higher proportion of wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.

In contrast to the first three scales that are tipped towards the US, the fourth scale has the opposite slope. This visual contrast emphasizes the last scale, which represents the projected loss of GDP due to climate change. Despite the United States contributing disproportionately to many causes of climate change, the consequences of these actions will be felt more by countries that may have a smaller carbon footprint. This makes clear that the negative effects of climate change do not discriminate by which nation contributes most, and even countries that work hard to reduce emissions will still suffer the consequences of our collective actions.

The last scale invites visitors to ‘weigh’ their own contributions to climate change based on the amount of meat in their diet, and hopefully walk away with knowledge of how changes to their lifestyle might improve climate outcomes for those in the US as well as in other countries around the world who face the biggest threats from climate change.

Economic effects paper:


Renewable energy:



Meat consumption:



Cars per capita in 2015:

India: https://community.data.gov.in/registered-motor-vehicles-per-1000-population-from-2001-to-2015/

US: https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/publications/national_transportation_statistics/html/table_01_11.html