Comparing Lightning-Caused and Human-Caused U.S. Wildfires
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Comparing Lightning-Caused and Human-Caused U.S. Wildfires

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comparing acres burned by human-caused fires versus lightning in the U.S.

Comparing Lightning-Caused and Human-Caused U.S. Wildfires

Each year, thousands of acres of land are scorched by wildfires across the United States. While most of these fires are triggered by natural causes such as lightning, some are unfortunately caused by human activity.

This graphic by Gilbert Fontana uses data from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) to show the number of acres burned across the U.S. between 2001 and 2021.

YearAcres burned (lightning-caused fires)Acres burned (human-caused fires)
20214,101,8843,023,759
20204,123,5235,998,813
20193,447,0381,217,324
20183,127,0035,640,489
20175,195,6104,830,476
20161,743,3853,766,610
20158,112,6882,012,461
20142,012,8431,582,770
20133,057,5661,261,980
20126,825,9892,500,249
20113,354,5965,356,771
20102,119,2751,303,449
20093,849,0402,072,746
20081,862,4773,429,991
20075,878,6913,449,360
20065,468,9014,404,844
20057,168,0621,521,327
20047,011,023964,800
20032,038,4431,922,249
20024,097,5933,077,119
20011,822,6001,748,661

Historically, we can see that lightning-caused fires have led to more damage in the U.S., and this is especially true in the West region which includes states like California, Oregon, and Washington.

That said, it’s worth noting that in three out of the six years from 2016–2021, human-caused wildfires led to more damage.

If you’re interested in learning more about wildfires, check out this article about The Relationship Between Climate Change and Wildfires
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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Agriculture

Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product.

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Ranked: The World’s Top Cotton Producers

This was originally posted on Elements. Sign up to the free mailing list to get beautiful visualizations on natural resource megatrends in your email every week.

Cotton is present in our everyday life, from clothes to coffee strainers, and more recently in masks to control the spread of COVID-19.

As the most-used natural fiber, cotton has become the most important non-food agricultural product. Currently, approximately half of all textiles require cotton fibers.

The above infographic lists the world’s top cotton producers, using data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

Fancy Fabric

Originating from the Arabic word “quton,” meaning fancy fabric, cotton is a staple fiber made up of short fibers twisted together to form yarn.

The earliest production of cotton was around 5,000 B.C. in India, and today, around 25 million tons of cotton are produced each year.

Currently, five countries make up around 75% of global cotton production, with China being the world’s biggest producer. The country is responsible for over 23% of global production, with approximately 89 million cotton farmers and part-time workers. Cotton’s importance cannot be understated, as it is the primary input for the Chinese textile industry along with many other nations’ textile industries.

Top Cotton Producers2020/2021 (metric tons)2021/2022 (metric tons)
🇨🇳 China 6,445,0005,835,000
🇮🇳 India6,009,0005,334,000
🇺🇸 United States3,181,0003,815,000
🇧🇷 Brazil2,356,0002,504,000
🇦🇺 Australia610,0001,252,000
🇵🇰 Pakistan 980,0001,306,000
🇹🇷 Turkey631,000827,000
🌐 Other 4,059,0004,282,000
Total24,271,00025,155,000

The United States is the leading global exporter of cotton, exporting three-fourths of its crop with China as the top buyer.

Despite its importance for the global economy, cotton production faces significant sustainability challenges.

The Controversy Over Cotton

Cotton is one of the largest users of water among all agricultural commodities, and production often involves applying pesticides that threaten soil and water quality.

Along with this, production often involves forced and child labor. According to the European Commission, child labor in the cotton supply chain is most common in Africa and Asia, where it comes from small-holder farmers.

In 2020, U.S. apparel maker Patagonia stopped sourcing cotton from the autonomous territory of Xinjiang because of reports about forced labor and other human rights abuses against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

L Brands, the parent company of Victoria’s Secret, has also committed to eliminating Chinese cotton from its supply chain. Whether these changes in supply chains impact China’s cotton production and its practices, cotton remains essential to materials found across our daily lives.

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Visualizing Mismanaged Plastic Waste by Country

About 22% of the world’s annual plastic waste generation is mismanaged. Here’s a break down of mismanaged plastic waste by country.

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mismanaged plastic waste

Visualizing Mismanaged Plastic Waste by Country

Plastic is one of the most useful materials around, but its proliferating use has created a ballooning heap of plastic waste, with more than 350 million tonnes generated each year.

Only a fraction of plastic waste is recycled, and about one-fifth ends up in the mismanaged category, meaning that it is dumped or littered without proper waste management practices. Mismanaged plastic waste threatens the land and marine environments, and most of it doesn’t decompose, polluting the environment for hundreds of years.

The above infographic visualizes the largest contributors of mismanaged plastic waste in 2019, based on data from a study by Meijer et al. published in the Science Advances journal.

The Largest Contributors of Mismanaged Plastic Waste

Asian countries account for the majority of global mismanaged plastic waste (MPW), and many of the top plastic-emitting rivers are concentrated in the region.

India and China are the only countries to account for over 10 million tonnes of MPW, although that could partly be driven by their sheer population numbers.

Country/RegionMPW created in 2019 (tonnes)% of total
India 🇮🇳12,994,10021%
China 🇨🇳12,272,20020%
Philippines 🇵🇭4,025,3007%
Brazil 🇧🇷3,296,7005%
Nigeria 🇳🇬1,948,9503%
North America 🌎1,927,4843%
Tanzania 🇹🇿1,716,4003%
Turkey 🇹🇷1,656,1103%
Egypt 🇪🇬1,435,5102%
DR Congo 🇨🇩1,369,7302%
Thailand 🇹🇭1,361,6902%
Pakistan 🇵🇰1,346,4602%
Europe 🌍1,179,8812%
Vietnam 🇻🇳1,112,7902%
Bangladesh 🇧🇩1,021,9902%
Indonesia 🇮🇩824,2341%
Malaysia 🇲🇾814,4541%
Sudan 🇸🇩781,6251%
Algeria 🇩🇿764,5781%
South Africa 🇿🇦708,4671%
Venezuela 🇻🇪671,4311%
Cameroon 🇨🇲578,7981%
Oceania 🌎136,5060.2%
Other 🗺7,828,31213%
Total61,773,700100%

Generally, the top countries in the above table are developing economies that tend to have inadequate waste management infrastructure.

The Philippines is the third-largest contributor and accounts for 37% of all MPW released into the ocean at over 350,000 tonnes per year. Solid waste management remains a major environmental issue in the Philippines. The country recently closed down 335 illegal dumpsites to encourage the use of sanitary landfills and proper waste segregation.

The three continents of North America, Europe, and Oceania together account for just 5% of global mismanaged plastic waste. However, it’s important to note that these figures do not reflect the amount of waste that is exported overseas, and many rich nations are known to export some portions of their waste to poorer nations.

The State of Plastic Waste Trade

In 2019, the Philippines famously shipped back 69 containers of dumped garbage back to Canada, joining other nations in rejecting waste from rich countries.

Until 2017, China was the largest importer of overseas plastic waste, accounting for roughly 50% of global plastic waste imports. Then, it imposed an import ban on almost all types of plastic waste, resulting in a decline in the overall global plastic scrap trade.

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In 2021, global plastic waste imports were just over one-third of 2017 levels. However, countries including Malaysia, Indonesia, and Vietnam have been importing more plastic waste since China’s ban, slightly offsetting the impact.

Mismanaged Plastic Waste Per Capita

On a per capita basis, the archipelago of Comoros in East Africa tops the list. Its per capita MPW is equivalent to over 4,500 empty 500ml plastic bottles per person, per year.

CountryMPW per capitaGDP per capita (2021, current US$)
Comoros 🇰🇲150lbs (68kg)$1,495
Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹115lbs (52kg)$15,243
Suriname 🇸🇷86lbs (39kg)$4,836
Philippines 🇵🇭81lbs (37kg)$3,549
Zimbabwe 🇿🇼78lbs (35kg)$1,737

While there isn’t much information available on waste management in Comoros, it is one of the world’s least-developed nations. In fact, household consumption accounts for almost 100% of its annual gross domestic product.

Trinidad and Tobago is an outlier due to its high-income status, but a lack of waste segregation among households, alongside inefficient waste management systems, contributes to its high per capita figure.

The Impact of Plastic Waste

Plastic waste has various negative implications for the environment, especially as it can take hundreds of years to decompose.

Millions of tonnes of plastic waste flows into the oceans every year, accounting for at least 85% of all marine garbage. This poses a major threat to aquatic life because fish and other organisms can get entangled in plastic waste and ingest plastics.

On land, plastic waste threatens the quality of the soil and its surrounding ecosystem. Additionally, burning plastic waste releases toxic particles that have a detrimental impact on air quality.

If current trends continue, over 12 billion tonnes of plastic waste is expected to end up in landfills by 2050. Although recycling rates are expected to improve, increasing the availability of adequate waste management systems will be important in preventing plastic waste from entering the environment.

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