The world map of unbelief

I came across this great map when researching a paper on the relationship between evolution and religion.  It is from a Wikimedia Commons page, and maps the levels of atheism and agnosticism (combined) in all the countries of the world.  The map was made by “Phrood” from data in Phil Zuckerman’s article,  Atheism: contemporary rates and patterns. 2007, in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press. You can download the paper free at the link; it’s a great compendium of the world’s religiosity.

The Wikimedia artist notes: “The values for China, Cuba, and North Korea must be viewed with skepticism as comparatively little data is available in these countries.

Shame on America: a recent Gallup poll shows that 92% of Americans answer “yes” when asked “Do you believe in God?”  Look how we stand out when compared to other First World countries. And a big yay! for Sweden, Japan, and Denmark.  God obviously cares more about the southern hemisphere.

The percentages are atheists and agnostics combined; bluer countries are the good ones.  Click to enlarge.


  1. Yi
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    I think the figure for China should be higher. It’s right these countries should be viewed with skepticism and caution. And sadly in some areas Chinese students are the focused targets of Christians during their studies in the US.

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 1:54 am | Permalink

      And sadly in some areas Chinese students are the focused targets of Christians during their studies in the US.

      The number of Chinese students in the US may seem high if you live in a university district. But if you then re-distribute the graduates back across the rest of the population of China, it’s going to be trivial. reports that in 2009-2010 “a total of 229,300 Chinese students were being educated abroad.”
      If every one of those was in America and being successfully targeted by evangelistic Christians (neither true, for certain), then that would make one evangelised student per 5,800-odd Chinese, under 0.02% of the population.
      This would not be an effective way of converting the religiosity of the Chinese. Even if every single student successfully evangelised (“infected” in epidemiological terms) 10 people per year, that would still take 5 years to add 1% to the net Chinese religiosity.
      Not efficient use of resources. Not that I’m expecting the Joint American Committee for Infection Of Chinese People with (Our) Religion to come and employ me as a spending consultant. (Worse luck.)

    • Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      RE Chinese students in the US: that was exactly what I saw while living in northern California in a relatively liberal, non-religious university town. There was a HUGE Chinese Christian church with a massive outreach program that included, among other services, church members driving newly arrived students around town and buying them beds, other furniture, groceries, etc. The only catch was that the students were “encouraged” to attend Bible study…

    • jcm
      Posted December 25, 2011 at 1:34 am | Permalink

      I think you’re making a reference to this article:

  2. Mark Plus
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:35 am | Permalink

    Ironically South Korea seems more atheistic than North Korea.

    • Brujo Feo
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Permalink

      Christopher Hitchens explains this pretty well, in a link from a previous post on this site:

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 1:57 am | Permalink

      Wrong way round : from the diagram, SK is 30-40% Godly, while DPRK is 10-20% Godly.
      Which fits with the incredible number of churches I saw when I was working in Seoul. There are a lot of vigorous evangelical Christian churches there, and I’d assume non-X-tian religions are popular too.

  3. GM
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    The numbers for countries like Poland, Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Laos are quite disturbing. Decades of communist rule and still 90+ percent of the population are believers…

    • Ichthyic
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

      maybe because the label “communist” on a country hardly has anything to do with what communism was defined as.

      Instead, I find it completely unsurprising that in countries that have been dominated by essentially one dictatorship after another, along with fierce repressing of free thought and higher learning, you would indeed find high levels of religiosity.

      Hell, Marx himself predicted it.

      • GM
        Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

        Which is precisely the reason why I used the word “disturbing”

    • Occam
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

      These data seem to me less disturbing than highly problematic. Example: According to the 2005 census, more than 60% of Laotians declare themselves Buddhists.
      I would not have trusted census data on such sensitive matters from the former Central Asia Soviet republics under Communist rule, I do not trust data under their present regimes either.
      The numbers for Poland are plausible if one considers that the Catholic church there has long been the most important — and for long the only — countervailing power under the Communist regime. As for Romania and Moldova, their respective regimes completely controlled and instrumentalised the local Orthodox churches.

  4. Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    The map was made by “Phrood” from data in Phil Zuckerman’s article, Atheism: contemporary rates and patterns. 2007, in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Cambridge University Press.

    An underappreciated book, reviewed here:

  5. Reinard
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    The numbers for Vietnam really surprise me. Anyone know why it is so high there?

    • Alpacaman
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      Well, Vietnam AFAIK has never really had a native religion as per se, because it has been constantly occupied by other countries. For thousands of years it was occupied by China, and then the French with their Christanity, then the Japanese, then Americans – perhaps there was something of a desire not to adopt the religion of their occupiers mainting national identity etc. etc.. That said, there is a lot of Buddhism there.

      Probably the main factor is their highly secular communist rule. Their national hero, Ho Chi Minh is adored everywhere, this adoration is pretty much their version of a religion (I can’t think of any Western analogue that does this justice, I would call it a personality cult, but Ho really was critical to their release from French and Japanese slavery, as well as American occupation). Ho is pretty much their Jesus in many ways. Anyway, Ho Chi Minh was an atheist, so presumably many Vietnamese saw him as an example.

      • Aidan Karley
        Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:00 am | Permalink

        Hats-off to Ho Chi Minh.

      • jose
        Posted December 24, 2011 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

        The Vietnamese always emphasize they never worshipped Ho Chi Minh and they often put the Chinese and the thing they had for Mao as an example of what they didn’t do. To use a recent example, I’m sure the Vietnamese would laugh their asses off if they were supposed to believe their leader made 14 hole-in-ones at golf.

        Nothing to do with religion. Everything to do with love. It’s hard to believe for us, but Ho Chi Minh really was a national hero who succeeded against superior forces and the Vietnamese genuinely admire him, while acknowledging -or even embracing, since these are the things that make a leader closer to the people- his human defects.

        As for religion, there is a Christian minority from the French years but the dominant school of thought is confucianism which is a godless philosophy. I don’t think the percentage in the map is incredible at all.

  6. mordacious1
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’d view Vietnam with skepticism also. I really don’t think that a population with a high percentage of peasants, many of whom were only recently converted to communism, would be over 70% atheist. It’s probably wishful thinking by their government. Even after 70 years of communism, many in the former USSR still believed in a deity. The more a government tries to wipe out belief, the stronger some people will believe in secret.

  7. Simon Hayward
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Vietnam seems to be an interesting regional outlier – I wonder if that is real.

    In many European countries people will consider themselves to be culturally christian and check that box while not practicing any religion and likely having no interest in the subject. (My experience is that the number of practicing religious people in Europe is much lower than the inverse of these numbers might suggest.)

    • GM
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

      I remember being checked out as Christian without even being asked during a census…

    • Tumara Baap
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it can be for real. There is a degree of intellectual fortitude associated with Godlessness and I cannot imagine a country with a poor uneducated population scoring this way. Official communism would hold no sway over individual convictions. Many marxist intellectuals are atheist but the average citizen of a poor communist country could not tell Voltaire from his behind. Any admission of non-belief would be tied to oppressive state control, not reasoned persuasion. There must be many countries where local officials deliberately skew census numbers and where people check forms with the eye of the “Stasi” glowering at them.

  8. Posted December 23, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    I did not bother to zoom in on the map but I thought that Finland had the highest rate of ” non-believers” if you will. Also did anyone see the program with Fareed Zakaria regarding the two highest academically-performing countries, Japan and Finland?

    Very different approaches, for Japan it was intense pressure but in Finland all the high school teachers have master’s degrees and being a teacher is valued like doctors are in the States.

    Anyway, point is, I wonder if there is a correlation between well-educated populations and non-religious societies. Just read Idiot America if that sounds irrelevant.

    The deeply religious have a stake in keeping Americans uninformed.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

      I am very skeptical to statistics that pose more than ~ 50 % of Swedes as seculars, because that is roughly the number of non-confessional unorthodox believers in repeated surveys. They are “spiritual” at the very least.

      I would assume Finland does better than Sweden, that does better than Norway (where there are staunch fundamentalists). Denmark is a mystery shrouded in alcohol and pot. =D

      • pj
        Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

        As a Finn I would love it to be so, but sadly no. Finland is the worst among Nordic contries, religionwise. Sweden wins. That’s how it has been in every Nordic-wide survey I’ve ever seen. Here’s one map:

        • pj
          Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

          Note that in the map I linked light is good, that is less faith.

  9. Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    Hey, where’s Antarctica? ;p

    For that matter, where’s the North Pole? I hear all the elves are really into the Jesus…

    • Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

      Antarctica has a population of 0. Any people you meet there are either imaginary, or more likely public servants from other countries.

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:09 am | Permalink

      The Elves are into a sanctified version of Wodin (the Norse god), that has only a marginal contact with this “Christ” person.
      Contrary to Rixaeton, the effective population of Antarctica is some thousands, though they’re steadily rotating to other countries. Some people have lived there for up to 5 years (I had a friend in the BAS who did a 5-year stint), though few manage to stay there for that long. Children have been born there.
      However, with the (rotating population comprising Americans, Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Argentines, Chileans and various Nordics … (I’ve never heard of a South African there, but I suppose it’s possible) … you’d expect it to come out … [thinks] somewhere in the 10-30% range. There are a lot of scientists there, who you’d expect to push the ungodly-count up ; but they’re probably not even a majority, with construction people, transport, building maintenance, accommodation services … who are much more likely to closely reflect the make-up of their original populations.

  10. Insightful Ape
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    I think the numbers should be higher for Iceland. It is one of the most secular countries on earth.
    Also I think numbers should be higher in France if you take out the muslims.

    • Kharamatha
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 6:10 am | Permalink

      Iceland is full of demons, though.

  11. Posted December 23, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

    Tennessee is <.000001%

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      It’s not that bad – I account for 0.0000159% and I’m not the only one here!

      • Aidan Karley
        Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:12 am | Permalink

        Shhh, it’s nearly time for the “season” on the ungodly to “open.”
        (This is an attempt at a “hunting” joke, but I may have misunderstood the terminology from my source, Mr Newhart and his “pure-bred Jersey Cow.”)

        • HaggisForBrains
          Posted December 24, 2011 at 6:53 am | Permalink

          IIRC you may be thinking of Mr Lehrer and his pure bred Guernsey cow :-)

          • HaggisForBrains
            Posted December 24, 2011 at 6:56 am | Permalink

            Now it’s my turn to get it wrong – I have no idea why that link turned out wrong, but if you copy (not “copy and link”) and paste it you’ll get there.

  12. Hempenstein
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    Nice to note that of the former Yugoslavian republics, Slovenia – the one that didn’t let the past get in its way (took off economically after the breakup to the point that it has been on the Euro for the past several years) – is also the one with the least belief.

    • Marella
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      I love Slovenia, it’s beautiful.

      • Hempenstein
        Posted December 24, 2011 at 7:40 am | Permalink

        Indeed. I went there a few yrs back for a meeting – Ljubljana & Bled are lovely and Kranjska Gora was a lot of fun. Then, going south from there over the mtns and then along the Soca River, absorbing the layers of history evident from the various fortresses and emplacements now absorbed back into the natural setting was an experience I can’t really find a word for.

    • Posted December 27, 2011 at 2:11 am | Permalink

      I think the comparatively high standard of living in Slovenia compared to the rest of former Yugoslavia is due less to “not letting the past get in the way” and more to the tradition of being part of Austria-Hungary while much of the rest of former Yugoslavia was part of the Ottoman Empire.

  13. MadScientist
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Permalink

    Our Canadian brethren are all hellbound? It’s a tempting reason to move north. Perhaps we can convince all those evangelists to move north instead – perhaps to the Canadian tundra.

  14. Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    On Vietnam: I had a look at the report, and all it says is “According to Inglehart et al (2004), 81% of those in Vietnam and 24% of
    those in Taiwan do not believe in God.”

    Fortunately, it appears the Inglehart survey is mostly online, with Google Books providing a preview here The question on “Belief in God” is not in the preview pages :( but, there is on page 330 question “F034) Independently of whether you go to church or not, would you say you are a religious person?” Vietnam gives a result of 38%. Note that the majority of the population is Buddhist, so the belief in a personal god is not likely to follow, but religiosity (superstition, belief in spirits, karma and reincarnation) is probably the equivalent from the point of view of discussing scepticism. This would put Vietnam more in the Sweden colour.

    Looking at the other Vietnam responses for thing like “satisfaction with current govt” with 97% satisfied, it looks very much like the survey respondents were pretty much along party lines. Or at least it is as if a party official is listening to the respondent, so the data may be not that real in any case.

    • Posted December 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      Oops, The question on “Satisfied with current govt” is 94%, not 97%.

      BTW, on pg 223 question E033 asks where the person puts themselves on the “Left-Right” scale of political matters. Vietnam has 92% on “the Right” side of the scale. Interesting, no?

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      I’d like to know how they surveyed people in Tây Nguyên. Some very remote places there and those people probably still adhere to ancient beliefs, although the government has always been good at rural indoctrination.

  15. Pope
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    “bluer countries are the good ones”
    Because they’re less religious they’re good?

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      Yup! ;)

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

      No it is the other way around. They are good places for life and people end up finding better things to do with their time.

    • Simon Hayward
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      Given the frequently observed and documented inverse correlation between religiosity and “moral behavior” (as variously assessed) the answer would seem to be “yes”

  16. Posted December 23, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Honest question: On the wikipedia page where the map lives, there are other maps listed at the bottom of the page. These maps cover more or less the same topic, but seem to come up with different numbers.

    Does anyone know of any effort to explain the discrepancies? Especially with respect to the ‘christian’ one? I know, the obvious answer is “cuz the xians lie!” But is there anything more solid? Was it the methodology?

  17. Tim Harris
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    I find also the figures for Japan, a country whose religion historically has been a mixture of Shinto and Buddhism with a colouring of Confucianism, rather dubious. Of course, if you are going to ask Japanese people, apart from those who are Christian, whether they believe, or have faith in (since that is what the verb ‘believe’ means in a Christian context), some creator god like that of the monotheistic religions, they are going to say, ‘No.’ It looks to me as though the makers of this companion look at all religion through Western spectacles and so miss what’s actually going on in non-monotheistic societies.

    Christmas in Japan! The Japanese like holidays (any excuse!) so Christmas has been incorporated into the seasonal round to the horror of the fundies, who come out, both American and Japanese, in force in this season with sound trucks, placards and loudspeakers, and stand sour-faced in the grand cold outside the stations in the more hedonistic areas of Tokyo, such as Shinjuku, their tape-loops berating in flat hectoring tones the shoppers, the party-goers and the drunks, and telling them over and over again that unless they come to Christ, who is Love, who is Love, who is Love, they are all destined for the eternal bonfire.

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      From what I’ve read of the Japanese, they became a bit disillusioned with their historical beliefs during/after WWII. According to their beliefs, they should not have lost to the Americans, but they did.

  18. Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    The Northern Ireland colour is obviously what it is because it is part of the UK.
    However, I doubt that it is as atheist/agnostic as the colour suggests.

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:17 am | Permalink

      Ulster is more complex than the situation presented to the outside world. Certainly I know several Northern Irish atheists/ agnostics. But then again, I also know Protestant Republicans and Catholic Loyalists.
      And as the old Shankhill Road joke goes … “but are you a Protestant Atheist, or a Catholic Atheist?”

      • Posted December 24, 2011 at 5:55 am | Permalink

        And I know a lot of atheists living in the Republic of Ireland to the south.
        Moreover a lot of self-described Catholics in the country don’t normally bother to go to church on Sundays.
        Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the country is still predominantly Catholic.

  19. Filippo
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    What’s going on in Uraguay that it is singularly of a color different from the rest of South America? I skimmed the article and only saw a comment reflecting the color difference. Uraguay was part of Brazil until the late 1930’s.

    • mordacious1
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

      Almost 90% of Uruguay is of European descent.

  20. Posted December 23, 2011 at 7:44 pm | Permalink

    I have met Christians who say that ‘creationism’ is very poor theology. They refer to St Augustine who argues along with Paul that the text of the bible should be interpreted. I happy to share the reference as pdf of you e-mail me: “This excerpt is taken from St. Augustine, the Literal Meaning of Genesis. vol. 1, Ancient Christian Writers., vol. 41. Translated and annotated by John Hammond Taylor, S.J. New York: Paulist Press, 1982.”

    Eric Danell,

    • Dan
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, Eric MacDonald took this on in his blog ‘Choice in Dying”. Obviously Augustine wasn’t talking about evolution in that quote. Augustine was an ardent creationist. No question about it.

      I haven’t seen any theologian, who was a Christian in any sort of traditional sense, agree with modern evolutionary theory. Even the liberals have to smuggle in God zapping primates with souls somewhere in the process (which is creationism).

      • Dan
        Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

        I actually can’t find the blog post I referenced earlier, perhaps it was a comment I was thinking of?

        Anyways, you can easily find a lot of information on the internet about Augustine’s views on creation and how he was a young earth creationist who took Genesis very literally, and even has a section in City of God titled “Of the Falseness of the History Which Allots Many Thousand Years to the World’s Past” in which he says the Bible clearly teaches that the earth is less than 6,000 years old.

  21. Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

    One more comment – a nasty one: Although my home country Sweden is considered secular, there is a tremendously strong belief in the carbon dioxide hypothesis which to me is pure nonsense, not based on trustworthy experimental data. I fear people grasp for superstitious beliefs, and doomsday scenarios as a punishment for bad behaviour are popular.

    The museum of Natural History in Stockholm has (had?) a climate exhibition where one poster was entitled ‘Climate now and in the past’. As usual in the climate propaganda the chart goes back some 150 years. If the exhibition makers had not been fundamentalists, they would honestly have shown the past 400 000 years and 25 previous warmings, guaranteed not caused by man. These are basic facts in any geology textbook. The mechanisms operating then could operate now.

    I challenge the readers of this blog: are you truly free of superstition? If you are proud of seeing the light, not being religious, but swallow the carbon dioxide hypothesis, then you know how a religious fundamentalist feels when you question him;)

    Eric Danell, plant physiologist.

    • GM
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Although my home country Sweden is considered secular, there is a tremendously strong belief in the carbon dioxide hypothesis

      That’s probably because there is a very strong correlation between creationism and global warming denial. With the inverse being also typically true

      • Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

        Hm, fundamentalists do not read or listen to the arguments, they know what is right. I never deny the global warming, that is a fact. I elaborate more on my website if you care to read:

        Global warming has happened at least 25 times before during the past 400 000 years, a fact rarely shown or discussed. These were not caused by man. The same mechanisms may operate now.

        Increased carbon dioxide levels are indeed correlated with warming, but it is a consequence, not a cause, as most soil biologists can explain.

        Try to ask for proof, the fundamentalists usually reply every scientist agree this is correct, repeat you would like to study the proof, the fundamentalists do not know, they assume it is correct.

        I only believe in rational thinking, I am not a member of any church, and I am prepared to change my mind any second if somebody can come up with convincing experiemntal data, but those are lacking ;)

        I only believing in rational thinking, and

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

          Yeah, in the past there were incidents of climate change. Often provoked by huge volcanic activity releasing large amounts of-guess what. CO2.
          But current trends are warming because if they continue, temperatures are going to be higher than they have ever been during the entire existence of our species.
          Now, green house gas concentrations are the RESULT of climate change? I am amused. Last time I found the blanket covering me, may be because I had just started to feel warm.

          • Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:16 pm | Permalink

            Yes, a problem with climate change is the huge amount of parameters. To a soil biologist, increased warming leads to quicker degradation of litter and humus composed of carbon. Here in the tropics the carbon soil levels may be as low as 0.5%, everything in a compost disappears as carbon dioxide or insects. This is in comparison with temperate areas like a pine forest or bog in Sweden which has thick layers of almost raw humus. When it gets warmer, degradation goes quicker in temeprate areas and areas previously in permafrost start to produce carbon dioxide too. If the carbon dioxide hypothesis is correct, this would be accelerating and we would all roast. However, in the past there have been cycles of warm periods and hot periods, so apparently other mechanisms interfer.

            I should also encourage anyone who knwos the truth to post their arguments straight in my blog. Originally I assumed like you that I was wrong, hoping the blog would become a source for straighten out the doubts with corresponding answers. To my great fear, intelligent argues were lacking and the more I read the more I began to seriously doubt the hypothesis.

            Right or wrong, what you feel now is exactly what religious fundametalists feel when questioned. That experience could be useful when arguing other hypotheses. We should try to stay away from feelings and ridicule and only argue rationally (it is difficult for me too ;)). Look at me as a computer with insufficient data. Feed me additional logical data (pdf.s) to get the expected answer, or be open there might be an error…


          • Posted December 24, 2011 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

            I always thought the volcanoes resulted in a cooling. I just checked and was confirmed. Since we agree there is a global warming, and we agree that carbondioxide is correlated with warming, and if you disagree that previous (pre-industry) carbondioxide is an effect of the warming, then we need to understand where these bursts of carbon dioxide come from. The volcanic research assumes the the greenhouse hypothesis is correct, and so they simply state that since the volcanoes do errupt such gases, those gases contribute to a warming. However, “the small amount of global warming caused by eruption-generated greenhouse gases is offset by the far greater amount of global cooling caused by eruption-generated particles in the stratosphere (the haze effect).”


            Volcanic eruptions enhance the haze effect to a greater extent than the greenhouse effect, and thus they can lower mean global temperatures. It was thought for many years that the greatest volcanic contribution of the haze effect was from the suspended ash particles in the upper atmosphere that would block out solar radiation. However, these ideas changed in the 1982 after the eruption of the Mexican volcano, El Chichon. Although the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens lowered global temperatures by 0.1OC, the much smaller eruption of El Chichon lowered global temperatures three to five times as much. Although the Mt. St. Helens blast emitted a greater amount of ash in the stratosphere, the El Chichon eruption emitted a much greater volume of sulfur-rich gases (40x more). It appears that the volume of pyroclastic debris emitted during a blast is not the best criteria to measure its effects on the atmosphere. The amount of sulfur-rich gases appears to be more important. Sulfur combines with water vapor in the stratosphere to form dense clouds of tiny sulfuric acid droplets. These droplets take several years to settle out and they are capable to decreasing the troposphere temperatures because they absorb solar radiation and scatter it back to space.

            Observational evidence shows a clear correlation between historic eruptions and subsequent years of cold climate conditions. Four well-known historic examples are described below.

            LAKI (1783) — The eastern U.S. recorded the lowest-ever winter average temperature in 1783-84, about 4.8OC below the 225-year average. Europe also experienced an abnormally severe winter. Benjamin Franklin suggested that these cold conditions resulted from the blocking out of sunlight by dust and gases created by the Iceland Laki eruption in 1783. The Laki eruption was the largest outpouring of basalt lava in historic times. Franklin’s hypothesis is consistent with modern scientific theory, which suggests that large volumes of SO2 are the main culprit in haze-effect global cooling.

            TAMBORA (1815) — Thirty years later, in 1815, the eruption of Mt. Tambora, Indonesia, resulted in an extremely cold spring and summer in 1816, which became known as the year without a summer. The Tambora eruption is believed to be the largest of the last ten thousand years. New England and Europe were hit exceptionally hard. Snowfalls and frost occurred in June, July and August and all but the hardiest grains were destroyed. Destruction of the corn crop forced farmers to slaughter their animals. Soup kitchens were opened to feed the hungry. Sea ice migrated across Atlantic shipping lanes, and alpine glaciers advanced down mountain slopes to exceptionally low elevations.

            KRAKATAU (1883) — Eruption of the Indonesian volcano Krakatau in August 1883 generated twenty times the volume of tephra released by the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens. Krakatau was the second largest eruption in history, dwarfed only by the eruption of neighboring Tambora in 1815 (see above). For months after the Krakatau eruption, the world experienced unseasonably cool weather, brilliant sunsets, and prolonged twilights due to the spread of aerosols throughout the stratosphere. The brilliant sunsets are typical of atmospheric haze. The unusual and prolonged sunsets generated considerable contemporary debate on their origin.They also provided inspiration for artists who dipicted the vibrant nature of the sunsets in several late 19th-century paintings, two of which are noted here.

            PINATUBO (1991) — Mt. Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines on June 15, 1991, and one month later Mt. Hudson in southern Chile also erupted. The Pinatubo eruption produced the largest sulfur oxide cloud this century. The combined aerosol plume of Mt. Pinatubo and Mt. Hudson diffused around the globe in a matter of months. The data collected after these eruptions show that mean world temperatures decreased by about 1 degree Centigrade over the subsequent two years. This cooling effect was welcomed by many scientists who saw it as a counter-balance to global warming.

            • Posted December 24, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink


              Are you a climatologist? I ask this because I am not. And though my doctorate is in mechanical engineering, I have tried my best to keep up with scientific advances. And yet, I know better than to try to second guess the people who have spent their entire professional lives working with other like-minded experts to understand climate change. The conclusion I have reached is that though I can follow their arguments, I am in no position to judge their work – so I accept the consensus based on the evidence.

              I say this because it seems to me that you do not accept the consensus. I wonder why that is and would like to know (a) whether you are a specialist in this field, (b) if you are, then why do you seem to go against that consensus, and (c) if you are not, do you consider your position a bit arrogant.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

      Oh christ. “Carbon dioxide hypothesis”. There is nothing I find as infuriating as dismissal of empirical peer reviewed science as “superstition” or “fundamentalism” or likewise derogatory terms. You are right, there is plenty of superstition in Sweden as evidenced by your comment.

      • Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        This is fun, you all reason like religious fundamentaliss, as predicted: As an experiment, please read my blog and then try to respond to my questions. Like I said, I am ready to change my mind any second if proven wrong. Also, there are many peer reviewed articles stating the carbon dioxide hypothesis is wrong, including other Swedish professors. However, the propaganda says there is not. Here is one examople:

        Karlén, W, Recent Changes in the Climate: Natural or Forced by Human Activity?, AMBIO: 483-488 Sp. Iss. 14 Nov (2008)

        • Insightful Ape
          Posted December 23, 2011 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

          I guess the National Academy of Sciences are also under the thumb of unnamed conspirators? 97% of climate science publications support anthropogenic climate change. The canard that it is not man made was debunked a long time ago by comparing temperatures that are rising in troposphere and falling in tge stratosphere.

          • Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:00 pm | Permalink

            Great – finally some rational arguments in addition to ‘let us vote about truth’. Kindly give me the full reference please. To understand how I work, you may see how I treated another peer review scientific article in a totally different subject:


            • Insightful Ape
              Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

              You don’t even know how science works. Every branch of science depends in the peer-review process. That does not mean determining the truth by a vote.

              • Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

                Yes, but peer-reviewd articles might be wrong. You do not swallow an article, you analyze it. Frequently a scientist may have to reject his previous publications. My background is Associate Professor in Forest Microbiology. I love the scientific process, and part of the process is a debate without ridicule and with logical data. If you have simple answers to my questions I should like to hear them. If you say you have no time to answer or if the Exhibition at Museum of Natural History hides crucial facts such as the prevous global warmings, then you help my arguing. I encourage you to kill my reasoning, but not in a fundamentalistic way (ridicule or refer to the majority of people)) but by meeting each question with respect and in an effort to teach a retard like me.

                Maybe I am just pulling your legs to have fun on Christmas Eve, but you need to feed arguments to pass the test!

              • Insightful Ape
                Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

                You are trying to have a debate by repeating the word “fundamentalist”? Who is using ridicule here?
                Your point about museum exhibit is a straw man argument. No one ever claimed there were no climate cycles in the past or nothing other than human activity was involved.

            • Dan
              Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:27 pm | Permalink

              Eric, So your position is that since peer-reviewed articles are sometimes wrong then that means that the >90% of published peer-reviewed articles on the subject supporting anthropomorphic global warming are all wrong? That seems quite unlikely, and exactly the kind of logic that I used to use when I was a young-earth creationist. It really is either a whole-scale refutation of an entire community of scientific experts (saying you as a plant physiologist personally know better than 97% of climate experts) or else part of grand conspiracy thinking.

              Have you looked at the Skeptical Science website? They convincingly debunk all of the claims you are making.

              • Dan
                Posted December 24, 2011 at 7:15 am | Permalink

                Obviously I meant anthropogenic, not anthropomorphic. I should have looked at the spell-check results a little closer.

    • Aidan Karley
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 2:27 am | Permalink

      Speaking as a geologist, the convincing point for me was the identification of the PETM’s carbon isotope signature (the so-called “blast in the past”).
      Dump several gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over a geologically trivial period of time ; get 4-6K of warming over the globe out as a consequence and have to put up with it for the next hundred thousand years. At the time those papers were being published, I was using the geological signs of the PETM and it’s faunal turnover as a day-to-day tool for earning my daily crust.
      Are we dumping carbon into the atmosphere at at least the same rate as then? Yes. Then I expect the same consequences.
      As a plant physiologist, I’d bet there is good money to be had trying to crank up the fixation of CO2 without cranking up the corresponding respiration. You make your money on that and I’ll carry on finding oil and gas to pump into the atmosphere ; let’s see who wins.

  22. Insightful Ape
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:02 pm | Permalink

    So troll, you are from Sweden? Interesting. Does that mean you are familiar with the works of Arrhenius? He eas the one who discovered heat trapping properties of carbon dioxide. It is 19th century science you are denying.
    And sorry, there are plenty of fringe “science” blogs questioning whether anthropogenic climate change is real ir whether the earth is round. I don’t have time to check them all out.

    • Posted December 23, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      If you entitle a student ‘troll’ for not agreeing with you, he will think it is all about insults and not a question of rational thinking. Indeed I am familiar with Arrhenius. An experiment to show that temperature on Earth increases as an effect of carbon dioxide demands a number of pretty big boxes to include a number of worlds and some control worlds with unchanged carbondioxide levels.

      One example from my puny field of expertise is plant physiology. For decades plant physiologists performed nutrient transfer studies in laboratory containers, using a sterile plant and mineral solutions. They all published in distinguished peer-reviewd journals. To their great horror, it was later discovered the world was composed of more organisms, as pointed out by Professor Harry Smith, a British professo who frankly told the scientific community to go bak to their labs again and include mycorrhizal fungi and bacteria. He was right. Science is a process.

      I have said enough to tune your thinking and I am looking forward to purely rational replies later.

      • Kristoffer Haldrup
        Posted December 24, 2011 at 5:13 am | Permalink

        Eric, you are arguing like a standard run-of-the-mill creationist, implying that you need “true” control experiments to do “proper science”. If you bothered to actually check the scientific literature on this subject and not just be spoon-fed cherry-picked articles by various “sceptic” websites, I think you would realize just how overwhelming the evidence for anthropogenic global warming is. I’m sorry for implying that you haven’t done your homework, but that is the way your posts come across.

        One funny thing in this context is that I have spent quite a few years arguing with creationist loonies on their various blogs and such, and when I stumbled upon some of the “climate change sceptic” websites, guess what I found? -Exactly the same kind of rhetoric as on the creationist sites, cherry-picking of results, claims of “persecution” and a general lack of understanding of how science actually works.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted December 24, 2011 at 5:46 am | Permalink

      The reason I am calling you a troll is that you have been trying to hijack a thread with an irrelevant subject in a self serving way (advertising for your blog).
      No you don’t need different planets as your test tubes. Evidence on this one planet is overwhelming.
      I may be skeptical of any one peer reviewed publication. But when I see decades of publications support one conclusion and a blog (yours) dissenting I have to conclude you have more in common with creationists than you are willing to admit.

  23. eric
    Posted December 23, 2011 at 11:10 pm | Permalink

    China should as blue as Japan. They really just believe in spirits and ghosts,not God seriously.

    • theleftistblog
      Posted December 25, 2011 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      Not really all that, it’s mainly just philosophies, which people sometimes confuse with religion.

  24. redwood
    Posted December 24, 2011 at 10:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m glad to see Japan getting a mention as Godless along with the usual bow to Scandinavia. I’ve lived here for more than 30 years and am happy to say that only about 1-2% of the population are Christian. They do have Buddhist and Shintoist beliefs, but these don’t include a God in the Christian sense and, for the most part, are ignored in daily life. My Japanese wife believes in the supernatural (spirits and ghosts, as Eric said above at #23), as do many of my students, but it’s not the same thing as an all-controlling God in the Christian sense.

  25. theleftistblog
    Posted December 25, 2011 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Good, depends on perspective, I’m atheist myself, but I would not say that just because someone is religious they’re bad, or that those that are not are good, personality is one thing, beliefs are another. I find that last paragraph to be quite intolerant of peoples beliefs, what if a christian person called you evil because your not christian. If that has happened to you, then by doing this, you’re no better. So try to be less intolerant and be more open minded.

  26. theleftistblog
    Posted December 25, 2011 at 1:21 am | Permalink

    For some reason the U.S.A. doesn’t surprise me XDDDDD

  27. Dominic
    Posted December 25, 2011 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Western Sahara is shown as separate yet it is under Moroccan control, so it is interesting that it has a shade o0f blue. French Suriname is pretty much a part of France isn’t it -? which explains it showing up as a darker blue than its neighbours.

  28. Posted December 25, 2011 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    Who is that dark spot in South America?


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