In recent times, junk economics has replaced junk science as the cause of inaction on climate change issues. The case for inaction is no longer argued on the grounds of skepticism about the science; instead, some claim that it is too expensive to take more than token action on key initiatives. In response to this trend, more than 100 of the country’s leading economists have banded together to launch RealClimateEconomics.org, an effort dedicated to using the weight of economic evidence to support effective public policy and business responses to the climate crisis. RealClimateEconomics.org is inspired by the success of RealClimate.org, a longtime effort by climate scientists to dispel the junk science popularized by climate skeptics.
RealClimateEconomics.org officially launched earlier this week with a new report from several of its members on interstate differences in per capita greenhouse gas emissions. The report explains why some states have much lower emissions than others and helps clarify the potential regional impacts of policies, such as cap-and-trade, which will impose a price on energy-related carbon dioxide emissions. The authors of the report are Dr. Elizabeth Stanton and Dr. Frank Ackerman of Tufts University (both are also affiliated with the Stockholm Environment Institute), and Dr. Kristen Sheeran, the director of Economics for Equity and the Environment (E3 Network). RealClimateEconomics.org is a project of E3 Network, and both efforts receive fiscal support from Portland, Ore.-based Ecotrust.
The key conclusions from the new report:
* Greenhouse gas emissions, after correcting for interstate trade in electricity, vary widely from state to state. The highest-emission states have more than six times the per capita emissions of the lowest.
* A few states stand out as having energy-related emissions around half the national average of 21 metric tons of CO2 each year. Those states, in order: Vermont; New York and Oregon (tie for second); Rhode Island, California, and Washington (tie for third). All of these states provide a U.S. lifestyle with European levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Emissions in these six states are roughly comparable to those of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Japan, and the United Kingdom. These states demonstrate that it is possible to lower emissions in the U.S. without compromising quality of life.
* On the other end of the spectrum, Alaska, Wyoming, North Dakota, and Louisiana all emit more than twice the national per capita average (for energy-related emissions). Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia are not far behind.
* In transportation and residential emissions, the same six states – New York, Oregon, California, Rhode Island, Washington and Vermont (tie) – together with the District of Columbia, have remarkably low emissions per capita, far lower than the national average of 11 mT CO2. Information about how these states have achieved these emissions profiles should be circulated widely across the country for other states to emulate. This is an important first step down the road toward reaching national emissions goals.
* Some of the differences between states are based on factors states can’t control; for instance, the coldest states have high heating needs. But some of the differences between states can be readily addressed by climate and energy policies. The extent of public transportation in urban areas varies widely from state to state; the level of gasoline taxes differs as well. The reliance on coal for electricity generation has a large impact on residential emissions. Efficiency measures are important as well.
The complete report, Greenhouse Gases and the American Lifestyle: Understanding Interstate Differences in Emissions, is available for download.
© 2009, Tracey de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.