Greenhouse Gases and the American Lifestyle: Understanding Interstate Differences in Emissions

Report commissioned by Ecotrust and the E3 Network.

Author(s): Stanton, E.A. ; Ackerman, F. ; Sheeran, K.
Year: 2009

Does a high standard of living require high greenhouse gas emissions? Does reducing emissions mean impoverishing ourselves? The fear expressed in these questions has inspired some of the resistance to new, ambitious climate policies. This fear, however, is unfounded; there is no rigid link between emissions and wellbeing. The same standard of living can be produced with many different levels of emissions. Some of the best evidence for this can be found within the United States: individual states vary only modestly in average incomes, but have widely differing per capita emissions.

This report analyzes interstate variation in per capita emissions, seeking to explain why some states have much lower emissions than others. Some of the differences are based on objective factors beyond anyone's control: for instance, the coldest states have high heating needs, while the hottest states use a lot of air conditioning. Other differences may be based on policies and measures that have lowered emissions in some states, and could be replicated in others. Identifying the causes of interstate differences in emissions may also help clarify the potential regional impacts of policies, such as a cap and trade system, which put a price on carbon emissions.

Download PDF