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 Elena Castiglioni, 18, of New Jersey, was one of many NextGen Climate members marching in protest of Trump's environmental policy proposals at a recent demonstration. (Photo: Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA)

Green State America: How to Keep America’s Climate Promises

Frank Ackerman

 by Dollars & Sense

In January, Donald Trump will endorse climate denial, renouncing the Clean Power Plan and climate targets in general. This will damage the fragile global momentum toward emission reduction, established in last year’s Paris agreement. If the United States refuses to cooperate, why should much poorer, reluctant participants such as India do anything to cut back on carbon?

But among many things that this dreadful election did not represent, it was not a statement of (dis)belief about climate change. Large parts of the country recognize the validity of modern science, understand the urgency of the problem, and remain committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Suppose that many of our state governments got together and told the rest of the world about our continuing commitment to action: we are still abiding by the U.S. pledges under the Paris agreement, or even planning to do more. Not just NGO reports, blog posts, or individual signatures, but an official, coordinated announcement from government bodies with decision-making power over emissions—primarily states, perhaps joined by Indian tribes and major city governments.

The participating states could in theory be on either side of the partisan divide, but of course one side is more likely to sign on at present. Think of Green-State America, initially, as the states that voted for Clinton, and have either a Democratic governor or both houses of the legislature controlled by Democrats. (As it happens, that’s all the states that voted for Clinton except Maine and New Hampshire.) Those 18 states plus the District of Columbia account for 30% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The governor or the legislative leadership of each state could sign the Green-State Climate Agreement, pledging their state to continued dialogue, cooperation, and rapid reduction in emissions. Tribal leaders and city mayors could do the same for their jurisdictions.

Green-State America is the world’s fifth-largest emitter, behind only China, the rest of America, India and Russia. We emit more greenhouse gases than Japan, Brazil, or Germany. If we were a separate country, our participation would be essential to international climate agreements. Even though we are states rather than a nation, we might be able to help reduce the international damage, by letting the world know that much of America still cares about the global climate.

Why should we address global plans at the state level? The United States is a federation of states, governed by archaic eighteenth-century interstate agreements—aka “the wisdom of the Founding Fathers”—such as the electoral college. (If we were a one-person, one-vote democracy, Hillary Clinton would be our next president, just as Al Gore would have been 16 years ago.) The expected assault on environmental and other regulations is likely to include efforts to give more power back to the states, reducing the role of federal rule-making in favor of state-level pollution control. State-level international climate policy is just one step further down that road.

Green-State America is less carbon-intensive than our neighbors; with 30% of national emissions, we have 43% of the U.S. population and 49% of GDP. Our emissions amount to 12 tons of CO2-equivalent per capita, compared to 21 tons in the rest of the country. There is more to be done to control carbon emissions in America—but it will be easy for other states to join us, one at a time.

And this could be a model for other issues. Green-State America might also want to support international treaties on the rights of women, the treatment of migrants, the rights of indigenous peoples, and more.

For now, it’s time to act to protect the climate. It’s time to tell the world that Green-State America keeps its promises, because climate change trumps the election returns.


© 2021 Dollars & Sense

Frank Ackerman

is principal economist at Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, Mass., and a Dollars & Sense Associate.

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