By David Flemming
The rest of the United States still has a long way to go if our fellow Americans are to catch up to us Vermonters. In 2016, Vermont had 9.6 emissions per capita, down from 11.1 in 2000.
That tells a very different story than the one we are often told that “Vermonters are emitting more CO2, and need additional environmental regulations to stop this excess.” It makes much more sense to measure our CO2 in per capita terms than it does in absolute terms because individuals moving away from our state due to a high cost of living will emit more emissions than they do by sticking around here.
While we have been emitting more overall, our population has grown form 597,000 in 2000 to 623,000 in 2016. We already have the seventh lowest emissions per capita, but have one of the slowest growing economies in the country.
As the U.S. economy has been humming along, Vermont has been struggling to reconcile its commitment for ‘reducing CO2 emissions’ with a commitment to a higher standard of living for its residents.
Both Vermont and the U.S. are expected to have lower emissions in the coming decades. If both follow their trends of the past 16 years, America will have per capita emissions equaling Vermont’s 2016 per capita emissions by 2044. And of course, by that point, we can expect Vermont’s emissions to drop even further.
It will be easier for a state like Nebraska to reduce emissions from 25 metric tons per capita (as of 2016) to 15 metric tons per capita, than it will be for Vermont to reduce its emissions from 9.6 metric tons per capita to 0 metric tons. After all, Nebraska saw a net increase in emissions from 24.3 to 25.4 metric tons per capita from 2000 to 2016. In that time frame, Nebraska’s per capita GDP increased $9000 from $42,000 to $53,000.
Meanwhile Vermont’s per capita GDP only increased $6,000 from $38,000 in 2000 to $44,000 in 2016. There is tradeoff between emissions and GDP. Vermont has been taking extreme measures to reduce emissions. It goes without saying that we would need to take absolutely brutal measures on income levels to curb emissions further.
So long as our emissions are inconsequential in the global scheme of things, we ought to feel more of an obligation to raise incomes rather than to reduce emissions.
David Flemming is a policy analyst for the Ethan Allen Institute. Reprinted with permission from the Ethan Allen Institute Blog.