Carbon emissions higher in U.S. states where income is more finds new study

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A startling study draws our attention to how wealth is also playing a major role in the U.S. in increase of carbon emissions. Researchers at Boston College have found higher carbon emission levels in states where income is more highly concentrated among the wealthiest residents.

Studies have already established links between national wealth and carbon emissions at global level, but the latest study in this field published in the journal Ecological Economics is the first study that looks into the links between income inequality and carbon emissions within and across the individual U.S. states.

Sociologists Andrew Jorgenson and Juliet Schor at Boston College have found that state-level carbon emissions between 1997 and 2012 were positively associated with the income share of the top 10 per cent of a state’s population.

Researchers used 2012 state data for carbon emissions and determined that one per cent increase in the income share of the top 10 per cent of a state’s population results in hundreds of thousands of tons of additional carbon emissions.

Texas led the states with 812,325 to 934,174 metric tons of additional carbon emissions followed by California at estimated 437,035 to 502,590 metric tons, Pennsylvania at 284,980 to 327,728 metric tons, Florida at 269,030 to 309,395 metric tons; and Illinois at 261,170 to 300,966 metric tons finishing off the top five tally.

South Carolina was the median in the analysis, with income share growth adding 89,175 to 102,551 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2012. The District of Columbia saw the lowest growth in carbon emissions at an increase of 3,251 to 3,738 metric tons for each 1 percent increase in wealth.

Spending power drives carbon-intensive consumerism. But so do the political clout and economic power of the wealthiest individuals, according to Jorgenson and Schor, whose analysis with co-author and BC graduate student Xiaorui Huang employed established economic models that assess the political and economic influence of individual wealth on society.

The researchers tested the influence of a well-established statistical measure of income inequality, known as the Gini coefficient. That analytical tool reports inequality in a general sense, but doesn’t show where inequality exists, said Jorgenson. So the researchers turned to a measure that captures the top 10 percent of a state’s population.

In addition to income, the analysis weighed additional factors – some already well-established as contributors to carbon emissions – such as population size, per capita gross domestic product, urbanization, manufacturing as a percentage of state GDP, fossil fuels production, and the level of state’s commitments to environmental regulation.