When each day seems to bring more bad news about the health of our planet, it can be easy to wonder if the environmental movement is working. But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences has found that, at the state level, environmentalism is linked with lower carbon emissions.
Michigan State University researchers used Congressional voting records since 1990 as a proxy for the strength of the environmental movement in a given state. They found that states with higher levels of green voting by delegates were able to mediate the impacts of the two main drivers of climate change: affluence and population growth.
Both wealth and a growing population are linked with higher consumption and energy use. But environmentalism seems to combat this trend on both the government and individual level. In a nutshell: when states elect legislators with strong environmental records, increases in carbon emissions over time are lower.
When environmentalism is strong, people are more likely to bike to work rather than drive and to embrace renewable energy sources like solar power. In New York State, for example, despite increased population and wealth, carbon emissions have fallen, which researchers attribute to strong support for the environmental movement.
If a state’s representatives vote favorably on environmental protections, the state’s businesses and government agencies are probably environmentally friendly too. The researchers also found that, compared with environmentalism, factors like political allegiance and trade union strength had a negligible effect on a state’s carbon emissions.
Understanding the effects of environmental activism may be a key step in combating climate change.
Photo, posted January 9, 2007, courtesy of Senor Codo via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio, with script contribution from the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies.