It seems rather obvious to me, but there was a lot of debate regarding how a country’s politics affect its emissions – for better or for worse. A new study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that environmental policies in the US have had a significant impact on emissions from 1990 to present days.

Image via Environment Magazine.

Despite growing resistance, environmentalists and “green” politicians should not give up on their efforts – because they are making a difference. Co-Author, Kenneth Frank, a sociologist said that in all states where environmental policies were implemented, emissions have been reduced.

“The movement is having an effect — it’s just happening on a state-by-state basis,” he said.

His colleague, sociologist Thomas Dietz, the lead author of the study, has been studying what affects CO2 emissions, and has uncovered the two main factors behind this: a country’s population and its affluence. Generally, the more people a country has, the more they emit, and the same goes for affluence, the abundance of money and material goods.

“We’ve used new methods developed over the years and new innovations Ken has developed to add in the politics – and find that politics and environmentalism can mediate some environmental impact,” Dietz said. “Environmentalism seems to influence policies and how well policies that are in place are actually implemented, and it also influences individual behavior and the choices people make.”

Two notable examples were New York and Vermont, where strong eco-policies have been implemented, and the air is much cleaner than two decades ago. Comparing the two states with Texas and and Wyoming, the differences are clear: the latter are much more reluctant to implement this type of policies, and the results are evident.

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Rachael Shwom, an environmental sociologist at Rutgers University who was not involved in the study praised the study as the first to quantify the effects that environmental policies have on a state-by-state level.

“Lots of people who study culture and politics think they are important [drivers of emissions levels], but it hasn’t been demonstrated with data in the past,” she said. “That they found the strength of the environmental movement mattered … is a really important finding.”

All in all, there are reasons to be optimistic – CO2 emissions are generally on the rise in the US, but a 1 percent increase in environmentalism tends to curb the carbon emissions by more than enough to compensate that growth.

“Efforts to mitigate emissions take a variety of forms at the state and local level, and may have a substantial impact, even in the absence of a unified national policy,” the study reported. “If we increase environmentalism at about the same scale as economic growth, we can offset the impact,” Thomas Dietz said.

 

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