Green Legislators Equal Clean Air
States where the congressional delegation votes greener tend to have air that’s cleaner, spewing less heat-trapping gas, a new study finds.
Researchers at Michigan State University studied decades of voting trends and greenhouse gas emissions state by state. They found a correlation between the voting records of a congressional delegation and carbon dioxide emissions, although one that’s nowhere near as big as population or a state’s economic health, according to a study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Study authors Thomas Dietz and Kenneth Frank used computer simulations to try to explain differences in state’s carbon dioxide emissions. After taking into account the larger factors of population, employment and affluence, they charted carbon pollution against “environmentalism” and found a fairly smooth line linking the two subjects. As a state’s environmentalism grew, greenhouse gases dropped.
The authors defined environmentalism as the ratings given a congressional delegation by the pro-environment advocacy group League of Conservation Voters – a definition that some outside experts didn’t think is quite proper.
“For each 1 percent higher a state scored in environmentalism, it’s about half a percent lower in greenhouse gas emissions,” Dietz said. “Overall, environmentalism matters.”
As an example, after controlling for population, affluence and economic factors, Utah has higher carbon dioxide emissions than Vermont, but the difference correlates with the congressional delegation voting record, said Frank. Similarly, Texas and Alabama have higher carbon pollution per person and per state domestic product than New York and California.
Frank acknowledged the study doesn’t show a direct connection between voting records and emissions, but he said it makes logical sense that there would be such a connection. A state that votes greener is more likely to have business and government agencies that act accordingly, and to be more careful about how it burns fossil fuels, he said.
Dana Fisher at the University of Maryland who wasn’t part of the study said the link between congressional voting record and carbon dioxide emissions in states “makes a lot of sense. It basically means that these pro-environmental elected officials are supporting state-level policies that are less greenhouse gas intensive.”
However, she said in an e-mail that how congressmen and women vote is not necessarily an accurate measure of environmentalism.
Philip Stark, chairman of statistics at the University of California Berkeley, was troubled by some of the calculations, the use of the League of Conservation Voters rating system and logical leaps made in the study.
For Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria elected to the British Columbia parliament, the study hit home. He said, “clearly this study does suggest that it does matter who you elect.”
Seth Borenstein can be followed at http://twitter.com/borenbears