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States with the biggest household carbon footprints

  • States with the biggest household carbon footprints

    The environmental and socioeconomic threats posed by climate change prompted calls from people around the world to curtail, if not eliminate, greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Leaders from 197 countries in 2015 committed to preventing global temperatures from reaching 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by reducing their carbon footprints, a commitment codified by the Paris Agreement.

    The United States, however, plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on Nov. 4, a decision President Donald Trump announced in 2017. While the federal government prepares to exit the international accord, 24 governors remain committed to its goals, including reducing GHG emissions by 26–28% below 2005 levels by 2025. Each state faces different obstacles to decrease its carbon footprint, particularly in a sector that consists of about 20% of the U.S.’s energy-related emissions: households.

    To examine the household carbon footprints in every state in the contiguous U.S., Stacker consulted a paper by Goldstein, Dimitrios Gounaridis, and Joshua Newell, all scientists from the University of Michigan, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in July 2020. They developed models and used data from the Energy Information Administration’s 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey to determine the average household fuel and electricity demand in the continental U.S. and Washington D.C. Each of the 48 states and the nation’s capital are ranked according to their household GHG intensity, a measure of the total CO2 emissions that households in the state produce. GHG intensity is expressed here in CO2 emitted per square meter of building area. Stacker also provides each state’s total building energy intensity, measured in kilowatt hours of power used per square meter of building area, and total thermal demand, measured in degree days.

    Benjamin Goldstein, an environmental scientist from the University of Michigan, told Stacker that while replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources will help reduce GHG emissions, U.S. residents must alter certain living conditions if the nation hopes to meet Paris Agreement goals. Installing heat pumps can improve efficiency for heating and cooling, he said, and his research indicates that decreasing floor space typically equates to a “smaller carbon footprint.”

    “If you care for the environment, then waiting for the grid to green is not enough,” he told Stacker. “There are numerous actions that you can take to aid decarbonization.”

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  • #49. California

    - Household GHG intensity: 23 CO2 emitted per m2 (51.1% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 110 kilowatt hours per m2 (#3 lowest among states, 25.2% below national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 3,370 degree days (#1 lowest, 44.1% below national average)

    While California is the second-largest carbon dioxide (CO2) emitting state in the nation, the residential sector accounted for only 7% of emissions as of 2017. Energy use and GHG emissions typically align with carbon (CO2) emissions in western states like California, according to Goldstein and his colleagues. Energy consumption per capita in the state ranked 48 in the nation in 2018, according to the Energy Information Administration, and declined from 2000 to 2017, according to the California Air Resources Board. California ranks first in the nation for solar generation, which accounts for 20.7% of the state’s electricity.

  • #46. Utah (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 34 CO2 emitted per m2 (27.7% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 150 kilowatt hours per m2 (#15 lowest among states, 2.0% above national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 6,082 degree days (#24 highest, 0.8% above national average)

    The CO2 emissions from Utah account for 1.1% of the national output, although per-capita emissions are high due to the state’s reliance on and generation of coal-powered electricity. The state produced 66% of its energy from coal-fired plants in 2018, down from 81% in 2014. While fossil fuels dominate Utah’s energy generation and output, utility companies plan to close several coal plants over the next two decades, according to the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute. State lawmakers also embraced a plan to tackle climate change with CO2 emission reduction targets similar to the GHG reduction goals in the Paris Agreement.

  • #46. Oregon (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 34 CO2 emitted per m2 (27.7% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 138 kilowatt hours per m2 (#11 lowest among states, 6.1% below national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 4,882 degree days (#11 lowest, 19.1% below national average)

    Oregon ranks 38th in the nation for C02 emissions, and 39th for total energy use per capita. Households, however, accounted for 80% of energy consumption-based CO2 emissions in Oregon in 2015, according to a 2018 report, with higher-income residences generating more emissions than lower-income households. While natural gas remains a top energy commodity for the state, hydroelectric surpassed it in 2018 as the most consumed source of energy, according to the EIA. Hydroelectric power also accounts for 70% of the state’s energy generation output, and wind power accounts for 12%, the EIA reported.

  • #46. Washington (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 34 CO2 emitted per m2 (27.7% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 137 kilowatt hours per m2 (#10 lowest among states, 6.8% below national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 5,439 degree days (#18 lowest, 9.8% below national average)

    Washington serves as the top hydroelectric power producer in the nation, and hydroelectric was consumed more than any other energy source in the state as of 2018. Despite its renewable energy generation output, the state ranks 25th in the nation for CO2 emissions, and 32nd in total energy use per capita. CO2 emissions have increased overall between 2012 and 2017, although they remain below 2008 levels. Washington officials, however, aim to make the state GHG-neutral by 2030, and generate all energy from non-carbon emitting sources by 2045, according to the state Department of Ecology.

  • #45. Montana

    - Household GHG intensity: 36 CO2 emitted per m2 (23.4% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 167 kilowatt hours per m2 (#25 highest among states, 13.6% above national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 7,188 degree days (#9 highest, 19.1% above national average)

    Montana contributed less than 1% of total C02 emissions in the U.S. as of 2014. GHG emissions in the state rose about 13% between 1990 and 2017, according to the EIA, and residential emissions increased by 21.4% during that period. Temperature extremes and a small population contribute to the state ranking second in energy use per capita.

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  • #44. Idaho

    - Household GHG intensity: 37 CO2 emitted per m2 (21.3% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 159 kilowatt hours per m2 (#21 lowest among states, 8.2% above national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 6,483 degree days (#19 highest, 7.5% above national average)

    Idaho experienced an 17% increase in CO2 emissions from 2005 to 2017, the largest spike out of any state in the nation for that period. But with a small population and 81% of its energy deriving from renewables, primarily from hydroelectric power, Idaho ranks 43 in the nation for CO2 emissions. Natural gas consumption per capita is in the bottom one-third nationally despite low winter temperatures and about half of homes using it as their primary heat source.

  • #42. Massachusetts (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 40 CO2 emitted per m2 (14.9% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 181 kilowatt hours per m2 (#16 highest among states, 23.1% above national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 6,981 degree days (#13 highest, 15.7% above national average)

    High population density typically results in housing with smaller floor area per capita (FAC), which usually correlates with fewer GHG emissions, according to the University of Michigan professors’ paper. While 67% of energy used in the state was derived from natural gas in 2018, according to the EIA, programs like the Solar Massachusetts Renewable Target (SMART) incentive program helped propel the state to rank eighth in the nation for solar electricity generation.

  • #42. Nevada (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 40 CO2 emitted per m2 (14.9% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 121 kilowatt hours per m2 (#5 lowest among states, 17.7% below national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 5,003 degree days (#14 lowest, 17.1% below national average)

    Nevada consumers use natural gas for energy more than any other source by a wide margin. The state consumes 86% of its energy from out-of-state sources, according to the EIA, but it ranks second in the nation for geothermal electricity production, and sixth in solar power generation.

  • #40. Connecticut (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 41 CO2 emitted per m2 (12.8% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 181 kilowatt hours per m2 (#16 highest among states, 23.1% above national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 6,856 degree days (#14 highest, 13.6% above national average)

    Connecticut has the third-lowest energy-intensive economy in the nation, behind Massachusetts and New York. While 35% of households in the state rely on natural gas for heat, and 45% rely on fuel oil, 43% of its electricity generation derives from the Millstone Nuclear Station, according to the EIA. The state ranks 41 in the nation for CO2 emissions, which declined 10.5% between 1990 and 2017.

  • #40. South Carolina (tie)

    - Household GHG intensity: 41 CO2 emitted per m2 (12.8% below national average)
    - Household building energy intensity: 123 kilowatt hours per m2 (#6 lowest among states, 16.3% below national average)
    - Household thermal demand: 4,325 degree days (#4 lowest, 28.3% below national average)

    While natural gas deliveries to South Carolina for electricity have quadrupled in the last decade, consumers in the state use nuclear power more than any other energy source, with four plants supplying more than half of the state’s energy. Emissions fell 20% in South Carolina between 2005 and 2017.

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