Thwarting Trump’s Climate Change Rollback: The Green-State Climate Agreement

Yves here. Note that political leaders in California have already vowed to press ahead with their more stringent climate-change-combatting programs.

By Frank Ackerman, Senior economist at Synapse Energy Economics, and a senior research fellow at GDAE at Tufts University. Originally published at Triple Crisis

In January Donald Trump will endorse climate denial, renouncing the Clean Power Plan and climate targets in general. This will damage the fragile global momentum toward emission reduction, established in last year’s Paris agreement. If the United States refuses to cooperate, why should much poorer, reluctant participants such as India do anything to cut back on carbon?

But among many things that this dreadful election did not represent, it was not a statement of (dis)belief about climate change. Large parts of the country recognize the validity of modern science, understand the urgency of the problem, and remain committed to ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Suppose that many of our state governments got together and told the rest of the world about our continuing commitment to action: we are still abiding by the U.S. pledges under the Paris agreement, or even planning to do more. Not just NGO reports, blog posts, or individual signatures, but an official, coordinated announcement from government bodies with decision-making power over emissions – primarily states, perhaps joined by Indian tribes and major city governments.

The participating states could in theory be on either side of the partisan divide, but of course one side is more likely to sign on at present. Think of Green-State America, initially, as the states that voted for Clinton, and have either a Democratic governor or both houses of the legislature controlled by Democrats. (As it happens, that’s all the states that voted for Clinton except Maine and New Hampshire.) Those 18 states plus the District of Columbia account for 30 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. The governor or the legislative leadership of each state could sign the Green-State Climate Agreement, pledging their state to continued dialogue, cooperation, and rapid reduction in emissions. Tribal leaders and city mayors could do the same for their jurisdictions.

Green-State America is the world’s fifth-largest emitter, behind only China, the rest of America, India and Russia. We emit more greenhouse gases than Japan, Brazil, or Germany. If we were a separate country, our participation would be essential to international climate agreements. Even though we are states rather than a nation, we might be able to help reduce the international damage, by letting the world know that much of America still cares about the global climate.

Why should we address global plans at the state level? The United States is a federation of states, governed by archaic eighteenth-century interstate agreements – aka “the wisdom of the Founding Fathers” – such as the electoral college. (If we were a one-person, one-vote democracy, Hillary Clinton would be our next president, just as Al Gore would have been 16 years ago.) The expected assault on environmental and other regulations is likely to include efforts to give more power back to the states, reducing the role of federal rule-making in favor of state-level pollution control. State-level international climate policy is just one step further down that road.

Green-State America is less carbon-intensive than our neighbors; with 30 percent of national emissions, we have 43 percent of the U.S. population and 49 percent of GDP. Our emissions amount to 12 tons of CO2-equivalent per capita, compared to 21 tons in the rest of the country. There is more to be done to control carbon emissions in America – but it will be easy for other states to join us, one at a time.

And this could be a model for other issues. Green-State America might also want to support international treaties on the rights of women, the treatment of migrants, the rights of indigenous peoples, and more.

For now, it’s time to act to protect the climate. It’s time to tell the world that Green-State America keeps its promises, because climate change trumps the election returns.

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  1. Carolinian

    So this green state America will include Colorado. Aren’t all their leading politicians including the Dems in favor of fracking? Same for Pennsylvania? Wasn’t Hillary more or less for fracking and also Obama? Would it be fair to say that the Dems have turned their backs on industries like coal mining because they are in states that vote Republican?

    Which is not to endorse Trump’s mistaken views but just to express considerable skepticism about how much real effort “green America” will devote to the problem. It is true that California has always had the nation’s strictest car emissions laws and that has forced the car industry to follow Ca. rules (and also to make special edition cars just for California). But one suspects that in other areas like deforestation money not ecology will continue to be in the driving seat. And when it comes to areas like home solar power, these are heavily dependent on national, not state subsidies.

    1. Carolinian

      Just to add that Pennsylvania of course did not go for Hillary so would not be part of this proposed compact. My mistake. But the closeness of the vote there also highlights how divided the country is as well as its ambivalence when it comes to AGW. It’s one thing to pronounce yourself against AGW, quite another to take the economically major steps that would meaningfully address it

    2. Maurice Hebert

      Also, California is on a tear with respect to fracking. Also, a major oil drilling state. Add the methane plume from the SoCal reservoir and I think the CA contribution to carbon emissions is off the charts.

      Further, the massive deforestation under way due to drought and pest infestation are diminishing the natural carbon sinks. Over 100 MM trees lost in the last two years, and 1/3 of national forest lost (SFgate). It might be worth looking into mass planting of industrial hemp as a counter to this tree loss and to provide a fiber and biofuel crop.

      It would be good to see a Green State coalition resuscitate a Conservation Corps as jobs program focused on remediating ecological and climate change issues.

    3. wendy davis

      Yes, CO is big on fracking, full of pinhead politicians of both red and blue stripes, and in this past election, citizens’ rights to amend the state constitution to choose whether or not fracking could be outlawed in their cities (and/or counties, iirc). Of course the industry ad blitz was one of those red herring sorts, not mentioning it had anything to do w/ fracking. Bad form. Single-payer health insurance also went down.

      I’d also question the veracity of this assertion: “Green-State America is the world’s fifth-largest emitter”. How can this be given that the two largest carbon footprints come from the military and factory agriculture?

      Which big brand climate change leaders have you heard saying that, or asking citizens to stop ‘consuming’ so many beads, bobbles, and bangles, or suggest eating less meat? None that I know of, especially Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein. To my mind, they’ve been Dem gatekeepers on the issue, but if one looks at their funding sources, it’s easy to see why.

    4. NotoriousJ

      Setting aside the reality that everything we are talking about is too little too late – it would now take an “interstellar times Armageddon” level of global cooperation and commitment to avoid mass extinction – what happens when california, surrounded by regularity arbitrage cesspools like Nevada, further outpaces its neighbors? This doesn’t seem like a solution with long term impact.

    5. jrs

      No home solar power is heavily dependent on state subsidies. It explains the great difference in adoption among states (with similar ability to make use of solar power).

  2. Otis B Driftwood

    I am hopeful in this time of little hope that Trump proves so extreme that it shakes many of our fellow citizens from their complacency. Global warming is a good example of an issue that could help bring progressives, recovering liberals and moderates together on critical issues. In other words, Trump will be of service to the extent he galvanizes opposition to his reactionary agenda.

    1. jgordon

      I doubt that it would happen, but if people’s lives improved under Trump would you admit that liberals and the left are discredited?

      Climate change action program from the left: 1. Rich people will drive electric cars. 2. A huge new market for Wall Street, cap and trade. 3. Poor people can just go die, those dirty carbon burners. How dare they mess up the planet with their unenlightened lifestyles?!

      1. Vatch

        If people’s lives are improved under Trump, it will probably mean that he will have turned his back on some of his right wing conservative talking points. I’ve seen many people express the opinion that Trump doesn’t have strong opinions, and if he thinks he can win by changing his mind, he’ll do so. Sanders has said that people should support Trump when he is correct, and oppose him when he is wrong. That makes a lot of sense.

        I agree about cap and trade. It’s a labyrinth with vast money making opportunities for Goldman Sachs. There are other ways to encourage the use of renewable energy.

  3. HotFlash

    The most important political, social, moral and economic issues for me are, in this order, climate change, climate change and climate change. I do not vote in US elections, but living here in America’s attic (that’s Canada, FYI), I breathed a sigh of relief when Trump was elected.

    Trump may be a AGW denier, but he will (so he says) scuttle TPP and its toxic ISDS mechanism. Without sovereignty we have no method of addressing carbon emissions.

    Hillary gave lip service to fighting AGW, but was for TPP before she was against it, and definitely was a big promoter of fracking and oil wars. Denial we can fight or do an end run. Lip service was more dangerous as it coopts and channels our initiaves — another study, anyone? Carbon trading? “Clean coal” , maybe even “clean fracking”!

    And we are running out of time to save *anything* of life as we know it.

  4. Steve H.

    “We need carbon space, please vacate the carbon space which countries have occupied,” Prakash Javadekar, India’s environment minister, said in a recent interview. “We want free carbon space where our development can be parked. We want to bring them [poor people] out of poverty. … And to that end, we’ll produce more energy.” [via Vatch]

  5. philnc

    Back in law school during the 80’s we learned something about the power of states to raise the bar on criminal procedure protections above the “federal floor”. In fact the same federalist constitutional framework that has in the past been used to justify the very worst expressions of “state’s rights”, provides the legal basis for the kind of progressive state-based environmental regulation that has long been a fixture of California politics. California, abeit with sometimes flawed legislation and less than diligent enforcement under ideologically compromised administrations, has been a model for how an economically significant regional government can change the direction of the country as a whole. In the debate over greenhouse gas regulation California was joined by the three big Northeastern states of NY, NJ and PA to further tighten restrictions on emissions. If Trump were to succeed in abolishing the EPA as promised, it might turn out that multiple new fronts on the war on climate change could be openned up. The cliche “all politics is local” very well might indicate the direction that future efforts for progressive change should take. In that case the pattern described in “Where was Roosevelt?” for local grassroots action in the face of national leadership failure could provide the most effective organizing strategy for citizen non-labor as well as labor rank and file.

    1. lyle

      Given the 4 states mentioned above, the question is how much will be manufactured to the states standards and how much federal. Recall that on autos Obama’s strategy was driven by Ca in the first place, since there is a provision in the Clean Air act that allows CA to be stricter, because CA was doing clean air first.
      You do see some things such as outdoor power equipment that are built 49 states 1 state (basically the 2 cycle engine is not allowed in CA)

  6. Oil Dusk

    Let’s see if I have this straight, by trashing the state economics in 18 states with zero benefit to the planet, those states will be thankful for your leadership?

    Face it, Trump is right on this issue. There has been no significant warming in 18 years.

    We should direct our national focus to real environmental problems not carbon dioxide.

    1. pretzelattack

      lol, yes there has been significant warming. jesus, just look at all the records falling yearly, the melting ice. so no, you don’t have some basic facts straight.

    2. Vatch

      The Goddard Institute for Space Studies is a good place to look for basic information about this. Here are a couple of pages at their web site:

      There are several graphs in the next page. Click on a section title where there’s an arrow pointing to the right to see a graph:

      Your claim that there has been no significant warming in 18 years is false. I don’t know where you got that idea, but you might consider trying to find a new source of information.

    3. FluffytheObeseCat

      There has been significant warming over the past 18 years, and the CO2 content of the atmosphere has increased steadily through that time. The acidity of the world’s oceans has increased in concert with this.

      I am constantly impressed by the power of bullshit, when it’s flung with vigor. There is no reason to believe that shifting to a non-fossil fuel energy base would impede economic growth. The opposite is more likely. A concerted effort to develop renewable power sources and distribution networks has been quietly improving economies across the high plains and the southwest for around a decade now. As was true with our Cold War era space race, the knock-on benefits of developing renewable power sources are almost uncountable.

      Example: Western cities are almost all located in valleys that choke with smog every winter, even now. A shift to electric vehicles would have mitigate winter smog and eventually eliminated it. This in turn would eliminate thousands of trips to urgent cares and emergency rooms by those in respiratory distress. Once Ebell and Trump rollback most federal regulation of vehicle emissions I expect valley smog to increase dramatically.

    4. Yves Smith Post author

      Wowsers. Remarks like this confirm media and MSM denigrations of Trump voters.

      Let me clue you in: you look like you wandered in based on seeing the headline. This comment section is not a chat board. People here deal in evidence, not pet personal views. We’ve had literally ten years of links to and posts on widespread evidence that temperatures are rising globally and that we are seeing other bad effects of high and rising greenhouse gas emissions (ocean acidification)that debunk the line you are trying to run. Our daily Links section has had a raft in just the past few days.

      1. jgordon

        I would like to say that the Archdruid is right on this one: the people pushing climate change action are uncredible. They hypocrites, grifters looking for profit, and/or delusional about what is required to fight climate change. Much like the Democratic Party, the climate change activists need to be cleaned out before anything useful will get done.

        1. pretzelattack

          the people most pushing for climate change action, which means converting to renewable energy with maybe some interim dependence on nuclear energy, are the scientists who are seeing how bad it is and how bad it could get. they are quite credible, despite all the smearing.

          1. subgenius

            …and the above post is correct – this may be because scientists =/= engineers….

            Nuclear is touted, but look at:
            Time to complete a new station
            Requirements to mine, process and transport fuel
            Waste issues

            …it’s a non-starter, especially if looking to keep the current levels of power production, and large parts of both the station builds and fueling require vast petroleum inputs.

            The build time of a nuclear plant alone sinks these plans.

            Renewables are improving, but scaling to the levels required for continuation of current power levels are a pipe dream, plus also rely on large petroleum inputs.

            The ONLY way to begin to handle this seems to be a massive reduction in energy availability (including the almost total ban of fossil fuels), combined with all the reforesting etc possible. Even that might be too little.

            1. pretzelattack

              it’s not correct to the extent it identifies people pushing for action on climate change as being driven by profit. some advocate nuclear and some don’t, but the focus is on getting off fossil fuels and onto renewables. keep it in the ground needs to be the guiding principle.

              1. subgenius

                hypocrites, grifters looking for profit, and/or delusional about what is required to fight climate change

                That’s 3 categories listed, and basically covers it.

                If you think that renewables are a solution you are sadly misguided.

                Technology is the CAUSE of the problem. The thinking that got you into a problem is unlikely to get you out…But in the climate crisis, people will not accept that they can’t have all their toys and hobbies and travel and apples from africa (etc) – and a survivable environment.

                Until people get through that they are never going to mitigate the worst. Hence nothing wil be done but more endless bullshitting at conferences thousands of delegates fly around the world to attend.

                If you want to argue with this, please point out ANY changes that have been made that actually MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

    5. Cry Shop

      This is probably a fly by comment, even cut and pasted from a prepared list, with the intent to troll and waste other’s energy. Just look at the avatar name, pretty much says it all. So, do what I just did, use a cut & paste answer, or just ignore the troll.

    6. different clue

      If you are correct on this, then you have a huge contrarian investing opportunity laid out before you. If the global is not warming and will not warm, that means the sea level is not rising and will not rise. That means that silly liberals like me who will either begin to flee the coasts or will avoid the coasts to begin with will create a land-ownership vacuum waiting to be filled by bold contrarian risk takers such as yourself. You should assemble all the money you can find or borrow and buy seaside land in Miami, Louisiana, etc.
      And you will,too . . . if you privately believe what you publicly state.

  7. susan the other

    Green State America is a good idea for innovation alone. California will come up with new ways of doing things and others will follow; others will come up with their own stuff as well. If some of this innovation improves not just the environment but also becomes economically beneficial (jobs, better agriculture, etc.) then it’s as good as imposing top-down rules that will be broken at every turn. Think VW – and that’s in Germany.

  8. Elizabeth Burton

    Given that the majority of the states are now under Republican control, just how is this going to work?

  9. Gaylord

    No amount of emissions reduction will curtail the coming catastrophe. The GHGs already in the atmosphere, plus the methane emissions from the melting Arctic permafrost and sea beds that are continually increasing, plus increased absorption of solar radiation due to the inevitable Arctic blue ocean event, plus any diminution of atmospheric sulfates from reduced FF burning, will produce heating beyond any stable conditions that would allow agriculture to continue. Within a decade or two, expect water and food shortages, mass migrations and mortality, and extreme weather conditions, to name a few. There is no escape from this extinction event, so we need to come to terms with it rather than proposing panaceas.

  10. Venon Hamilton

    “No global warming for 18 years” is a new meme. Just google that. I’m not advising clicking on any links to the likes of CNSnews etal, but the deniers have a new “study” to cling to.

    1. pretzelattack

      no it’s an old meme, as these things go. the deniers always have a new “study” to cling to. used to be “no warming for 10 years” but some of them add years as time passes. it’s wrong in any event.

  11. Vernon Hamilton

    The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, a power industry carbon cap and trade program which includes nine northeastern states has been at work since 2009.
    Its very instructive that Governor Chris Christie was responsible for withdrawing New Jersey from that program in 2011, ostensibly to improve his presidential cred, and earlier, then governor Mitt Romney attempted to keep Massachusetts out of RGGI. Now we see both those persons circling around the donald, (though christie seems to be in the doghouse at currently) with that “accomplishment” high on their resumes.

    Fighting against fighting climate change is essential Republican doctrine, not going to swayed or discouraged.

  12. Newtownian

    I have read Ackerman’s book ACKERMAN, F. 2009. Can We Afford the Future? The Economics of a Warming World, Zed Books Ltd, Cynthia Street, London.

    Highly recommended.

  13. different clue

    The main core of this post is inspiring and useful enough that I will only reply if I later have the time to reply usefully.

    Right now, I will just pick a nit over a side point tangentially introduced in the sixth paragraph.
    “(If we were a one-person, one-vote democracy, Hillary Clinton would be our next president, just as Al Gore would have been 16 years ago.)” Yes . . . if we were a unitary republic one-person one-vote democracy, Hillary Clinton would be our next President. The prospect would appear to be a good one from your point of view.

    But consider . . . if Hillary were our next President, we would be looking forward to deepened support for the illegal neo-nazi coup regime in Kiev, declaration of a no-fly zone over Syria with its risk of war with Russia, and general pursuit of Cold War 2.0 with Russia with its attendant risk of thermonuclear war. Most of the lucrative urban targets for the Big Bombs are located in Clinton-Voter Blue America. Does a Clinton Presidency still seem like something to have been wished for? Do you still resent the Federal Nature of our Republic, in light of the Clintonite bullet we just dodged?

    Anyway, for those who chafe at the multi-federated-state nature of our Federal Republic and would like to see the issue analysed and discussed at some length, here is a link to a webpost where Colonel Lang and his commenters discuss that very subject.

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