The past two weeks, we’ve heard a lot from world leaders in Paris about a global strategy to address climate change. The talks have been full of scrutiny surrounding carbon emissions, fossil fuel usage, clean energy projects, and conservation. As President Obama pressures government leaders of less developed nations to clamp down on emissions and invest more in renewable energy, many will be looking to the United States to see what kind of progress has been made toward a cleaner future. Renewable energy is on the rise in some states, while other regions still cling to dirty fossil fuels. Here’s a deeper look into who is doing it right, who is lagging behind, and what the future looks like in the American energy scene.
The United States is a strong world leader in climate change policy, and climate scientists and environmentalists are hopeful that other nations will enact tougher restrictions on industries that contribute to the effects of global warming. Most of the countries participating in the talks have issued promises for future climate policies—including the United States, which has pledged to cut emissions up to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025. What other world leaders might be interested in knowing is how the States are actually doing when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and investing in renewable energy. After all, a politician’s promise and a signature on a bill aren’t very good proof of what has been accomplished to date, but rather is a sign of what is possible. On a global scale, organizations like 100.org seek to illustrate those potentials with tools like this interactive map, which shows the benefits of moving toward a world with 100 percent renewable energy.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports data that paints a clear picture of what is happening in America when it comes to energy use, right down to who is doing it right and where improvements are still in need. States topping the charts for renewable energy production include Washington, California, and Oregon, all politically blue states producing a combination of solar and wind energy.
Texas is also getting a lot of attention for its wind power production, which is higher than any other state, but that still only accounts for less than three percent of the state’s energy usage. Ironically, since that state doesn’t send grid electricity across state lines to share with other regions, a Dallas-based utility company recently began giving away electricity for free, which may encourage customers to be wasteful with their usage. That’s not exactly a winning strategy for saving the planet.
Perhaps one of the most important factors in understanding the renewable energy landscape is the “most improved” category, an illustration of CO2 cuts since 1990. No state has been able to reduce its carbon emissions as much as the District of Columbia, which now produces 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than it did a quarter century ago. Four other states have cut their emissions between 20 and 30 percent in the same time period, representing a substantial commitment to reducing the effects of climate change.
Still, critics and ardent environmentalists say that it’s not enough, and they are probably right. Recent studies put the CO2 concentration at record high levels and global temperatures are steadily rising toward the crucial two-degree danger zone. In the face of the planet’s epic demise, climate scientists and policy experts urge world leaders to take swift action to slow, halt, or even reverse the effects of global warming.