A recent study by Wise Voter set out to compare how each U.S. state is coping with the growing climate crisis. Each state was ranked based on five environmental factors. These were Carbon Emissions, the Adoption of Green Technology, Landfill Usage, Recycling and Green Policies. Overall, the top five best states concerning climate resilience are California, Maine, New York, Vermont and Massachusetts. The top five worst-ranking states were Nebraska, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alaska and, finally, Louisiana.

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Each of the five environmental categories held a certain percentage of the total score. Within each of these dimensions were 60 other sub-metrics that each held a certain weight. The higher the number of criteria fulfilled, the better a state’s performance within a particular category.

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Category 1 – Carbon Emissions

The Carbon Emissions category was worth a total of 30 points and was broken down into 12 sub-components. These included understanding the percentage change of carbon dioxide emissions per state’s annual GDP between 2015 and 2019, how many metric tons of CO2 were emitted per person in 2019, and changes in CO2 emissions in different categories including transport, industries, etc.

Within this category, the five states with the lowest carbon footprint were Maryland, followed by Maine, New Hampshire, Georgia and Tennessee. The five most poorly performing states were Montana at 46th place, followed by West Virginia, North Dakota, Louisiana and Wyoming coming in at 50th place.

Something particularly interesting to note within this component was how states performed based on their average air quality. This was examined through the average exposure of individuals to particulate matter of 2.5 microns or less in micrograms per cubic meter between 2018 and 2020. The states with the best air quality were Wyoming in first place, followed by Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Vermont. Meanwhile, the states with the poorest air quality were Arizona, Oregon, Nevada, Illinois, and, in last place, California.

It is also encouraging to see how individuals in certain states are taking extra initiatives to reduce their personal CO2 emissions. In fact, the states with the most reduction in individual CO2 emissions were Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma and Alabama! Unfortunately, residents in states like Hawaii, Mississippi, Connecticut, Washington and Idaho need to step up their game and take more efforts to reduce their carbon footprint.

A glass building surface reflecting sunlight off of it

Category 2 – Green Technology Adoption

In order to actively shift towards a more sustainable future, adopting green technology into existing systems is crucial. The Green Tech Adoption category was worth 20% of the total climate resilience score and featured eight sub-categories. A lot of these included integrations of renewable energy sources such as solar, geothermal, hydro and wind energy. Other sub-categories within this included the number of electric vehicle (EV) charging stations per capita and the percentage increase of clean energy jobs between 2018 and 2020.

Overall, the states that performed the best in this group were Nevada, followed by South Dakota, North Dakota, Washington and California. Conversely, the states that performed poorly included Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Mississippi, Rhode Island and Alaska.

One of the sub-metrics within this realm was a comparison between the usage of solar energy within each state. The top five states reliant on solar energy were Nevada, California, Hawaii, Arizona and New Mexico. Meanwhile, the states that utilized solar energy systems the least were Kansas, West Virginia, Alaska, North Dakota and South Dakota. In fact, Nevada, the most solar power-reliant state, uses 348 times more solar energy per capita than South Dakota, the least solar-reliant state.

As we look to the future, an important growth factor for the environment and economy is the rise in clean-energy jobs. The states with the highest percentage growth in clean energy jobs available were Nevada, Louisiana, New Jersey, Oklahoma and West Virginia. Conversely, the states that performed the poorest overall were Wyoming, Delaware, Wisconsin, California and Vermont. Through the increase in demand for environmentally sustainable systems, we are hopeful that clean-energy jobs will continue to increase across the United States.

Category 3 – Landfill Usage

This category of climate resilience only features four sub-categories. They are landfill availability in a state (the number of existing landfills per capita), the production of individual waste that ends up in landfills, how much food waste is produced (dependent on total food surplus) and the number of zero waste stores available per person in the state.

With regards to landfill usage overall, the top-performing U.S. states were New York, Florida, Maryland, New Jersey and Hawaii. Meanwhile, the more poorly performing states in this category were Michigan, Louisiana, Kansas, Indiana and New Hampshire.

Levels of individual waste are a key component of this category. The states with the least individual waste produced per person were Connecticut, followed by Massachusetts, South Dakota, Maryland and Minnesota. On the other hand, states with the most individual waste included New Hampshire, Ohio, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The difference in the average waste produced by a person in Connecticut to Michigan is also quite extreme. On average, Michiganites produce 59 times more waste than people in Connecticut!

Stacks of plastic bottles

Category 4 – Recycling

Within the recycling category, there were several sub-components. Most of these focused on each state’s quantities of commonly recycled items such as PET bottles, aluminum cans, glass bottles, batteries and food, to name a few.

The state that scored the highest number of points in this category was Maine, followed by Vermont, Michigan, Oregon and New York. Conversely, the states that recycle the least are Mississippi, Tennessee, West Virginia, Alaska and Louisiana.

One of the characteristics that was tracked within this overall component of recycling was the percentage of recycled rigid plastics in 2018. The states that performed the best in this sub-category were Maine, Michigan, Vermont, Connecticut and New York. Meanwhile, the states that recycled plastics the least were Tennessee, South Carolina, Mississippi, West Virginia and Alaska. Overall, there was a drastic difference in the best-performing and the worst-performing state in this category. The data showed that in 2018, Maine recycled 57 times more rigid plastics than Alaska! With increased resources and systems being incorporated over the years, we are hopeful that this number will drop.

Category 5 – Green Policies

The final component of Wise Voter’s research was how states had begun to adopt more climate-friendly regulations. After carbon emissions, this is the largest category in the study. Sub-sections of this category include policies pertaining to recyclable materials, clean energy usage and carbon emissions. 

California, Vermont, Connecticut, New York and Maine performed the best in this category. Meanwhile, Kansas, Nebraska, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee require more substantial state-based climate-action policies in place. Regarding the number of green policies in place currently, California remains at the top, while West Virginia ranks 50th.

What next?

Each state has to continue with its efforts to take more climate action and increase climate resilience. It is only through their hard work across all five categories both on state-wide and individual scales that the U.S. can become more environmentally sustainable as a whole.

Via Wise Voter

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