Environmental activism works, study shows

June 15, 2015, Michigan State University

The environmental movement is making a difference - nudging greenhouse gas emissions down in states with strong green voices, according to a Michigan State University (MSU) study.

Social scientist Thomas Dietz and Kenneth Frank, MSU Foundation professor of sociometrics, have teamed up to find a way to tell if a state jumping on the environmental bandwagon can mitigate other human factors - population growth and economic affluence - known to hurt the environment.

"We've used new methods developed over the years and new innovations Ken has developed to add in the politics - and find that politics and environmentalism can mediate some environmental impact," Dietz said. "Environmentalism seems to influence policies and how well policies that are in place are actually implemented and it also influences individual behavior and the choices people make."

The study, in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows a state-level win for environmental activism that hasn't been apparent on a national scale.

The authors compared between all 50 U.S. states and within each state over time going back to 1990, and determined how emissions correlated with population, per capita, employment rate, and environmentalism. They calculated environmentalism by the environmental voting record of a state's congressional delegation, as rated by the League of Conservation Voters.

The combined influences of population and affluence have been regarded as the core of environmental stress - and have tended to guarantee an annual increase in carbon dioxide emissions. But the paper "Political influences on from U.S. states" adds what the MSU researchers say is an important layer to understanding human impact on climate change. They show that a 1 percent increase in tends to reduce emissions by more than enough to compensate for the typical annual increase in emissions.

"Efforts to mitigate emissions take a variety of forms at the state and local level and may have substantial impact even in the absence of a unified national policy," the paper notes. "Existing regulations can be applied strictly or less stringently, and programs can be pursued enthusiastically or given a low priority. Even without formal policy and programs, the importance of reducing emissions can be widely accepted by individuals and organizations and result in actions that have substantial impact."

This breakdown showed that certain states, such as New York for example, that would expected to see its increasing population and affluence bring along significantly higher instead saw those emissions fall thanks to politics that favored environmental protections.

Dietz and Frank offer a new way of understanding what drives humans' impact on the environment, one that both see as a first step at turning up the sensitivity of understanding how people are players in the environment's health.

Frank's sensitivity analysis parceled out whether variables comparable to a state's liberal or conservative leanings, political affiliation or number of women in the legislature, could be tipping the scales they were attributing to environmental activism.

"When doing this sensitivity analysis, we ask what it would it take to knock our results over - a feather, an arm or a sledgehammer, and these are pretty close to sledgehammer results," Frank said. "We're finding that 44 percent of our data would have to be due to bias to shake this."

Dietz notes that understanding activism is a strong first step to understanding many kinds of environmental stresses, such as air pollution.

"We've always said this is laying the groundwork for more study. Ken came in with subtle ways to look at how the world works," Dietz said. "This is just the start of a conversation."

Explore further: More people, more environmental stress

More information: Political influences on greenhouse gas emissions from US states, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1417806112

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Steve 200mph Cruiz
4.8 / 5 (5) Jun 15, 2015
I think we'll be able to do it. I consider environmental stewardship a virtue and won't vote for anyone who doesn't care. If environmental regulations only hurt business, why haven't sub Saharan Africa, india, and Indonesia economically recovered from the days of the European empires?
I'm concerned about the positive feed back effect that has started, but I think we could do something to solve that, like a sunshade in outer space over the north pole so that we can keep it frozen, which is actually an easier project than becoming globally carbon neutral.
5 / 5 (3) Jun 15, 2015
1. Despite the propaganda from many, environmental conservation is widely agreed to be a good value.
2. This value priority often conflicts and competes with social, fiscal, and other ethical concerns. Environmental Conservation can not always be at the top of everything.

Activism for any cause is a very one-sided effort. Beware of what an activist demands, because politicians are willing to make it happen if there is something in it for them. And then you'll find what activism does for any cause, be it conservative, environmental, social, or whatever.
1 / 5 (4) Jun 15, 2015
Does the study not show one thing?

California has raised taxes and fees on carbon emitters so they now do business in other states. Like Elon Musk putting the battery plant in Nevada.

ditto for NY. Its simply too expensive to emit fumes in that state, so its done elsewhere. NY also exports garbage to the midwest.

3 / 5 (4) Jun 15, 2015
"California has raised taxes and fees on carbon emitters so they now do business in other states."

Yes, they send us the power and keep the pollution.
2.3 / 5 (3) Jul 11, 2015
DavidW stated
..That's what real faith is. Faith comes from hearing the Word of God: The Truth..
Tell us just your god ie ANY god communicates ?

ie. Isnt it JUST from an old middle eastern book when drugs were not illegal and thus ONLY idle claim ?

Nothing unequivocal or substantive, nothing to engage in ANY dialectic :-(

ie Exactly the same as a story from the imagination (claims) of men ?

How are claims attributed to zoraster, moses, jesus, mohammed, joseph smith, hubbard, jones etc in any way reliable or can be taken further ?

Especially in the old testament attributed to moses, david confirms god only spoke in a dream :-(

How reliable are dreams DavidW ?

Show us an example of how faith (ie mere hope) can alleviate the immense suffering attributed to the god of moses who punished everyone for EVER because an innocent girl (eve) was lied to by gods angel ?

Irrefutable proof positive the god of moses acts exactly as a Devil making all suffer always !

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