Money to burn: As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow in US states

Boston College study the first to link income inequality and growth in carbon emissions at the state level

Chestnut Hill, Mass. (4/6/2017) – Across the U.S., state-level carbon emissions are higher in states where income is more highly concentrated among the wealthiest residents, according to a new study by two Boston College researchers.

On a global level, the connection between national wealth and carbon emissions has been well documented. The study, by sociologists Andrew Jorgenson and Juliet Schor, is the first to link income inequality and carbon emissions within and across the individual U.S. states.

The study found that state-level carbon emissions between 1997 and 2012 were positively associated with the income share of the top 10 percent of a state’s population, according to the findings, published online and in the April edition of the journal Ecological Economics.

Using the 2012 state data for carbon emissions, and based on the statistical analysis reported in the research article, a one percent increase in the income share of the top 10 percent of a state’s population results in tons of additional carbon emissions, led by:

1. Texas – 812,325 to 934,174 metric tons

2. California – 437,035 to 502,590 metric tons

3. Pennsylvania – 284,980 to 327,728 metric tons

4. Florida – 269,030 to 309,395 metric tons

5. Illinois – 261,170 to 300,966 metric tons

6. Ohio – 260,622 to 299,716 metric tons

7. Louisiana – 246,618 to 283,611 metric tons

8. Indiana – 232,886 to 237,819 metric tons

9. New York – 196,234 to 225,670 metric tons

10. Michigan – 184,835 to 212,560 metric tons

South Carolina was the median in the analysis, with income share growth adding 89,175 to 102,551 metric tons of carbon emissions in 2012. The District of Columbia saw the lowest growth in carbon emissions at an increase of 3,251 to 3,738 metric tons for each 1 percent increase in wealth.

The findings come as states are increasingly taking the lead in their own environmental protection. California Gov. Jerry Brown recently pledged the state would maintain its broad environmental regulations, regardless of any federal shift toward deregulation.

“We think it is safe to say, in terms of environmental policy and action, it is going to be much more active at the state level than the federal level,” said Jorgenson, a professor of sociology and environmental studies. “Given the uncertainty of the regulatory environment at the federal level, states like California are saying they will not move away from their policies even if the federal agenda on climate change makes a 180-degree turn from the prior administration.”

Spending power drives carbon-intensive consumerism. But so do the political clout and economic power of the wealthiest individuals, according to Jorgenson and Schor, whose analysis with co-author and BC graduate student Xiaorui Huang employed established economic models that assess the political and economic influence of individual wealth on society.

“First, income concentration leads to concentrated political power and the ability to prevent regulations on carbon emissions,” said Schor, a professor of sociology. “Second, high income consumers are disproportionate carbon polluters.”

The researchers tested the influence of a well-established statistical measure of income inequality, known as the Gini coefficient. That analytical tool reports inequality in a general sense, but doesn’t show where inequality exists, said Jorgenson. So the researchers turned to a measure that captures the top 10 percent of a state’s population.

“What we find here in the context of income inequality and carbon emissions is that it’s about the concentration of income at the top of the distribution,” said Jorgenson. “In our statistical models, where the Gini coefficient is non-significant, across the board the wealth of the top 10 percent is. That tells us that it really is about income concentration at the top end of the distribution.”

In addition to income, the analysis weighed additional factors – some already well-established as contributors to carbon emissions – such as population size, per capita gross domestic product, urbanization, manufacturing as a percentage of state GDP, fossil fuels production, and the level of state’s commitments to environmental regulation.

The researchers drew from a broad array of sources, including statistics from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the League of Conservation Voters, and databases including the U.S. State-Level Income Inequality Database at Sam Houston State University and the internationally supported World Wealth and Income Database.

In addition to advancing the understanding of the factors that force changes in the climate, Jorgenson said the findings contribute to a more expansive view of the harmful effects of income inequality, which has been shown to foster poor outcomes in measures such as health and well being.

“Equalizing incomes has all kinds of potential benefits,” Jorgenson said. “This suggests a holistic view of sustainability, equalizing income distribution within the U.S. can have social and environmental benefits. And they can have a global benefit too, since the U.S. is such a significant contributor to climate change.”


Income Inequality and Carbon Emissions in the United States: A State-level Analysis, 1997–2012 (paywalled, so don’t bother with the link)

Andrew Jorgensona,  Juliet Schorb, Xiaorui Huangb

This study investigates the relationship between U.S. state-level CO2 emissions and two measures of income inequality: the income share of the top 10% and the Gini coefficient. Each of the inequality measures, which focus on unique characteristics of income distributions, is used to evaluate the arguments of different analytical approaches. Results of the longitudinal analysis for the 1997 to 2012 period indicate that state-level emissions are positively associated with the income share of the top 10%, while the effect of the Gini coefficient on emissions is non-significant. The statistically significant relationship between CO2 emissions and the concentration of income among the top 10% is consistent with analytical approaches that focus on political economy dynamics and Veblen effects, which highlight the potential political and economic power and emulative influence of the wealthy. The null effect of the Gini coefficient is generally inconsistent with the marginal propensity to emit approach, which posits that when incomes become more equally distributed, the poor will increase their consumption of energy and other carbon-intensive products as they move into the middle class.

h/t to Charles Rotter


88 thoughts on “Money to burn: As the wealthy get wealthier, carbon emissions grow in US states

  1. Here is a “duh” study that no one will read, except the profs granting the PhD.

    Here’s the salient quote, I think: “Equalizing incomes has all kinds of potential benefits,” Jorgenson said. “This suggests a holistic view of sustainability, equalizing income distribution within the U.S. can have social and environmental benefits. ”

    Just a bunch of Bernie-ites who want income redistribution.

    • Sorry to disagree, but after reading the whole study, I think this is the salient quote:

      “If the findings for our present study are valid, a cap-and-dividend scheme would have a second
      pathway for emissions reductions, namely the impact of reduced inequality. However, because cap-and-dividend schemes would likely have more impact on the Gini coefficient than the income share of the
      top 10%, the additional emissions reductions are likely to be modest. Larger impacts on emissions may come from measures targeted at concentrations at the top of the distribution, such as wealth taxes, a financial transactions tax, and steeply progressive income taxes.”

      These guys started with the conclusion they wanted to reach, spouted a bunch of gibberish – ignoring a whole bunch of internal contradictions in the process – and concluded that we need to tax the rich. Moreover, their actual data doesn’t support their conclusion. FIGS 1 and 2 of their study show scatter plots, tracking percent change in emissions and percent change in inequality, and there is simply no pattern you can have any confidence in, particularly since almost 2/3 of the states (plus DC) reduced emissions over the study interval. Since almost all states saw an increase in inequality while inequality increase, just think about what this says about their theory that emissions changes are better modeled as a function of the political power of the top 10% than the consumption patterns of the masses.

      • typo – this: “Since almost all states saw an increase in inequality while inequality increase . . .” should have read this: “Since almost all states saw an increase in inequality while emissions decreased . . . “

    • Equalizing Incomes

      Everyone earns the same wage regardless of the job requirements

      Everyone earns the same wage regardless of education level

      No one has the ability to create wealth

      Everyone is equally poor

      The country becomes poor

      Equalizing Incomes goes global

      No one knows how to create wealth

      The world becomes poor

      • Except, of course, for the politicians who got the country into this state, and for their friends (the ‘elite’). We’re seeing this in South Africa, as President Zuma and his friends get richer, while the real poor nearly missed getting their base-level grants because of corruption and sheer incompetence.

      • . . . and Davos Man punches an ear tag and a microchip into every last one of the sheep. Welcome to the Matrix, fellow units of production/consumption!

      • Correct. All that soot would change the albedo and the glaciers would melt and the oceans would rise and we would all die. Therefore, I am anti-soot.

    • History shows us that every political scheme that was sold as income equalizing, ends up making incomes even more unequal.
      The reason is simple. Those with the political power use that power to make themselves wealthy. Those without political power get poorer.
      It doesn’t matter how “noble” sounding the ones who push the schemes are, the results are ALWAYS the same.

    • Robots, I say..Bring in the Robots..No bank accounts, no housing problems, few transportation problems,, no need for recreational spaces, no need for bathroom facilities of Any type, heating and air requirements stable, no need for agricultural space, water supplies not a problem…No malls, movie theaters, clothing is optional, no vacation resort destinations, no Porches or Priuses …etc… Just Robots and solar panels..

    • I saw an article this morning that said that Bernie is the most popular senator in the country. His approval rating in his state is something like 71%.

      As the old saying goes, when you rob Peter to pay Paul, you can always count on the support of Paul.

  2. IN my grad school statistics course, a study like this one would receive a failed grade. This resume
    inconveniently fails to provide the correlation coefficient they claim is “statistically significant.”
    I don’t have to schol those non-statisticians that “statistically significant” does NOT mean significant.
    Also, a correlation coefficient of .50 means that one of the variables can explain but 25% of the variance in the other variable. Also must be pointed out that this study gets into the morass of
    a situation in which all manner of things are affecting carbon emissions,many that have nothing whatsoever to do with “income inequality.” A big positive corrrelation would likely be found with a dozen or more other variables. A cynic could likely produce a long list of things that provide a “statistically significant” correlation with carbon emissions, making this paper appear to be exactly what it is – a silly claim that if everyone had the same income (which is WHAT???) carbon emissions would drop. Sounds like a Karl Marx theory, doesn’t it?

    • They have two measures of income inequality:
      1 – the income share of the top 10% and
      2 – the Gini coefficient.

      They chose the one that produced a result. “We noodled around until we got a result.” always sets off alarm bells for me.

      • Statistical method selection after the fact. Along with data mining, two well known statistical techniques to get the desired answer, and so prove your thesis.
        Very common in ClimateScience!, and all the social sciences.

      • Statistical method selection after the fact.
        And completely invalid as a way of doing science. You are ALWAYS supposed to select your statistical methods BEFORE you see the data.

        Because if you look long enough you can almost always find a statistical method that proves whatever you want it to prove. And in doing so you have proven nothing, except that false positive abound in the absence of experimental controls.

    • Maybe they would have received a better grade if they simply wrote “Black lives matter” 100 times over

  3. Excuse me, just who the heck paid for this study and what does it mean? Maybe more funding can clarify this.

  4. Texas, California, Pennsylvania, Florida, Illinois, Ohio, Louisiana, Indiana, New York, and Michigan obviously want to help their local farmers and orchardists to increase their output and crops at no additional cost to the farmers or community without risking any environmental damage from fertilisers and pesticides.

  5. Productive states create more wealth and make more CO2! Andrew, Juliette and Xiaorui, this paper commits a 101 statistics student error.
    Another of this kind of error which found that elevated CO concentration along California freeways correlated with the frequency of accidents – I kid you not.

  6. I can’t say that I am surprised by this news, although to paraphrase Bette Davis, I would like to kiss the Kafka-like environmental thinking, but I just washed my hair.

  7. “What we find here in the context of income inequality and carbon emissions is that it’s about the concentration of income at the top of the distribution,” said Jorgenson. “In our statistical models, where the Gini coefficient is non-significant, across the board the wealth of the top 10 percent is. That tells us that it really is about income concentration at the top end of the distribution.”

    That, my friends, is a statement worthy of Prof. Irwin Corey.

  8. Gary,
    And I would imagine that there would be a negative correlation between elevated CO2 along California freeways and dead horses — if they could find any!

  9. I seem to recall that satellite records of the prolific CO2 production was from the POOREST countries. Could it be that the top 10% of their citizens are producing more CO2 than the remainder, even though they are only in the top 10% because they have an extra cow or two.

    Should a study be made of the incomes of all politicians and their CO2 footprint?

    Using terms such as ‘income equality’ and ‘high income consumers are disproportionate carbon polluters‘ seems to show the aim amd mind-set of this ‘study’.

  10. “Equalizing incomes has all kinds of potential benefits,” Jorgenson said. “This suggests a holistic view of sustainability, equalizing income distribution within the U.S. can have social and environmental benefits.”

    Fits the enviro-religious goals of equality of outcome instead of equality of opportunity. Sustainability is just a code word for income redistribution policy. Typical progressive crap.

      • Indeed Rhoda, when the wall came down freedom rushed in but aparatchiks with no other skills than oppressive governance slipped out and patiently went up the ladders of Ngos, UN, environmental movements, and western university ‘humanities’ departments, particularly in the US (they found such possibilities non existent in Europe whose universities were already full of these types). Institutions and governments outside the US are basically anti American because this successful politico-economic system is so self evidently superior to the Eurocentric alternative. Bringing down the US has been the goal of the Nouveau Mondites for several decades. It was easy to bag everybody else but the US, until the past US administration was in the process of bringing it down from within, was a hard nut to crack. I thought it was a gone until this election. I’m so happy the elite money bags dropped a fortune betting on a different result.

  11. You just need to look at Big Al Gore’s carbon footprint to understand some truth in this study.

    • But the more revealing comparison would be the list of tax credits taken year by year. Those are not hindered by income level in the case of green credits, by design of course.

  12. Equalizing incomes has all kinds of potential benefits,” Jorgenson said. “This suggests a holistic view of sustainability, equalizing income distribution within the U.S. can have social and environmental benefits. And they can have a global benefit too, since the U.S. is such a significant contributor to climate change.”

    Why, oh why, does it never occur to these people some people do work that is of more value than others’ do?
    Every time they raise the minimum wage, the value of what I do is cheapened.

    (I learned that at a relatively young age. I had a minimum wage job flipping burgers. I was good at it. My boss me a nickle raise. A couple of months later, the minimum wage was raised a nickle.
    I did not get another nickle raise.)

    • One your leftist that I debated years ago declared that for any given job there was no such thing as best qualified. There was only the binary condition, qualified or unqualified. Therefore everyone who performed a particular job should receive exactly the same wage.

      Needless to say the young fool was still in college and had never worked a real job in his life.

  13. Carbon is the basis of all life on Planet Earth. It has a very strong correlation with Life!
    It does not correlate with ‘social justice’, ‘income inequality’, or any other such value-wasted assertions.


  14. Sometimes it seems like these alarmist studies have all the intellectual capacity of the Jerry Springer show ‘Rich people use more energy – tune in at 4! we interview a man who has the scientific proof that we need to raise taxes on the middle class to save the planet!”

    • I think “journalists” should be the first to show the way and implement income equality amongst themselves before they elevate and amplify stories admonishing everyone else embrace the concept.

      • The problem is that they believe income equality means that everyone gets the same salary as the network news anchors.

      • Unfortunately the numbers don’t work out that way. The problem might be that most journalists are bad at mathematics, which is probably why they end up writing about other peoples accomplishments.
        They end up being the proverbial “Fox Who Lost His Tail”

  15. Poverty is the best way to lower emissions. This is why so many climate activists have moved to Africa.

  16. Some of the key inputs are time dependent and have the capacity to distort the analysis.
    For a scenario, what if most people now classed as rich consumers made the leap from average to rich a decade ago. In that last decade, they bought those 2 extra autos, installed home air conditioning and did a couple of tourist world trips. In the present decade when the analysis was done, they had settled down. The analyses would be different if one looked at spending patterns in the present decade or the decade before. Further example, analyses of the decade before would have less content of rooftop solar and renewables generally as options for spending allocations.
    In a clumsy way, I am trying to say that the whole topic is enormously complex and one would imagine it to be beyond the scope of a single paper.

    • Rich people can afford the upfront investment needed for really efficient subsidy farming.
      That is, rich people can afford the few thousand dollars needed to install solar panels so that they can start generating highly subsidized electricity.

  17. Obviously CO2 is driven by economic output, regardless of how incomes are distributed. So what these idiots really discovered is another obvious truth: higher economic output will lead to higher income inequality. If you want income equality, be prepared for less economic output. I say no thanks to that. Get over your jealousy and worry about bettering yourself.

  18. The reality is that the climate change we are experiencing is cuaused by the sun and the oceans over which mankind has no control. There is no real evidence that CO2 has any effect on climate and plenty of scientific rational to support the idea that the climate sensivity of CO2 is zero. But if we still want to reduce CO2 emissions we can always pattern our economy after low carbon economies like that of North Korea where everyone is so happy and well offf. Let us have the federal government own everything. We can all live in dormatories, wear uniforms, and do what we are told. There will be no need for money. We can simplify our constitution and make the current President, President for life with the right to chose his successor, appoint all others in the federal government, and make the laws. Everyone will be slaves of the state. At the descretion of the President, he can make reduction of CO2 emissions as our number one prioriety. Under such an economic model we can quickly replace urban areas and unneeded farm land with forests and we can rapidly reduce our population and drive our use of fossil fuels to nothing. In reality. such an effort would make us who remain very unhappy, would reduce our CO2 emisions yet have very little effect upon total so called greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which consists mostly of H2O and would have no effect on climate change.

  19. What a load of garbage. Go look up Gini index by state. The District of Columbia has the highest score by far (0.535), followed by New York (.511), Connecticut (.492), Louisiana (.491), California (.488), Massachusetts (.485). Then if you look at the per capita carbon emissions by state, it is LOWEST for DC, followed by New York, then California, Vermont and Massachusetts. At the other end of the Carbon emission per capita spectrum is Wyoming (Gini Index .427 Second lowest), North Dakota (Gini Index .466, 27th lowest), West Virginia (.455, 19th lowest) and Alaska (Gini score .418, lowest nationally). If anything you could make a case for an inverse correlation of Gini scores and per capita emissions. This makes sense as well because good paying jobs for blue collar works usually involve a energy consumption to improve productivity in mining, farming, manufacturing or transportation.

    • One constant around the world. The more powerful the government, the greater the amount of income inequality.

  20. “Equalizing incomes has all kinds of potential benefits,” Jorgenson said. “This suggests a holistic view of sustainability, equalizing income distribution within the U.S. can have social and environmental benefits.

    I agree, lets see what happens……..
    1) Adding huge numbers of destitute, unemployable immigrants to the bottom end of your society increases income inequality. Therefor halting floodgate immigration should be a gilt-edged priority for the sustainability crowd.
    But, But, But… Racism, Xenophobia, Islamophobia…. and and and Racism!
    OK, I will try again…….
    2) having a vibrant jobs and employment market gives your whole population the ability for upward social mobility and wealth creation and retention. The lowest classes migrate up the fastest, this reduces inequality. The best way to do all this is to have a vibrant manufacturing and industrial base. The service sectors will then take care of themselves.
    But, But, But…….
    Evil corporations Putting Profits Ahead Of People, Smokestack Industries …. and and and Carbon Pollution!

    I guess there is no hope, after all.

    • No, it’s 99% of the people being 100% miserable.
      The activists always exclude themselves from the people who must be made miserable.

      • But activist enjoy being miserable, so in their case:
        Misery = Happiness
        “… it feels so good when you stop.”

  21. It just goes to show that prosperity is directly tied to energy consumption & that any attempt to reduce energy consumption will decrease quality of life for all …. which is why curbing emissions is a non starter

    • Beat me to it! It takes energy to efficiently produce more stuff that sells and creates wealth in so doing. And it has to happen in that order – more jobs doesn’t create wealth, selling stuff does. Therefore it stands to reason that as wealth is created, more folks get rich(er). Energy is used to multiply the wealth creating effect of making something therefore as more energy is used – for productive (wealth creating) purposes – more wealth flows to those who organized the efforts and expect to be rewarded. Along the way many more people participate and also accumulate – and spend – wealth.

  22. I haven’t done an ‘academic study’, I’ve just watched and listened to rich people. They make noise about raising their own taxes, but congress and state legislatures are also made up of rich people. They make laws to raise taxes, but make sure rich people don’t actually pay more. Since poor people can’t, that leaves the middle class to pick up the tab.

    As the rich get richer, the poor aren’t getting poorer. It’s the middle class that’s rapidly losing ground.

    • The top 1% of income earners pay about 20% of all income taxes.
      The top 10% of income earners pay about 70% of all income taxes.
      The bottom 50% of income earners pay about 1% of all income taxes.

  23. Damn. We should have voted in Hillary. The resulting wide spread poverty would have stopped global warming.

  24. I would expect no less from Schor, who is a sociologist and so far to the left she makes Stalin look like a John Bircher. She is a deeply silly woman, who believes she knows something about climate. She is a science illiterate. This is a so what study. What does it demonstrate? And, of course, the point of the exercise is to come up with a left wing solution to a non-existent problem.

    • One thing I have noticed about left wing academics. They are almost to a man, 100% convinced that they are world class experts in every subject.

  25. Just because you find that states with more income inequality have higher emissions (and I agree with the commenters above that this study proves no such thing) does not mean that lowering inequality will decrease emissions. For aught we know, there is no causal relation between the two phenomena. Just remember the first day of Stats 101. Correlation does not mean or prove causation.

  26. Yawn – “carbon emissions” (as if anyone emitted carbon!) is a completely harmless and probably beneficial side effect of living.

  27. Take any two time dependent processes. No matter that there is no relationship between them. They will appear to correlate, simply because they both correlate with time.

    Thus we find that whenever you tune the TV to your favorite sports team, they will immediately be scored on by the opposition. Because it is you that have jinked them. If you stop watching, they will win the game.

    • They city plans to achieve this usage:
      “through a combination of renewable energy credits (RECs) and renewable energy procured through the state of Illinois’ renewable portfolio standard (RPS), and on-site generation in Chicago.”

      They are addressing the situation with accounting practices and on-site generation?
      Will the public schools will replace physical education classes with stints on the treadmills to keep the generators operating. Hmm…might reduce the obesity issue.

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