Race to Be the First Zero Carbon State

Posted by Rezwan Razani on May 04, 2014 at 11:13 AM
What do you think about this? Let us know in the comments below!

We are launching a new entity, “Footprint to Wings” to kick off theRace to be the First Zero Carbon State.

Any state can join, as can any country. Which will be the first state to pull together and cross the Zero Carbon finish line?  Citizens, consumers, as the basic indivisible unit of your state, Sign up to join the race.

The Contenders

Any state can enter the race.  The 50 states of the US, or countries as “nation states”. Will they all choose to enter?  How do they rank going in? The US national average for emissions is 17.28 metric tons of carbon per person.  But each State is unique. Let’s have a look at the US competition:

States by Carbon Footprint
States by Energy Portfolio Mix (Map).
States by Handicap/Advantage*
States by Quality of Life**

*Will vary by state. Built advantages: Small states or more urbanized states will have less energy use per capita as people don’t drive as far.  Low population is a disadvantage in big states, where people drive great distances. Natural advantages: Each state has differential access to offshore wind, hydro, geothermal.  The race is also against your own handicap.

**It’s not enough to reduce carbon - you also have to improve quality of life. Here are standard measures.  My real agenda: get people to contemplate how your lifestyle has been designed. 

Team New Jersey

We’re based in NJ, so that’s our team. We’ll focus on the strengths and strategy of this great State, and hope that it inspires others to do likewise.  Go New Jersey! 

Present stats:
New Jersey residents are ranked 15th by CO2 per capita, emitting 12.54 metric tons of CO2 each.
New York State is in the lead with 8.10.  (The NYC Subway advantage)
Texas residents are almost twice as carbonated as NJ: 25.59 tons per capita.
Wyoming, per capita, is dead last at 112.8 tons per capita. Luckily, it’s sparsely populated.  Their handicap is driving. The only way they can win is to shift to electric cars, so that will be a few decades. 

Back to NJ vs. NY.  Can we close the gap?  Can we take it to ZERO?!  Become a net exporter of clean energy?

What are the pre-requisites to win this race?

The Vision to Win It

What kind of vision will guide our States over the Zero Carbon line?  What visions are out there?  Seriously - try to envision what it will be like when we cross the “finish line” to a zero carbon world.  If that vision is not compelling - no one will be racing there.  So let’s take the time to ponder this. 

Have you read Year Zero?  That’s a great place to start.

Yes, the best place to start with vision is not to look at the technology, but to look at lifestyle.  What kind of life do you want in our zero carbon future? 

More to come on this. Please share your thoughts below!

A Plan for Success

Assuming we have the vision, how will we get there?  It turns out there are many vague ideas, but few specific plans.  This just in - several 100% renewables plans:

the Solutions Project has a plan for all 50 States: 50 Plans | 100% Renewable Energy by 2050. 
Denmark also has a 100% Renewabls by 2050 plan (pdf)

And they’re off!  The race is on!  The goal, Zero Carbon, 2050.
Can their plan be accelerated with a few tweaks (like, say, adding nuclear?)  Will that get us there by 2025 or sooner?

Which plan will appeal the most to consumers and taxpayers?  Which will inspire the quickest action?  What’s your plan? 

The great thing about a race is that each state can use a different plan, and we get to see which plans are the most effective. 

Comprehending the Change Objectives

To be successful, everyone responsible for winning the zero carbon race must share the same understanding of the objectives. 

This is why we’ve posited this as a race to “Zero Carbon” rather than “100% Renewable Energy”.  The “zero carbon” goal gives states the space to develop their own portfolios, choosing among energy alternatives, energy efficiency, and lifestyle change.  More about the carbon distinction via James Hansen.

There is so much noise in the realm of energy that it might not be obvious at first which actions to take.  Whichever state can clear through the noise to the clearest energy signal first will definitely have an advantage in this race.  You’ll need to know exactly what types of changes we want to implement.  A process is required to clarify the options.  May we suggest the (working title) Cinderella Energy Project


This is the toughest part of the challenge and is a bit different from vision. You may have a great vision - but also have some conflict of interest which makes it possible to ignore that vision.  We can’t win the race if our players do not want to see changes implemented.  The conflict of interest in the energy arena is high.  For some states this will manifest as a “Stranded Asset” problem.  Fossil folks want to extract all the value from their assets, renewables folks want to secure long term subsidies and so forth.

Some are looking at this as a new type of abolition issue.  Others, like “Push Your Parents” are taking a divestment route.

Some are terrified by the idea of eliminating fossil fuels, not realizing that nuclear energy, renewables, and lifestyle change can really lead to a wonderful, much better quality of life world for EVERYONE, as it must, if it is to be winnable. 

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