Political Geography of Carbon

By Richard Florida

 

  Carbon Map.GIF This map from a new NBER study by UCLA economist Matthew Kahn and Michael Cragg of the Brattle Group (using data from Purdue's Vulcan project) shows the geography of carbon emissions by U.S. states. The study finds carbon emissions are more concentrated in poorer, more conservative locations, posing significant political obstacles for policy to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

Stringent regulation for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions will impose different costs across geographical regions. Low-carbon, environmentalist states, such as California, would bear less of the incidence of such regulation than high-carbon Midwestern states. Such anticipated costs are likely to influence Congressional voting patterns. This paper uses several geographical data sets to document that conservative, poor areas have higher per-capita carbon emissions than liberal, richer areas. Representatives from such areas are shown to have much lower probabilities of voting in favor of anti-carbon legislation. In the 111th Congress, the Energy and Commerce Committee consists of members who represent high carbon districts. These geographical facts suggest that the Obama Administration and the Waxman Committee will face distributional challenges in building a majority voting coalition in favor of internalizing the carbon externality.

The study (which can be downloaded here) includes a series of maps on industrial emissions, residential emissions and more.  Some more great maps from Purdue's Vulcan project are here.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2009/05/political-geography-of-carbon/18159/