One Chart Suggests Trump May Be Wrong About Emissions and GDP

Donald Trump last week drew a straight line between membership in the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement and American economic hardship when he withdrew U.S. support for the pact.

“The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP and 6.5 million industrial jobs, while households would have $7,000 less income and, in many cases, much worse than that,” he said in his speech announcing the withdrawal.

Six days later, the California Air Resources Board released data challenging Trump’s contention that growth and pollution must travel in the same direction.

“It shows that that is a false premise that the president laid out,” Jon Costantino, the Sacramento-based founding principal of Tradesman Advisors.

The 2015 Greenhouse Gas Emission Trends Report found that the carbon intensity of the California economy — or the amount of greenhouse gases needed to generate each million dollars of gross state product — fell 33 percent since 2001. During the same period, the state’s gross state product grew by 37 percent. In 2015 alone, climate pollution in California dropped 1.5 million metric tons from the prior year, roughly the equivalent of leaving 300,000 cars in the garage for a year.

Efficiency, cheap solar and state policy have been driving gains in the state’s power sector. Power sector emissions dropped 5 percent in 2015 from 2014.

“Even in California, where we’ve been doing energy-efficiency for years, there’s still low-hanging fruit like solar,” Costantino said. “You don’t need Silicon Valley to put solar panels on farm houses in Iowa.”

There’s other evidence that the world can burn less fossil energy without inciting economic chaos. The global ratio of carbon pollution to dollar of gross domestic product has declined to 0.34 in 2013 from about 0.78 in 1990, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory data compiled by the World Bank.

Still, California’s tech-heavy economy gives the state structural advantages that other U.S. states may not necessarily enjoy.

“California’s economy is less and less energy-intensive,” said Andre Templeman, Provo, Utah-based managing director of Alpha Inception LLC and executive director of the Carbon Market Compliance Association. “Could you equally grow an economy that was more GHG-intensive like Texas or Michigan? I think you could.”

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