How California Became a Green Superpower

For all of us who think NYC is the center of the universe, I would like to suggest we take on this challenge. We can’t possibly let California beat us in the green race!

5 Charts That Show How One State Became the World’s Green Superpower

A new study ranks California the world’s No. 2 low-carbon economy, thanks to big investments in renewable energy and efficiency.

wind turbines in front of solar panels

Giant wind turbines in front of solar panels in Palm Springs, California. (Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

May 18, 2015


When it comes to building a low-carbon economy, California isn’t dreaming.

A new report that ranks nations according to renewable energy production, consumption, efficiency, and other factors finds that world’s eighth-largest economy—California—was the second-least-carbon-intensive one on the planet in 2012. In other words, the state has become extremely efficient when it comes to the volume of greenhouse gas emitted per $10,000 of gross domestic product.

“California’s strategic efforts to improve the economy while reducing emissions have shown climate action is possible while also achieving economic growth,” state the authors of the report from Next 10, a San Francisco–based nonprofit research organization.

Such regional efforts are becoming key to averting a climate-change catastrophe, given the two-decade failure to achieve a binding global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The least-carbon-intensive country is France, owing largely to that nation’s reliance on carbon-free nuclear energy to power its economy.

With 38 million people and a $2.2 trillion GDP, California would be the world’s 36th-most-populous nation if it were independent, with an economy on par with Italy or Brazil. Under Gov. Jerry Brown and his predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the state has set ambitious goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and promoted renewable energy and electric cars with tax breaks and other incentives. And decades of strict energy-efficiency standards for appliances has kept California’s per capita electricity consumption flat even as its population and economy have boomed.

As a result, California ranked No. 1 in energy productivity—GDP relative to energy consumption. The state was No. 2 in the percentage of electricity obtained from renewable sources such as solar and wind in 2012. (Germany took first place.) Last year, nearly a fifth of the world’s electric cars were sold in California.

While California uses more energy per person than the European Union, China, Brazil, and India, the rate of consumption per capita has been falling since 1990.

“With one of the world’s largest economies, California is growing its GDP while shrinking its carbon footprint,” F. Noel Perry, Next 10’s founder, said in a statement. “It is a prime example of the decoupling of economic growth and energy use that is beginning to happen among the world’s most productive nations.”

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