California shows economic growth while reducing emissions

July 20, 2016

Traditionally, economic growth and green house gas emissions have gone hand in hand – industrialism remained a key indicator of a community's economic proficiency while green energy critics worried a focus on sustainability would stifle development. However, California has managed to break this paradigm, simultaneously boosting its economy while cutting emissions, according to a new report from nonpartisan nonprofit group Next 10. 

The report analyzes the economic and environmental output in the Golden State through 2014. Alongside a 1.82 percent jump in gross domestic product between 2013 and 2014, California also reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 1.59 percent per capita, suggesting the two statistics aren't as linked as once assumed. 

"As the sixth largest economy in the world and an innovator in climate and energy policy, California is forging a decoupling between economic growth and carbon emissions per-capita," Next 10's founder, F. Noel Perry, said in a statement announcing the group's 2016 California Green Innovation Index. 

Adopting alternative energy sources
These initial findings beg the question: How does a state with such a dynamic economy reduce its environmental footprint without compromising productivity? The Next 10 report suggests a major key for California has been its ability to support its industry with alternative energy sources. 

During the five years leading up to the study, solar generation in the Golden State rocketed up a whopping 1,378 percent, according to Next 10. While solar was by far the fastest-growing source of green energy, wind and biomass use grew as well, with wind generation jumping up 155 percent and biomass growing steadily by 10 percent. What's more, consumers are driving a transformation across California's roadways. In just two years, the number of registrations for zero emission vehicles have shot up nearly 250 percent. 

New solar installations across the state help California reduce its emissions year after year.New solar installations across the state help California reduce its emissions year after year.

Improving efficiency
Not only has California managed to pull an unprecedented amount of energy from renewable sources, but it has done more with that energy than ever before, Next 10 found. As a whole, the nation manages to convert every 10,000 BTUs of energy into about $1.64 of GDP. That rate is far higher in California, where the same amount of energy gets turned into nearly $3.00 of GDP. This disparity suggests California is nearly twice as efficient with its energy than the rest of the country, regardless of its source. 

"California is a global leader when it comes to expanding its economy without increasing per capita emissions – this trend represents a shift from old growth models," Christopher Thornberg, founding partner of Beacon Economics, which produced the report alongside Next 10, said in the release. 

While the Next 10 report indicates that California leads the nation in terms of sustainability and efficiency, there is still work to be done to achieve our own energy goals. In 2014, just over 20 percent of the state's energy generation came from renewable sources, according to Next 10. The latest energy goals to come out of the governor's office, however, challenge California to achieve 50 percent renewable by 2030