What Vermont’s Lower Emissions Have Cost Us

March 5, 2020

By David Flemming

The rest of the United States still has a long way to go if our fellow Americans are to catch up to us Vermonters. In 2016, Vermont had 9.6 emissions per capita, down from 11.1 in 2000.

That tells a very different story than the one we are often told that “Vermonters are emitting more CO2, and need additional environmental regulations to stop this excess.” It makes much more sense to measure our CO2 in per capita terms than it does in absolute terms because individuals moving away from our state due to a high cost of living will emit more emissions than they do by sticking around here.

While we have been emitting more overall, our population has grown form 597,000 in 2000 to 623,000 in 2016. We already have the 7th lowest emissions per capita, but have one of the slowest growing economies in the country.

As the US economy has been humming along, Vermont has been struggling to reconcile its commitment for ‘reducing CO2 emissions’ with a commitment to a higher standard of living for its residents.

Both Vermont and the US are expected to have lower emissions in the coming decades. If both follow their trends of the past 16 years, America will have per capita emissions equaling Vermont’s 2016 per capita emissions by… 2044. And of course by that point, we can expect Vermont’s emissions to drop event further.

It will be easier for a state like Nebraska to reduce their emissions from 25 metric tons per capita (as of 2016) to 15 metric tons per capita, than it will be for Vermont to reduce our emissions from 9.6 metric tons per capita to 0 metric tons. After all, Nebraska saw a net increase in emissions from 24.3 to 25.4 metric tons per capita from 2000 to 2016. In that time frame, Nebraska’s per capita GDP increased $9000 from $42,000 to $53,000.

Meanwhile Vermont’s per capita GDP only increased $6000 from $38,000 in 2000 to $44,000 in 2016. There is tradeoff between emissions and GDP. Vermont has been taking extreme measures to reduce emissions. It goes without saying that we would need to take absolutely brutal measures on income levels to curb emissions further.

So long as our emissions are inconsequential in the global scheme of things, we ought to feel more of an obligation to raise incomes rather than to reduce emissions.

David Flemming is a policy analyst at the Ethan Allen Institute

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

willem post March 9, 2020 at 2:51 pm

A program to install heavily subsidized air source heat pumps in energy-hog houses has been a total flop.


This article shows, an ASHP in an average energy-hog house in VT:

– Displaced only 28% of the space heat from the traditional fuels. See URL of CADMUS survey report
– Reduced CO2 from 25,123 lb/y to 20,129 lb/y, or 20.0%, if 28% of space heat from ASHPs in energy-hog houses. See table 1 and 6
– Would reduce CO2 from 25,123 lb/y to 8,231 lb/y, or 67.2%, if 100% of space heat from ASHPs in highly sealed/highly insulated houses. See table 1 and 6. The CO2 reduction percentages would slowly increase as the NE grid would have less CO2/kWh.
– Provided the owner energy cost savings of about $200/y. See table 7 and URL of VT-DPS website
– Required a turnkey capital cost of about $4,500/ASHP; excludes subsidies.

If the objective is to “get rid of” fossil fuels and reduce CO2, then the use of ASHPs in energy-hog houses in VT, NH, ME, etc., has been an expensive flop.



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