Jeremy Beck's picture


  by  Jeremy Beck

The New York Times reports that CO2 emissions from traffic - the leading source of emissions in the United States - have remained "stubbornly high," and per capita increases are certainly part of the problem. "[E]ven as vehicles have become more efficient," Nadja Popovich and Denise Lu report, "Americans, buoyed by a strong economy and low gas prices, have been driving more miles and buying more S.U.V.s and pickup trucks, which have lower gas mileage. Freight trucking is also on the rise."

Anyone who cares about traffic emissions, however, must pay attention to individual consumption and to the number of individual consumers.

Two short excerpts from The Times illustrate. First:

"Residents in the denser, more transit-friendly New York area contribute far less CO2 from driving on average than their counterparts in Dallas."

Bravo, New York, right? But wait, there's also this:

"The New York area, home to 20 million Americans, accounted for the largest share of driving-related CO2."

There it is. Despite its commitment to density and public transit, the New York metro area - not Dallas - is the biggest contributor to CO2 traffic emissions because it is the most populous metro area. In fact, the five most populated metro areas are also the five biggest traffic-related contributors.

Metro Areas with the most CO2 on-road emissions (and total population rank):

1) New York (1)
2) Los Angeles (2)
3) Dallas-Fort Worth (4)
4) Houston (5)
5) Chicago (3)

The numbers matter at the national level, too. The United States has the 3rd highest per capita emissions and the 3rd highest population in the world. China and India, by contrast, rank 12th and 20th in per capita emissions, respectively. But they rank number 1 and number 2 in population and, as a result, fill out the top three carbon emitting countries along with the United States:

2016 total emissions country rank (and total population rank)

1) China (1)
2) United States (3)
3) India (2)

With our "stubbornly high" emission rates, population growth in the United States has a greater impact than population growth in other nations, including China and India. And Congress is committed to population growth. The Census Bureau and Pew Research Center project the U.S. population to pass 400 million by 2060 unless Congress significantly reduces immigration. That's what the math says, whether people want to hear it or not.

JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Sustainability Initiative for NumbersUSA


Updated: Mon, Nov 4th 2019 @ 3:50pm EST

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