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Sunday, November 15, 2009

South Dakota Not to Blame for Greenhouse Emissions?

If the planet does get warmer, seas rise, civilizations fall, etc., take heart, fellow South Dakotans: they can't blame us! Well, not much. A new report from Environment America finds that South Dakota generated less fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions in 2007 than all but two states (Rhode Island and Vermont) and the District of Columbia. Our 13.7 million metric tons of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in 2007 constituted just 0.23% of the United States' total emissions of almost six billion metric tons. Our percentage of emissions is even less than our meager 0.27% of the country's population, so surprise! you might argue South Dakota is even greener than our net emissions ranking might suggest.

South Dakota's per capita CO2 emissions, 17.2 metric tons, are indeed below the national average, 19.9 metric tons. So we've got coal to burn before those hippies lay a pollution guilt trip on us, right?

Maybe not. According to the Energy Information Administration, South Dakota produces 144 trillion BTUs of energy. We consume 292 trillion BTUs. Over half of our energy is produced in other states. Looking at electricity alone, in 2007, we generated 6,137 gigawatthours of electricity, over half of that from those squeaky clean hydroelectric dams. But we consumed another 5,390 GWh generated in other states. Most of that juice comes from our neighbors, North Dakota and Wyoming... which lead the nation in per capita CO2 emissions (WY: 124.2 metric tons; ND: 82.1 metric tons).

South Dakota's existing green power on the Missouri River (achieved, by the way, with money and foresight from the federal government) already makes us leaders in keeping our per capita pollution relatively low. Strong climate change legislation, plus the PUC's recommendations for better interconnect rules and other support for small wind and other sources of distributed generation, can help South Dakota get even further ahead of the curve, reeduce our dependence on fossil fuels from other states, and keep the planet cleaner.

p.s.: If Palauans aren't treading water in ten years, thank the recession. The global economic downturn has us on track to see greenhouse gas emissions down 9%. A good 1930s-style depression would cut those emissions 23%. There's always a bright side....

pp.s.: The above study does not appear to assess the greenhouse impacts of bovine flatulence or Senator Thune's speeches... two strikingly similar gases.


  1. Maybe we could use bovine methane in power plants that burn natural gas. Grass in, watt-hours out. And hamburger too.

  2. There are some methane-capture projects. One problem I can see, though, is that capturing bovine (or porcine) emissions seems to require keeping them confined in a feedlot. Hmm... poo-power vs. free-range....

  3. Trade-offs can be difficult. Lots of land was lost by ranchers and tribes and even entire communities as a result of the Missouri River hydropower dams. A great history was written (and recently updated) by Mike Lawson. You can get the book through the SDSHS Press.
    From Bob Mercer

  4. Sounds like a good book, and a good reminder that there are no easy solutions. Even wind power means busting up the view, flickering shadows, maybe some noise. Saving the planet is not easy!


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