A Closer Look: Your State’s Report Card

A Closer Look: Your State’s Report Card

Last summer, we debuted the first addition to our Your State and the Environment dashboard with the State Report Card. In it, we brought together data from several high-quality sources to create comparative graphs of the ranking of each state in six environmental areas: air quality, CO2 emissions, pollution, waste, water quality, and water usage. Using our graphs, at a glance, the areas of greatest concern in your state are clear. Intrigued by this insight, you may find yourself wanting to understand more. Today, we are going to delve into the data to understand the measures used and what they mean for your state’s effect on the environment.  

OPL gathers and analyzes research and data from the most trusted sources and shares it with you in clear, easy to understand Insights

OPl State Report Card
Let’s start with AIR QUALITY.

Our air quality ranking is based on Air Quality Index Data, which comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The index measures the levels of five major pollutants in the air: ground-level ozone, particle pollution (also known as particulate matter), carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide, and each pollutant has a standard set by the EPA to protect public health. 

The index is measured on a scale of 0 to 500 and is broken up into six categories that correspond to the level of health concern – the lower the number, the better the air quality and fewer pollutants in your state’s air, with the satisfactory results being a score of 100 or less. To put things in perspective, the state with the worst air quality, Utah, has a ranking of 51.2, so it still falls well into the moderate category.

What factors can cause the ranking to drift up? A lot of things, it turns out. From the nitrogen oxides in tailpipe emissions to air pollution generated by coal-fired power plants that get carried by the wind to even mountainous topography that can cause pollution build-up.


The data for the CO2 emissions ranking comes from the EPA’s Emissions & Generation Resource Integrated Database (eGRID), which is a comprehensive inventory of environmental attributes of electric power systems. For every power plant in the United States, eGRID records a detailed emissions profile, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and mercury, and are then aggregated at the state and national levels. Our ranking looks at the state level.

Our pollution ranking is based on outdoor air pollution, which is responsible for 3.4 million deaths each year globally, more than eight times the number of homicides annually. Outdoor air pollution consists of two key pollutants: ozone and particulate matter. Ozone is measured using meteorological data, which pulls a seasonal average during summer when ozone concentration is the highest. Particulate matter is collected through a combination of satellite data and local measurements. Both factors were measured as part of the Global Burden of Disease Study in 2017 by the Health Effects Institute.

Next, let’s look at the WASTE RANKING.

The EPA collects data on municipal solid waste (MSW) to gauge the success of waste management programs and monitor the national waste stream. What is municipal solid waste? Simply put, it’s trash! MSW consists of the everyday items that we throw away, including food, product packaging, clothing, furniture, appliances, and more — and comes from homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses. The EPA collects this MSW data in the Advancing Sustainable Materials Fact sheet, which contains information about trends in trash and recycling rates. Our waste ranking is based on the figure of tons of trash per person per year.

Let’s move on to WATER QUALITY.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA) sets standards for drinking water quality and then regulates public water systems. The SWDA dashboard, provided by the EPA, uses a weighted point system to track the number of violations of the law against public water systems, which is the value that we use to compile our water quality measure and ranking. Although this data paints a good picture, it is incomplete, in the sense that not all violations are required to be reported to the EPA.

Finally, we take a look at WATER USAGE.

The United States Geological Survey’s National Water Use Information Program compiles and publishes the nation’s water use data and is collected every 5 years, last recorded in 2015. Water use, in our case, means fresh or saltwater that is used for a specific purpose, that is, water that has been withdrawn by humans from a public or private supply. 87% of water withdrawals are freshwater, with the vast majority of saltwater withdrawals being used for thermoelectric power. We measure this water use in millions of gallons. 

This is the beginning of our exploration of data about our area and the environment. We hope this gave you a better understanding, and please let us know in the comments below if you have any questions!


Climate Change From Top-Down and Bottom-Up

Climate Change From Top-Down and Bottom-Up

If you read Greta Thunberg’s book, No One is Too Small to Make a Difference, you’ll notice a common thread amongst the collection of speeches, which she’s delivered in front of audiences across the world, from Capitol Hill to the United Nations. 

Start treating the climate crisis like an actual crisis.

If your house was on fire, you wouldn’t be thinking about redecorating. You’d be panicking.

You’re stealing my future.

Greta Thunberg,

Teenage Activist, One of the World's Most Powerful Women (ForbesWomen, 12/2019)

Thunberg would rather not be giving speeches and repeating these messages ad nauseam; she’d rather be in school. But from the time she was eight years old, when she first heard about the climate crisis till now, at age 17, it was clear that the people in power across the globe did not care about her future. Now her message is clear.

Start treating the climate crisis as an actual crisis.

In addition to reducing her emissions, and those of her family – becoming vegan and stopping air travel altogether, she’s raised her voice to beg for action from world leaders.

Inspired by the response of students in the wake of the Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, Thunberg refused to go to school and instead went to the Swedish parliament to demand answers and action.

Her speeches beseech lawmakers to unite behind the science: there is an irreversible chain reaction that threatens humanity if we don’t keep global warming below 1.5 degrees celsius. We need to be talking about stopping emissions rather than reducing them, and the commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement aren’t nearly drastic enough.

Thunberg has a strong message for her detractors too, to the people that tell her to stay in school – she doesn’t need to become a climate scientist – the science has already spoken, screaming at us to take action. And there isn’t enough time to wait for her generation to become the ones in charge – by then, that irreversible chain reaction will already have been set in motion. So she’s gone straight to the top, to the people that can bring about drastic change, if only they’ll listen.

To date, she has participated in climate strikes across Europe and continued to deliver speeches to governing bodies around the world, including the World Economic Forum. It’s simple – if you want Greta Thunberg to stop repeating herself and stay in school, start listening and stop stealing her future.


Like Greta Thunberg, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a very personal reason to champion reducing the effects of climate: it’s also her future that we’re stealing. She calls climate change the ‘World War II of millennials and gen Z.’ 

Her message echoes that of Thunberg: the effects of climate change will be irreversible unless carbon emissions are reined in; that the start of the end of the world could be as soon as 12 years from now; and describes climate change as ‘the single biggest national security threat for the United States and the single biggest threat to worldwide industrialized civilization.’

A member of the House of Representatives for New York’s 14th district, and the youngest woman ever to serve in Congress, Ocasio-Cortez is in the unique position of being able to fight that war, and create change to save her future, and that of coming generations as well.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Along with Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts, she introduced the Green New Deal, an environmental plan that lays out the steps for tackling climate change in the United States. 

At a high level, the Green New Deal seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while creating new jobs in the clean energy industry. The plan is based on findings from the Fourth National Climate Assessment, produced by federal scientists for the United States, and falls in line with the findings of the International Panel on Climate Change. It outlines not only the devastating effects that climate change has had and will continue to have on the environment, such as drought and the record wildfires in California but also the economic effects – the net damage to the US Economy causing the loss of hundreds of billions of dollars by the end of the century.

The goal is to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 – in other words, the atmosphere absorbs as much carbon as it releases – and asserts that this goal can only be achieved by solving social and economic inequality in addition to looking for clean energy solutions. In terms of infrastructure, the plan proposes to source 100% of the country’s energy from renewable sources, upgrade buildings to be more energy-efficient, and overhaul our transportation system to focus more on high-speed rail and electric vehicles rather than air travel. At the socio-economic level, it calls on the government to provide job training to communities that are reliant on fossil fuel industries.

And though most Republican lawmakers strongly oppose the plan, the Green New Deal has strong bipartisan support among voters. The Yale Program for Climate Change conducted a survey in which they outlined the principles of the plan. They found that although 82% of respondents hadn’t heard anything about the Green New Deal at all when presented with its details, 81% said they either ‘strongly support’ or ‘somewhat support it.’ Notably, the description of the deal left out the fact that it was championed by Democratic congress members, indicating that most people agree with the plan’s policies in principle.


And although Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has a long road ahead of her in a divided Congress, the Green New Deal presents a real solution to the climate change crisis, and begs the question – if this isn’t the solution, what is?

One Planet Life agrees it is time to start treating the climate crisis as an actual crisis. Achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 is essential and requires big thinking and changes. We are focused on making small changes every day to make a difference from reducing emissions, eliminating single-use plastic, planting trees, and eating vegetarian meals more often. Let us know your thoughts on how the climate crisis is impacting you

What do you think is the solution? Please let a comment below.

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