Environmentalists, public officials and scientists are urging states to take the initiative to reduce their emissions of carbon gases from fossil fuel use, not wait for international action on the global warming trend.

"It can be done on a state-by-state basis - the individual counts," says George Woodwell of the Woods Hole Research Center in Massachusetts. "There are steps that should be taken by good government pursuing the public interest."Texas Agriculture Commissioner Jim Hightower says warnings by scientists about the so-called greenhouse effect requires "state leadership to think globally and act locally. Turning the corner on greenhouse gases is too big to leave to the federal government."

Tina Hobson, executive director of Renew America, cited a variety of steps for cutting the use of oil, coal and natural gas, the main sources of the carbon gases that experts say are contributing to global warming.

Hobson unveiled a study by Renew America, an environmental research and advocacy organization, showing that Hightower's state of Texas was the clearcut leader among U.S. states in carbon gas production in 1986.

Its 154.87 million metric tons amounted to about 12 percent of the 1.275 billion metric tons of carbons pumped into the atmosphere that year by the United States, the world's largest producer of carbons and other greenhouse gases.

Utah had 9.88 million metric tons of emissions from fossil fuels, including 3.73 million from oil; 4.72 million from coal and 1.43 million from natural gas. Renew America said Utah produced 412 tons of carbon per $1 million of gross state product.

Among the state-level actions they recommended are encouraging greater use of mass transportation, planting trees to absorb carbon and using tax incentives and building codes to spur more efficient energy consumption.

Renew America said this country is responsible for about 25 percent of the world's carbon emissions, coal and natural gas, meaning Texas is the source of about 3 percent of global carbon loadings to the atmosphere.

Carbons represent about half of the greenhouse gases that many scientists say are accumulating in the atmosphere, trapping the sun's heat and threatening the planet with rising ocean levels and major climate changes.

In what was billed as the first state-by-state breakdown of carbon emissions, Renew America said that largely rural Vermont was the nation's lowest contributor to carbon emissions, with 1.31 million metric tons in 1986.

Renew America said it compiled its figures from fuel-use data collected by the Department of Energy and had its report reviewed by officials from the Environmental Protection Agency and private-sector researchers, including Woodwell.

The overall findings were not startling. They showed a general correlation between a state's population and industrial activity and its production of carbon gases.

Texas, with a large concentration of oil refineries and chemical plants, was No. 1 in carbon emissions from oil and natural gas - the cleanest burning fossil fuel - and No. 3 in emissions from coal.

California was second overall in 1986, producing 85.23 million metric tons of carbons. Three out of every four tons came from use of oil, reflecting the state's huge number of vehicles.

Other heavy producers of carbon emissions were Ohio, 67.21 million metric tons; Pennsylvania, 65.57; Illinois, 55.04; Louisiana, 51.73; New York, 49.57; Indiana, 49.13; Michigan, 47.12; and Florida, 43.55.

Renew America also calculated how many tons of carbon a state released in relation to its economy. West Virginia, a depressed area dominated by coal use and chemical plants, had the worst showing: 1,179 tons for each $1 million in gross state product.

Texas, Indiana and Louisiana were the only states among the top 10 carbon producers and the bottom 10 in the ratio of tonnage to gross state product.

New York had the best economic-ratio showing, producing 137 tons for every $1 million of gross state product. California's tonnage was 160 per $1 million, compared to a national average of 306 tons for each $1 million.

Renew America said Idaho had 2.73 million metric tons of emissions from fossil fuels, including 2.01 million from oil, 220,000 from coal and 500,000 from natural gas. It said 207 tons of carbon were produced per $1 million of gross state product.