Tag Archives: fossil fuels

Follow The Money

Want to know what America’s real priorities are? Easy; just follow the money.

Some of what we find when we examine federal spending isn’t a surprise. We’ve all watched as the Trump Administration has eviscerated the EPA, for example, so cuts and rollbacks there may infuriate but not surprise us. After all, Trump has dismissed climate change as a “Chinese hoax,” eliminated subsidies for clean energy, and slapped tariffs on solar panels.

Given this administration’s well-known bias against science, evidence and clean energy–not to mention Trump’s fondness for the dying coal industry–I shouldn’t have been surprised by the general thrust of a recent study of America’s federal subsidies for fossil fuels  by the International Monetary Fund.

But I was.

Because the amount of the subsidy was staggering.

The United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuelsin recent years than it has on defense spending, according to a new report from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF found that direct and indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas in the U.S. reached $649 billion in 2015. Pentagon spending that same year was $599 billion.

The study defines “subsidy” very broadly, as many economists do. It accounts for the “differences between actual consumer fuel prices and how much consumers would pay if prices fully reflected supply costs plus the taxes needed to reflect environmental costs” and other damage, including premature deaths from air pollution.

Since most observers consider the U.S. defense budget to be hopelessly bloated, the fact that fossil fuel subsidies exceed that budget is absolutely mind-blowing.

The study concluded that if fossil fuels had been fairly priced in 2015–i.e., priced without those direct and indirect subsidies by the federal government– global carbon emissions would have been reduced by 28 percent, and deaths from fossil fuel-linked air pollution would have been cut in half.

People (like me) concerned about the environment may not have recognized the enormity of the fossil fuel subsidies, but most of us were pretty sure that a lot more federal dollars go to support fossil fuels than are directed to programs incentivizing the development of clean, alternative energy. The IMF study confirmed that suspicion.

And then there’s the extent to which our financial support of fossil fuels exceeds our investment in education. Seeing those numbers was another gut punch. After all, Americans give lots of lip service to education; we’ve had “education Presidents,” and it is the rare politician who doesn’t make education a prominent part of his or her platform.

Nevertheless, according to Forbes Magazine, that same IMF study determined that the U.S. spends ten times more money propping up the fossil fuels that drive climate change than we spend on education.

Globally, fossil fuels receive 85% of all government subsidies. What if we diverted just a portion of the U.S. subsidies and used that money to improve public education?

Virtually every candidate for the Democratic Presidential nomination has expressed concern about climate change, and an intention to combat it. Voters can determine just how committed they are to the environment by asking whether the candidate plans to continue the obscene subsidies that waste our tax dollars, pad the bottom lines of immensely profitable oil and gas interests, and prevent us from effectively addressing an existential threat to the planet.

Just think what we could do if we redirected a substantial portion of the defense budget (as, interestingly, the Department of Defense itself has advocated) and entirely terminated the unnecessary, wasteful and arguably immoral subsidies for fossil fuels.

 

 

Sabotaging Clean Energy

Every day, we learn something new and horrible about the GOP tax bill.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund, the bill is likely to derail the nation’s encouraging move to clean energy.

Both the measure passed by the House and the more recent Senate version deal what the organization calls “devastating blows” to America’s booming clean energy industry—while (I know this will absolutely shock you) retaining the billions of dollars of oil, gas and coal subsidies in the current code.

According to the “alert” sent out,

The Senate version that passed in a frenzied vote early Saturday morning includes a “poison pill” that essentially ends the tax benefits gained by investors in clean energy—killing what has been a primary driver of the industry’s growth for decades. And the House version takes aim at incentives that have catalyzed wind energy investments, meaning wind developers in the middle of projects and counting on those credits will have the rug pulled out from under them. They will have to pay the costs themselves or abandon their projects.

As Environment Florida reported,

The bill also continues massive incentives for fossil fuel production amounting to tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Most insidiously, an obscure provision recently added to the Senate Tax bill would stifle development of solar and wind energy by hurting the financial viability of new projects. With no public debate or time for Americans to respond, the Senate is threatening one of the keys to a livable future for our children and grandchildren.

The House tax bill isn’t any better. It also continues subsidies for fossil fuels, eliminates incentives for electric vehicles and slashes wind energy credits by at least one-third.

Lest we attribute these analyses to over-reaction by environmental organization, an in-depth analysis from the New York Times confirms that the tax bill contains an all-out assault on renewable energy.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by this; the Trump Administration is a collection of climate change deniers. Scott Pruitt and Ryan Zinke have longtime ties to fossil fuel interests, and neither has bothered to hide his contempt for environmentalists. Or, for that matter, science and scientists.

Mother Jones highlights yet another environmental assault, in “The Environmental Disaster Tucked Into the Tax Bill.” That measure would allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is one of the crowned jewels of our public lands,” Ana Unruh Cohen, the director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council tells Mother Jones. “Drilling there would totally mar this beautiful place.”

Opening up the 1.5 million acres for drilling is estimated to generate $1.1 billion over the course of a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office, and would provide a big fiscal windfall for the state of Alaska. Environmentalists, however, are appalled: they point out that the site is a critical habitat for hundreds of animal species, including foxes, polar bears, and caribou, and those habitats need protection.

Drilling would also threaten sacred lands for the Native Alaskan Gwich’in tribe.

Just for good measure, environmental groups charge that other provisions in the bill will wipe out polar bears. I don’t know what Republicans have against polar bears.

For a bill that is supposed to be all about tax reform, we keep finding all sorts of unrelated assaults–on the environment, on women’s reproductive rights, on Church-State separation…this bill is a Christmas gift to the rich and the crazy, two constituencies with a considerable amount of overlap, and the rest of us will be paying for it.

So will our grandchildren.

Self-Interest Properly Defined

Here’s a question: if you lie on an employment application in order to get a job, and you do in fact get the job as a result,  was your dishonest behavior in your self-interest?

Most of us would probably say that the lie did advance your short-term interest, although there is a strong likelihood that long-term, simply as a practical matter, your dishonesty would come back to bite you. Thoughtful respondents might go further, pointing out that even when we “get away” with unethical behaviors, such actions tend to make us less aware of the effects of such behaviors on ourselves and others, and ultimately cause us to be worse people than we might otherwise be.

Being a deeply flawed human is arguably not in our self-interest.

Assuming you agree with this analysis of where self-interest properly lies, what can we say about corporations and other financially-interested parties that intentionally and knowingly create public doubt about climate change?

A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists didn’t ask that question, but it did explore the “organizational and financial roots of polarization.” (That’s academic-ese for the process of intentionally sowing doubt about settled science.)

Ideological polarization around environmental issues—especially climate change—have increased in the last 20 years. This polarization has led to public uncertainty, and in some cases, policy stalemate. Much attention has been given to understanding individual attitudes, but much less to the larger organizational and financial roots of polarization. This gap is due to prior difficulties in gathering and analyzing quantitative data about these complex and furtive processes. This paper uses comprehensive text and network data to show how corporate funding influences the production and actual thematic content of polarization efforts. It highlights the important influence of private funding in public knowledge and politics, and provides researchers a methodological model for future studies that blend large-scale textual discourse with social networks.

The entire article can be accessed at the link. Basically, it confirms that “uncertainty” is the desired outcome of expenditures made on behalf of fossil fuel interests. (I know you are shocked–shocked–to find that gambling is going on here.)

Many people excuse the efforts of gas and oil and coal interests to slow the development of renewable energy and green practices on the grounds that these companies and lobbyists are acting in their “self-interest.” I have heard people say that, although it is unfortunate, it is understandable that these companies  would try to protect their bottom lines.

It may be understandable (it’s also “understandable” that people steal things they want, or shoot people they dislike), but it is profoundly immoral. And as far as “self-interest” is concerned, delaying widespread recognition of an existential threat to the planet cannot possibly be in the “self-interest” of any of the planet’s inhabitants.

Many years ago, De Toqueville admired Americans for displaying “enlightened self-interest,” or “self-interest rightly understood.” As he explained it,

The Americans…are fond of explaining almost all the actions of their lives by the principle of interest rightly understood; they show with complacency how an enlightened regard for themselves constantly prompts them to assist each other, and inclines them willingly to sacrifice a portion of their time and property to the welfare of the state.

Just like that lie on the employment application, climate-change denial in service of a short-term bottom line will eventually destroy the reputations of the liars. But in this case, the likely damage to millions of their fellow humans–including their own progeny– makes loss of reputation a pretty inadequate price to pay.

Well, THIS Certainly Ups the Stakes….

Over the last couple of weeks, there have been reports from interviews with Donald Trump that should give any sentient being pause: in one, it became embarrassingly clear that he had never heard of the GI Bill; in another, challenged on his ability to push through a constitutional amendment to stop women from giving birth to all those “anchor babies,” he responded–wrongly– that birthright citizenship wasn’t in the constitution. (“It just takes a statute.”)

The Donald’s most recent policy pronouncement, however, is far more terrifying. As a number of media outlets are reporting, Trump says that if he is elected he will pull out of the Paris climate agreement and approve the Keystone pipeline.

Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said on Thursday that he would pull the United States out of the U.N. global climate accord and slash environmental regulations on the energy industry if elected…

“We’re going to cancel the Paris climate agreement,” Trump said at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismark, the capital of North Dakota, the second largest U.S. oil-producing state. It was Trump’s first speech detailing the energy policies he would advance from the White House.

Trump said he would invite TransCanada to reapply to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the United States, reversing a decision by the administration of President Barack Obama to block the project over environmental concerns.

“I want it built, but I want a piece of the profits,” Trump said. “That’s how we’re going to make our country rich again.”

Trump is on record (not that being on record means anything in his case, since he changes his positions more often than most people change their underwear–but still) as repeatedly saying that climate change is a hoax. Whether he believes that or not, the policies he is promising to pursue are all based upon the increased use of fossil fuel and the rollback of regulations on energy.

As Ed Brayton wryly observed over at Dispatches from the Culture Wars, it may simply be another rather breathtaking exhibition of Trump’s hypocrisy:

Now remember, he said this literally two days after it was revealed that his company has applied to build a high sea wall at one of his golf courses in Scotland in order to protect the property from the rising seas resulting from global warming. So he knows damn well that global warming is real and has serious consequences. But he’s more than willing to screw over pretty much the entire world in order to get elected. Speaks volumes about the man, don’t you think?

At the end of the day, however, what Trump actually thinks (assuming, in the absence of evidence, that he actually does engage in that activity) is irrelevant. He is promising that on his watch, America will pursue policies having the foreseeable consequence of making the planet largely uninhabitable.

If his misogyny, racism, xenophobia, narcissism and profound ignorance about our government haven’t given Americans reason enough to insure that he never, ever gets near the Oval Office, this should do it…..

Who Pays?

Americans talk a lot about growing inequality, but we often fail to recognize how frequently poorer folks shoulder the costs of change simply because existing systems work that way. “The way things are” often translates into an unthinking acceptance of burdens that should—and could–be reallocated.

A recent column in the LA Times by Mark Schapiro  makes that case with numerous and telling examples.

Congress may continue to resist a carbon tax, but Schapiro points out that the American  middle and working classes are already paying for the costs of climate change. Those costs may not look like the much-disdained carbon tax, but if we are honest, they amount to one. Every time the average American uses fossil fuels, he increases his tax burden.

Schapiro counts the costs of recovering from Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Katrina and a growing number of major droughts—the sorts of dramatic climate “incidents” that are likely to become much more frequent as climate change advances. And he details the economic consequences of changing weather patterns for all of us.

“Start with food: Farmers have always faced good years and bad years, but as bad years get more frequent, taxpayers pick up more and more of the tab. When the Government Accountability Office issued its biannual audit of the government’s highest financial risks last year, for the first time since the list was launched in 1990 climate change was identified as a major financial threat, specifically because of the government’s flood and crop insurance programs.”

Federally subsidized payouts for crop insurance have skyrocketed (from $4.3 billion in 2010 to $10.8 billion in 2011 and to $17.3 billion in 2012). Even more significantly, the USDA has estimated that the 2012 drought led to a 20% jump in meat prices. And the price of cereals has doubled since 2000, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, again due to climate change.

Acidification of the oceans and rising sea levels (from melting ice packs and glaciers) have given us declining yields—and soaring costs—of shellfish.

The list goes on. And that’s just at the grocery.

Scientists writing in the journal Health Affairs report that “over the first nine years of this century, six “climate-related” events (floods, hurricanes, infectious disease outbreaks) led to 760,000 encounters with the healthcare system amounting to as much as $14 billion in health costs.”

Even that substantial sum is dwarfed by the millions spent by the CDC and other research institutions to study the ways in which climate change is enabling an ever-expanding universe of bacteria and diseases affecting humans, plants and animals in new and troubling ways.

There is much more, but the bottom line is that the general public–that’s you and me– bears the costs of climate change through both higher prices and higher taxes; meanwhile,  the fossil fuel companies contributing to the problem continue to enjoy massive subsidies.

The farmer who needs fuel for his combine, the factory worker who fills his tank for his commute to work, the soccer mom doing car pool duty—these are the people who are paying the tax that isn’t labeled a tax.

The major corporate producers of these fossil fuels continue to make unprecedented, outsize profits, thanks in large part to public policies that underwrite and subsidize fossil fuel exploration. Those energy policies exacerbate inequality by placing the costs of climate change and energy exploration almost entirely upon the consumer.

There are obviously much more important reasons for addressing climate change than the unfair allocation of costs—reasons of life and death. But those of us who advocate for responsible environmental policies also need to insure that the costs of necessary remedial measures are equitably distributed.

We need to take care that the burdens do not always fall on the most vulnerable–and in this case, at least, the least culpable—Americans.

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