Cutting American fossil fuel subsidies

Photo credit: Sebastian Schlüter

Chloe Maxmin is a freshwoman at Harvard College. Chloe founded the Climate Action Club and First Here, Then Everywhere

During this time of financial distress, there is one way that money can be invested more justly for a safer healthier future: cutting fossil fuel subsidies.

A few weeks ago, President Obama called on Americans to contact Congress and our representatives to reduce fossil fuel subsidies in the 2013 budget. He has outlined specific proposals for how fossil fuel preferences—which total $4 billion—will be decreased.

Some money that is classified as fossil fuel subsidies is actually put towards the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and other federally funded social projects, which are not touched by the President’s reforms. Instead, the administration proposes eliminating $29.1 billion in tax breaks and $113 billion in R&D for fossil fuel technologies. In total, the US would save $4.75 billion in 2013 and $39 billion over the next ten years.

The human cost of these subsidies is readily apparent: fossil fuels cause pollution that contributes to over 2 million severe respiratory illnesses across the US. Burning fossil fuels is one of the main contributors to global climate change. The US is second only to China in fossil-fuel derived CO2 emissions, and has the highest per capita fossil fuel consumption rates in the entire world. A global phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies “could provide half of the carbon savings needed to stop dangerous levels of climate change.”

The financial argument is compelling as well. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies would not have a large effect on the American economy. Less than 1% of fossil fuel companiesʼ revenue would be affected. The rise in taxes in for the average American citizen would only total $1.42-6.50 per year. Furthermore, the rise in the total cost of petroleum products is only $2.17 per person per year. Lastly, there would be little to no reduction in US GDP or employment levels because little of the industry’s revenue would be affected.

The savings from cutting subsidies could be invested in a sustainable economy. Funding is desperately needed in the renewable energy sector and other areas of our economy that are working to help people, create jobs and alleviate poverty. From 2002-2008, the fossil fuel industry received $72 billion in subsidies. The renewable energy sector received only $29 billion. By investing more money in renewable energy, a green economy can emerge that will allow for job growth as well. Furthermore, public support for these cuts is already evident. 68% of Democrats and 67% of Republicans either somewhat oppose or strongly oppose fossil fuel subsidies. They too want money to be invested in better ways.

The world is in a precarious state—financially, environmentally, and socially. Climate change is already threatening many lives, and fossil fuels are the main source of rampant pollution and unsustainable energy. The industry receives unnecessary funding—funding that could be used to save, not harm, our planet and people.

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  • CTConservative47

    “Climate change is already threatening many lives, and fossil fuels are the main source of rampant pollution” What a mindlessly stupid statement. If the author had said that “global warming is already threatenening many lives” at least it would have had the virtue of being just stupid. But Climate change? The climate has always changed, which is why, as temperatures are declining, the radical environmentalists take cover under the rubric “climate change.”

    It’s astounding what a negligible increase of 0.8 degrees Celsius in the world’s temperature over the past 150 years, coming at the end of the Little Ice Age, will do to fuel the collective, and collectivist, mindset among the nations and citizens of the world. The temperature of the world has variously risen and fallen for eons. Indeed, some of the most highly qualified climate scientists have painstakingly documented the existence of a 1,500-year climate cycle over the entire globe. A monumental 1983 study of mile deep Greenland ice core samples by Denmark’s Willi Dansgaard and Switzerland’s Hans Oeschger (results confirmed a few years later on Antarctica, and by scores of proxy studies) revealed a 250,000-year world climate history which reflected the moderate climate cycles of the sun. What characterizes the present era, however, is a lot of bad science anxious to tap virtually unlimited sources of government funding for climate research, a gullible media, quasi-religious environmental organizations, and the nefarious influence of politics upon the scientific enterprise. The fruits of that “research” include Michael Mann’s now thoroughly debunked “hockey stick” representation of the most recent 1,000 years of climate history, which, nevertheless, became a prominent feature of Al Gore’s global warming sideshow, and which finds naïve acceptance by the editor of this volume (see Figure 1-1). The “presentist” mindset, which interprets the current climate experience as a unique and threatening phenomenon, reveals a sorry lack of historical perspective. Most significantly, the carefully documented climate record reveals that temperatures were 2-4 degrees higher in the medieval warm period (900-1300 A.D.) than they are today, when CO2 levels are higher, and that CO2 levels are actually an 800-year lagging indicator of global warming, not a causal factor. Many of the scientists who contributed to the 1996 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) documented these findings, concluding that no such “human fingerprint“ had been found in the recent global warming, but their statements were shockingly removed from Chapter 8 of the IPCC’s 1996 report by U.N. bureaucrats and U.S. politicians in the Clinton administration anxious to manufacture “consensus” regarding anthropogenic global warming. This is the context in which books like the Global Climate Change and U.S. Law are produced. Regardless of the flawed presentation of the science presented in this volume, however, lawyers stand to make a good living off the complex legal and regulatory schemes detailed in this book, including the implementation of an elaborate system of emission caps and trading programs, as well as the more benign efforts to conserve energy, and develop renewable energy sources. Building upon this flawed scientific analysis, Part I of this volume describes the national and international framework of climate change regulation, the impact of the Kyoto Protocol on U.S. business, clean air regulation, civil remedies, climate change in facility permitting, and international trade and development. Part II describes the emerging regional, state and local actions, together with a 50-state survey of state responses to climate change. Part III examines a variety of corporate actions, including disclosure issues, fiduciary duties, insurance and climate change, and subsidies, tax policy and technological innovations. Part IV examines the legal aspects of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, such as voluntary efforts, emissions trading, and carbon sequestration. It also includes a list of important resources, a glossary of climate related terms, a list of acronyms; endnotes, and index. Twenty-four authors contributed to this volume under the editorship of Michael Garrard, a partner in the New York office of Arnold & Porter LLP, where he heads its environmental practice group. The views of the individual authors stand alone, irrespective of the views of the other contributors. For more authoritative and balanced views of the science of global climate, see Fred Singer and Dennis Avery’s Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1,500 Years (Rowman & Littlefield, 2007); and Henrik Svensmark and Nigel Calder’s The Chilling Stars: A New Theory of Climate Change (Icon Books, 2007), which argues that the interplay of clouds, the sun, and cosmic rays has a far more profound effect of climate than carbon dioxide. Readers are also directed to Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas’ metanalysis of studies related to the existence of the climate cycle, the Medieval Warming Period, and Little Ice Age (see “Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1000 Years: A Reappraisal,” Energy and Environment 14, no. 2/3 (March 2003), 233-296. They discovered 112 studies about the Medieval Warming Period, 92% of which showed evidence of warming, 124 studies from around the world addressing the existence of the Little Ice Age, 98% of these confirming the era’s cooling. Finally, they examined 102 studies containing information on the question of whether the 20th century was the warmest on record, 78% of which found earlier periods lasting at least 50 years that were warmer than any period in the 20th century. Ironically, despite all the hoopla about “global warming” or, increasingly, “climate change,” global mean temperatures are now below their 3,000-year average.

    The “Climategate” scandal has implicated the Hadley Centre’s Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in the UK, a leading source for the U.N.’s climate data, in an orchestrated effort to fudge climate data and impugn the integrity of global warming skeptics. Among those involved were the Center’s director Phil Jones, and Michael Mann, author of the infamous hockey stick graph referenced above. As a result of the fallout, many scientists are now acknowledging a much higher degree of uncertainty in the climate record.

    Global warming is, and has always, been a pretext government control over people’s lives. Its tool is a chemical element beneficial to life on earth. Yet, there is no evidence that carbon dioxide causes warming. Climate is a result of the sun, the earth’s elliptical orbit, its axial tilt, its precissio wobble, and the effect of cosmic rays on cloud cover. CO2 doesn’t make a whit of difference in the overal scheme of things.

    Imagine what the same amount of money now spent on global warming “research,” political posturing, government expenditures, legal fees, etc. could do bring clean drinking water to the impoverished people of the world. Björn Lomborg has it right in his Copenhagen Consensus approach.