Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Ultimate Subsidy: Giving the World Away

The Ultimate Subsidy:  Giving the World Away

George M. Woodwell

            There has been a great deal of discussion of just how we subsidize the various segments of the fossil fuel business.  The basic assumption is that the energy is a necessary public resource and the corporations providing it do a public service. Access to the  raw material is facilitated at modest cost to the companies. Taxes are often either not assessed  or minimal. And mines and drilling sites are often not regulated or controlled to protect other resources or even the workers. In some cases direct subsidies are provided nominally to encourage production. Mines are notorious for disasters, all of which are predictable and preventable in well run operations. Similarly, oil and gas drilling are noteworthy for spills and  for air and water contamination as well as for serious accidents. The BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 was the worst of many, but was also the product of careless management. These “accidents” all carry public costs that are not assigned to the industry but are virtually all accepted by the public as part of the cost of having the industry and the convenience of  cheap energy. They are in fact, public subsidies paid by all of us, but some more than others..

            In other cases direct financial subsidies have been provided by legislatures, including the US Congress to encourage local businesses.

            But the largest subsidy of all is the acceptance of the wastes of the industry,  the carbon dioxide and methane and black carbon and noxious hydrocarbons dumped into the atmosphere globally at no cost to the industry and without limit.  The cost is appearing now: it is the cost to the public of the corruption of climate globally. Inasmuch as the climates of the earth are both result and cause of the natural communities that are the biosphere,  this corruption undermines all life on earth.  It threatens human welfare globally, destroys agriculture, increases mortality rates, and renders increasing areas uninhabitable for part or all of  the year.  Worse, the warming triggers feedback systems that speed the warming and make it more severe. If the warming continues it will melt all the ice on earth and  raise sea level by more than 200 feet. This subsidy is the ultimate in subsidies, the whole earthly environment, handed free of charge, to the fossil fuel industry to feed industrial profits. And those industries have not hesitated at all to deny the effects, obscure them, and insist on continuing the corruption as long as they can.

            We have handed the fossil fuel industry the entire future of the earth and all of human welfare. And we have done it willingly and openly, accepting the arguments of the industries that it should be that way.

            It is time now for an abrupt change starting with heavy taxes on fossil fuels as we close down their use rapidly and totally. Globally.