Fossil Fuel Subsidies Must End – Investor Group tells G20

by John Brian Shannon

In advance of the G20 Hamburg Summit in July 2017 investor groups that control $2.8 trillion in assets report that fossil fuel subsidies are counterproductive to G20 economies.

This latest call to remove fossil fuel subsidies came two years after the G20 Brisbane Summit where leaders announced their intention to, “reaffirm our commitment to rationalise and phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption.”G20 Brisbane Leaders’ Communiqué (November 2014, Item #18)

The 16-member mega-investor group says G20 nations should set a clear timeline “for the full and equitable phase-out by all G20 members of all fossil fuel subsidies by 2020,” and mobilize “to accelerate green investment and reduce climate risk” in a report submitted to G20 foreign ministers preparing for the upcoming G20 Summit in Hamburg, Germany.

G20 fossil fuel subsidies total $452 billion a year according to the Overseas Development Institute and Oil Change International.

A Must Read: Empty promises:
G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production

Fossil Fuel Subsidies chart from Empty Promises - G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production. Image courtesy of ODI and Oil Change International
Annual G20 Fossil Fuel Subsidies (2015)

Meanwhile, annual subsidies for renewable energy in the G20 nations amounts to only 1/4 of the annual subsidy awarded to fossil fuels, which have received mega-billions of subsidy dollars every single year since 1918.

G20 Fossil Fuel Subsidies total 452 billion globally 2015, while Renewable Energy Subsidies total 121 billion globally 2015
Annual G20 Fossil Fuel Subsidies = $452 billion. Renewable Energy Subsidies = $121 billion (2015)

For the next few paragraphs, let’s look at the United States exclusively…

Fossil Fuel Subsidies - Energy subsidies from 1918-2009. Image courtesy of Nancy Pfund
1918-2009 Fossil Fuel Subsidies vs. Renewable Energy Subsidies in the U.S. The Historical Role of Federal Subsidies in Shaping America’s Energy Future: What Would Jefferson Do?

The average annual subsidy for Oil and Gas alone in the U.S. from 1918-2009 totals $4.86 billion.

Adding all those (oil and gas only) subsidy years together gets you the astonishing figure of $442,260,000,000. in total from 1918-2009 — that’s half a trillion dollars right there, folks.

Which doesn’t include wars to protect foreign oil exporters to the United States.

Nor does it include so-called ‘externalities’ which are the negative costs associated with the burning of oil and gas — such as the 200,000 annual premature deaths in the U.S. caused by airborne pollution, along with the other healthcare costs associated with air pollution, the environmental costs to farmers and to the aquatic life in our rivers and marine zones, and higher infrastructure (maintenance) costs.

Fossil Fuel Subsidies chart from DBL Investors What Would Jefferson Do. Total Capital Gains tax allowance coal subsidy 1.3 trillion 2000-2009
Fossil Fuel Subsidies chart from DBL Investors What Would Jefferson Do? which shows the capital gains allowance (a type of subsidy) enjoyed by the U.S. coal industry that totals $1.3 billion over the 2000-2009 timeframe.

This chart shows only the U.S. capital gains allowance! There are other coal subsidies, direct and indirect, at play in America — in addition to the externality costs of coal.

On the Externality Cost of Coal
Harvard Medicine

Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment. These costs are external to the coal industry and are thus often considered “externalities.”

We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public… over half a trillion dollars annually.

Many of these so-called externalities are, moreover, cumulative.

Accounting for the damages conservatively doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of non-fossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive. — Full Cost Accounting for the Life Cycle of Coal (Harvard Medicine)

Fossil Fuels = High Subsidy Costs, High Externality Costs and Lower Employment: When Compared to Renewable Energy

In addition to the direct and indirect subsidy costs of fossil fuels, there are the externality costs associated with carbon fuels, but almost more important, is the ‘lost opportunity cost’ of the carbon economy.

Over many decades in the U.S., conventional energy producers have tapered their labour costs to only a few persons per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) while renewable energy hires more workers per BOE, which will result in a significant net gain for the U.S. economy.

Infographic: More Workers In Solar Than Fossil Fuel Power Generation | Statista You will find more statistics at Statista

Even with the paltry subsidy regimes presently in place for U.S. renewable energy in the year 2017 — once fossil fuel subsidy costs, the externality costs of fossil fuels, and the ‘missed opportunity’ costs (fewer jobs per BOE) are factored-in to the equation, renewable energy really begins to shine.

And best of all — by 2020 and without any subsidies (yes, really!) renewable energy will regularly beat highly subsidized conventional energy generators at their own game — by lowering electricity costs, by lowering healthcare and infrastructure costs, and by creating thousands of new, good-paying jobs.

Who was saying that renewable energy was a pipe-dream?

Mr Trump, Tear Down Those Energy Subsidies!

Originally posted at ThisIsEisenhower.com by John Brian Shannon

A hundred years ago in America, the federal government decided to help a new industry take its first baby-steps by legislating oil and gas subsidies which were paid for by increased citizen taxation.

It’s commonly done by governments everywhere and it’s not the worst thing for a nation to do.

Here’s how that works: (1) A new industry appears (2) the government sees economic potential (3) citizens are told they must pay more tax to support the new industry (4) the subsidies continue long after they’re no longer required (5) the subsidies tend to increase over time and expand into other areas of the business (6) until the subsidies reach obscene amounts and the taxpayers revolt.

In short: Subsidies are a ‘good thing’ — until they aren’t

United States - Energy subsidies from 1918-2009. Image courtesy of Nancy Pfund
United States – Energy subsidies from 1918-2009. Image courtesy of Nancy Pfund (PDF)

Energy subsidies accumulate over time

Arithmetic tells us that U.S. oil & gas subsidies total $442 billion from 1918-2009.

It’s worse if you add the additional $80 billion/yr in U.S. oil & gas subsidies paid from 2010-2017, which total $560 billion.

Here’s what U.S. oil & gas subsidies look like when totaled over the entire 1918-2017 timeframe: $1,002,260,000,000.

U.S. oil and gas subsidies since 1918 total one trillion dollars

And U.S. taxpayers paid every penny. That’s a trillion dollars of income tax and fuel tax paid by U.S. citizens to subsidize American oil & gas companies since 1918.

Subsidies are a fine thing for new industries taking their first baby-steps. Wherever the federal government sees economic potential for a new industry, subsidies are the way to grow the opportunity and help stabilize the new industry UNTIL it can stand on its own two feet.

But Mature Industries Don’t Need Subsidies

The problem with oil & gas subsidies is that by 1950 they were 100% redundant. No longer needed. At all.

When mature industries continue to receive taxpayer-funded subsidies long after the original need for them disappears, that revenue goes to support pro-industry advertising, pro-industry organizations and pro-industry politicians.

In that way, some $80 billion/yr in oil & gas subsidies became available for pro-industry causes as it was no longer required to support a new industry taking its first steps.

Note: Not all oil and gas subsidies are bad! Additional subsidies paid for research on ‘cleaner-burning’ fuels via high-tech additives, a transformation that began slowly in the 1970’s and continues — to remove lead from gasoline, and for catalytic converter research in the 1980’s, are two such examples. Billions of dollars were well spent and were very cost-effective. But once the research has been done and the clean-burning fuel goals have been achieved, no reason exists to continue to pay such subsidies.


Except for the dollar amounts, much that applies to U.S. oil and gas subsidies also applies to U.S. nuclear power subsidies.

So let’s skip directly to the nuclear power numbers, shall we?

Simple arithmetic tells us that U.S. nuclear power subsidies amounted to $182 billion from 1947-2009.

It’s worse if you add the additional $102 billion (conservative estimate) in U.S. nuclear power subsidies that were paid by taxpayers from 2009-2017.

Here’s what all (federal) U.S. nuclear power subsidies look like when totaled over the entire 1947-2017 timeframe: $284 billion.

U.S. nuclear power subsidies since 1947 total $284 billion

But if one were to include all nuclear power subsidy costs including; safe storage, disposal, or reprocessing of spent fuel, transportation of spent fuel to other countries for safe storage or reprocessing, the decommissioning of nuclear power sites such as Hanford, the cleanup and cost of replacement electricity due to U.S. nuclear power plant malfunctions, and future reactor design spending, nuclear power subsidies could total $500 billion. Perhaps as much as $1 trillion.

NOTE: That’s not including billions of dollars worth of grants awarded by the federal government for new nuclear power reactor designs to replace America’s aging reactors.
Nor does it include the tens of billions paid to store and defend so-called ‘spent fuel’ which is highly radioactive and useful to terrorists.
Nor does it include reprocessing costs for spent fuel.
Nor does it included shipping costs to ship spent fuel to other countries for storage or reprocessing.
Nor would it include any costs associated with nuclear power plant malfunctions.
Nor would it include any costs associated with nuclear powered US Navy ships.
Due to the sensitive nature of nuclear materials some information is difficult to obtain, therefore, the $102 billion nuclear power subsidies figure used for the 2009-2017 timeframe is an estimate.


Biofuels are a new-ish industry. It’s about where the U.S. oil & gas industry were, in their first 20-years. It’s an industry where subsidies can make a difference to get the thing up-and-running and add stability to the new industry.

Biofuel energy subsidy in the early years was subsidized at $1.00 per gallon, which then declined to $.66 per gallon, but since 2011 has fallen to $.45 per gallon.

Total U.S. biofuel subsidies amount to $31 billion from 1980-2009 and an additional $65 billion from 2010-2017.

For a grand total of $96 billion from 1980 to 2017.

U.S. biofuel subsidies have totaled almost $100 billion since 1980

Note: The original U.S. biofuel subsidies enacted by President Carter during the 1970’s fuel crisis were later expanded to allow U.S. biofuel producers to compete with the much larger and more heavily subsidized Brazilian biofuel producers.


Coal subsidies follow the pattern described in the introduction to this post (subsidy steps 1 to 6) and subsidy costs are in the same neighborhood as oil & gas.

But U.S. coal subsidies in all its forms — including so-called ‘Externalities’ might total half a trillion dollars annually

Here is what a landmark Harvard Medicine study said about the externality costs of U.S. coal:

“Each stage in the life cycle of coal—extraction, transport, processing, and combustion—generates a waste stream and carries multiple hazards for health and the environment.

These costs are external to the coal industry and are thus often considered “externalities.”

We estimate that the life cycle effects of coal and the waste stream generated are costing the U.S. public a third to one-half of a trillion dollars annually.

Many of these so-called externalities are… cumulative.

Accounting for the damages… doubles to triples the price of electricity from coal per kWh generated, making wind, solar, and other forms of nonfossil fuel power generation, along with investments in efficiency and electricity conservation methods, economically competitive…” — Harvard Medicine Full cost accounting for the life cycle of coal (PDF)

This study illustrates the most vexing problem with U.S. energy extraction, refining, processing, storage, end use, and decommissioning of energy sites — energy ‘externalities’. And such externalities aren’t limited to the coal industry.

Energy production externalities (also called ‘Indirect Subsidies’) may cost America $1 trillion per year due to higher healthcare and infrastructure maintenance costs.

Damage to infrastructure arrives in the acid rain falling downwind from fossil fuel power stations, causing damage to bridges, buildings, and roads constructed with concrete (so-called concrete spalling) and causes paint damage on cars and trucks, and is responsible for crop losses downwind or downstream from fossil fuel extraction sites or power stations, and harms aquatic life found in rivers and coastal areas near river outlets.


Terms to remember: Energy ‘kind’ and ‘type’

There are only two ‘kinds’ of energy: Non-renewable and Renewable energy.

There are many ‘types’ of energy: Natural gas-fired, oil-fired, coal-fired, nuclear energy, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal, wind turbine, hydro-electric, ocean thermal, ocean wave, ocean tidal, biomass, wood-burning, and pellet-burning.

United States – The graphic illustrates various kinds of energy. Planetary energy graphic image courtesy of Perez and Perez 2009.
United States – The graphic illustrates various kinds of energy. Planetary energy graphic image courtesy of Perez and Perez 2009.

The trend of large subsidies in a sector like the energy sector, is that subsidies reward less efficient energy producers and punish more efficient producers in relative terms.

“Just pump it Fred, we’re getting our subsidy money per barrel of oil, who cares if it’s #4 sour crude oil? We get paid to pump oil, not look for better quality oil.”

Although there’s a separate ‘oil exploration’ subsidy too.

And let’s not forget the more ‘sour’ the crude oil, the more processing it requires at the refinery, and because #4 sour is very tough on oil refinery maintenance budgets, it further increases costs at the gas pump.

The more oil you pump of whatever quality, the more subsidy money you get — and that isn’t the way to maximize the efficiency of money in the energy market.

The oil industry delivers an easy example, but every energy subsidy scheme changes the behavior of the principals involved towards lower quality energy, whether it’s subsidized non-renewable energy or subsidized renewable energy.


In the primary energy segment (electricity and district heating) the type of energy varies by region.

Hydro-electric, coal-fired, and nuclear power are astonishingly costly to build and couldn’t have been built without massive subsidies. And even with huge subsidies for R&D, construction, millions of acres of land grants, generous tax incentives and more, some of those energy types still require small per kW/h subsidies to compete in the marketplace. In their favor, all of these have been extremely reliable primary energy producers for decades, but are mature industries that no longer require subsidies as financing such projects in the 21st century is considered routine. But it wasn’t always so.

In secondary energy (transportation) oil and gas infrastructure is also costly to build and the necessary infrastructure couldn’t have been built without massive subsidies. Yet, with sufficient refinery capacity already available there is little need for new refinery capacity, and today’s fuel prices support easy financing for future capacity additions.

Especially for vertically integrated oil companies that own their oil concessions (oil fields) their own distribution system (pipelines, or rarely, rail) and their own refineries, these can thrive during times of low crude oil prices.

Removing oil & gas subsidies would cause oil companies to become vertically integrated with no loss in profits. But why bother, when there’s no incentive due to a high subsidy scheme?

That won’t be the only change. Every subsequent change to the business would necessarily be designed to improve the overall efficiency of the company, sans-subsidies. That’s been missing since 1918.

By leveling the playing field for all kinds and types of energy, the most efficient energy kind and type will become king, and energy investors will earn more profit. (Because profits are earned on the ‘spread’ — the difference between what energy costs to produce and what it can be sold for. Subsidies make markets significantly less efficient and muddy the waters)

In summary: Removing energy subsidies will cause every energy producer to concentrate their efforts on the most efficient kind and type of energy in their region of the country, instead of choosing their energy kind and type by how many subsidy dollars they can capture via their energy choice.


President-elect Donald Trump, please tear down these subsidies!

And let the marketplace determine the most efficient energy.

Federal energy subsidies should return to their proper place. That is; When the federal government sees a new industry with economic potential; To invest, subsidize, and promote that new industry using taxpayer dollars for only as long as it remains a new industry. And not one day longer.

Markets are perfectly efficient when left to their own devices. Massive, taxpayer-funded subsidies for mature industries only serve to warp the markets and punish the most cost-efficient U.S. energy producers.

People either believe in free markets or they don’t

We can’t say we believe in free markets AND THEN massively intervene in the market with humongous, taxpayer-funded energy subsidies for some kinds and types of energy, but not other kinds and types energy.

With the greatest respect Mr. President-elect, I urge you to allow all U.S. energy producers to compete in a free market by phasing-out energy subsidies for every kind and type of energy over the next five years.

Renewable Energy Adoption as a Job Creator

Originally published at JBSnews by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Adding new jobs to the economy is always a good thing

In good times or bad, adding more jobs to the economy always equates to higher GDP, lower debt-to-GDP levels, lowered unemployment insurance expenditures, and higher revenues for governments from income tax and sales tax.

There are no examples where adding net jobs to an economy has resulted in a net loss to the economy

It’s positive for individuals too. Higher employment levels generally lead to higher incomes, small and large businesses notice increased revenue, and there is always the chance that companies may begin to expand their facilities and hire more staff to handle increased sales.

Which is why the case to add more renewable energy is so compelling

Over decades of time, mature industries have found ways to increase output with fewer employees.

In the Top 10 on the mature industry list, must certainly be hydro-electric power plants, followed by nuclear power plants, and gas-fired power plants. There we have astronomical installation costs and employment numbers — but once construction of the power plant is completed, only very low staffing levels remain to operate the power plant.

Which is very unlike the case with renewable energy. Why? Because once a multi-billion dollar hydro-electric dam is built, it’s built. You don’t need to build thousands of them per day.

It’s the same with multi-billion dollar nuclear power plants — all you need after the construction phase ends are a small number of highly trained people to monitor the various systems. And some security people. That’s it.

With solar panels, a factory must produce 1000 per day (or more, in the case of larger factories) every weekday. Suitable markets must be found, factories must be built/leased, production floors must be built, materials sourced, and the panels themselves must be designed and engineered, assembled, packed, shipped and accounted for. Accountants do what they must do, marketing people manage a steady train of media events, trade shows and advertising programs, and on and on it goes — and all of it is a part of the solar industry. That activity creates work for thousands of people, every workday of the year. (And that short description doesn’t begin to cover it)

Then there are the solar panel installers, the sales teams/estimators, and the companies that build the inverter systems, which is a whole other value chain.

The wind power industry can also make high employment/lower power plant cost claims — although wind turbines average about $1 million dollars each — as opposed to solar panels which mostly range from $10 each to $400 each, depending on their size and composition.

Renewable energy is hugely labour-intensive and many thousands of permanent jobs are created — quite the opposite of conventional power generation

IRENA Renewable Energy jobs infographic - Global
Global job creation by the Renewable Energy industry (in thousands) Image courtesy of IRENA.

It is worth noting that 2014 renewable energy employment numbers (once they become available) will show a significant improvement over 2013 numbers.

The entire industry is surging forward unequally, but renewable energy growth in some nations is trending upwards like the Millennium Falcon trends upwards.

Below is a breakdown graphic showing the labour intensity of the various types of renewable energy.

Globally, 6.5 million jobs were created in 2013 from renewable energy.
Globally, 6.5 million jobs were created in 2013 from renewable energy. Image courtesy of IRENA.

We can also look at a breakdown graphic of jobs per MegaWatt (MW) of electricity produced where we see that coal, nuclear, and oil & gas require very few humans per MW of generation.

Potential jobs by MegaWatt (MW) by energy type. Image courtesy of IRENA.
Potential jobs by MegaWatt (MW) by energy type. Image courtesy of IRENA.

There’s no doubt that global energy demand is growing, not only in the developed world, but in the developing world as well.

Each kind of energy (renewable and non-renewable energy) has it’s own pros and cons

One of them is that non-renewable energy requires far fewer person-years of employment over the lifetime of the power plant.

Renewable energy on the other hand, is a rapidly-growing manufacturing, installation, and marketing industry that requires evermore blue collar and white collar employees.

And now that solar power, wind power, and biomass power have reached — or are within months of matching (per kWh) price parity with non-renewable power plants — the question becomes;

Do we want to employ 1.3 persons full-time per MW, or do we want to employ up to 24 people full-time per MW?

For comparison purposes, the typical coal, gas, or nuclear power plant can supply 1000 MW (or 1 GigaWatt) of electrical generation capacity, while the average wind turbine can supply 1 MW each.

The average 1 MW wind turbine costs about $1 million apiece, so to get 1 GW of electrical generation capacity, you need to install 1000 of them (1000 x $1 million each = $1 billion total) and the installation and connection to the grid of that many turbines might take up to 24 months.

Each 1 GW installation of coal, gas, or nuclear power, costs well over $1 billion and can take up to 15 years to construction completion.

For example, the 2.4 GW nuclear power plant under construction in Vogtle, Georgia was originally planned to cost $14 billion, but due to construction and regulatory delays it may cost significantly more.

How much more, is difficult to say both in dollar cost and time frame.

At this point, the total cost may exceed $15.4 billion and it may take an extra year to complete — for a total of 2.4 GW of installed capacity over 11 years of construction and delays, at a total cost of $6.41 billion per GigaWatt. It won’t get any better than that, but it may get much worse.

The 10-year construction plan is already behind schedule by 14-months, and now faces an additional (up to) 18-month delay.

See: Builder Projects 18-Month Delay for Nuclear Plant in Georgia

Southern Co. said the firms building its new nuclear power plant in Georgia estimate the project will be delayed 18 months, potentially costing the power company $720 million in new charges, company officials said Thursday. — ABC News

One point about Plant Vogtle (the official name of the plant) is that the two 1200 MW (1.2 GW) reactors are of the latest GE/Toshiba AP-1000 design, noted for their passive safety systems and many safety redundancies built into the power plant. If you’re going to build a nuclear power plant it might as well be the safest one!

As new capacity is added to global electrical grids, more of it is renewable energy

More utility companies are adding new renewable energy capacity as opposed to adding new non-renewable energy capacity due to faster installation time frames, fewer regulatory delays, the lack of fuel supply concerns going forward, and total installation cost per GigaWatt (GW).

It’s easy to visualize this in the chart below.

In 2013, of the 207 GW added to the world’s electrical grids — renewable energy accounted for 120 GW of new installations, while 87 GW accounted for non-renewable energy.

Once the 2014 numbers are released to the public, the renewable energy statistic will have improved over 2013’s numbers. And 2016 should easily surpass the 70/30 metric.

Global generation capacity additions to 2013 - renewables vs. non-renewables. Image courtesy of IRENA.
Global generation capacity additions – renewables vs. non-renewables. Image courtesy of IRENA.

As renewable energy displaces non-renewable energy additions to the grid — remember that renewable energy gets only 1/4 of the subsidies that fossil fuel energy gets!

Imagine if renewable energy got the same subsidies per kWh, or per GigaWatt of capacity, as non-renewable energy

In practical terms, it would mean that 100% of all new generation would soon be renewable energy, everywhere that subsidy-parity was the law.

Also, the renewable energy manufacturing sector would need to quickly ramp-up to meet demand — meaning many hundreds of thousands of permanent jobs would be created immediately after the levelized subsidy was announced.

See: Energy Subsidies: The Case for a Level Playing Field

Between 2017-2019 — and even with the higher subsidies enjoyed by coal, nuclear, and oil & gas — it will cost less to install new renewable energy power plants than to install new non-renewable energy power plants.

Germany is one of the countries leading the transition to renewable energy

Due to German public pressure in the aftermath of the Fukushima-Daiichi incident in March 2011, Germany shut down nearly half of their nuclear power plants and were forced to accelerate their transition timeline to renewable energy.

This unexpected development created additional costs for Germany, but regardless, their Energiewende program is still a stunning renewable energy success story.

Although progress has slowed from the frenetic pace of 2011-2013, Germany is very much a world leader in the transition to renewable energy.

Renewable energy was the number one source of power generation for the first time ever.

Renewables gained slightly in 2014 and now comprise 27.3 percent of domestic demand.

They have now permanently displaced lignite (brown coal) as the top source of power in the electricity mix. — The Energiewende in the Power Sector : State of Affairs 2014 (downloadable PDF)

Here is a nice chart courtesy of our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.

How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.
How goes the Energiewende, Germany? Es geht gut! Image courtesy of the Fraunhofer Institute.

There is no doubt that the world will transition to renewable energy, and even major oil companies like Shell and BP are in agreement that by the year 2100, almost 95% of all energy demand will be met by renewable energy.

In one scenario, Shell says that by 2060 the largest energy provider will be solar power.

How quickly that energy transition will occur — is what the present conversation is all about

Increasingly, the conversation centres around matching renewable energy subsidies with the (4x higher) subsidies enjoyed by coal, nuclear, and oil & gas power generation.

So get ready to breathe fresh air, because change is coming!

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Thank you to our friends at IRENA and at Fraunhofer Institute for their valuable graphics.

Energy subsidies | Levelling the Subsidy Playing Field

Originally published at JBS News by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

By now, we’re all aware of the threat to the well-being of life on this planet posed by our massive and continued use of fossil fuels and the various ways we might attempt to reduce the rate of CO2 increase in our atmosphere.

Divestment in the fossil fuel industry is one popular method under discussion to lower our massive carbon additions to our atmosphere

The case for divestment generally flows along these lines;
By making investment in fossil fuels seem unethical, investors will gradually move away from fossil fuels into other investments, leaving behind a smaller but hardcore cohort of fossil fuel investors.

Resulting (in theory) in a gradual decline in the total global investment in fossil fuels, thereby lowering consumption and CO2 additions to the atmosphere. So the thinking goes.

It worked well in the case of tobacco, a few decades back. Over time, fewer people wanted their names or fund associated with the tobacco industry — so much so, that the tobacco industry is now a mere shadow of its former self.

Interestingly, Solaris (a hybridized tobacco plant) is being grown and processed into biofuel to power South African Airways (SAA) jets. They expect all flights to be fully powered by tobacco biofuel within a few years, cutting their CO2 emissions in half. Read more about that here.

Another way to curtail carbon emissions is to remove the massive fossil fuel subsidies

In 2014, the total global fossil fuel subsidy amounted to $548 billion dollars according to the IISD (International Institute for Sustainable Development) although it was projected to hit $600 billion before the oil price crash began in September. The global fossil fuel subsidy amount totalled $550 billion dollars in 2013. For 2012, it totalled $525 billion dollars. (These aren’t secret numbers, they’re easily viewed at the IEA and major news sites such as Reuters and Bloomberg)

Yes, removing those subsidies would do much to lower our carbon emissions as many oil and gas wells, pipelines, refineries and port facilities would suddenly become hugely uneconomic.

We don’t recognize them for the white elephants they are, because they are obscured by mountains of cash.

And there are powerful lobby groups dedicated to keeping those massive subsidies in place.

Ergo, those subsidies likely aren’t going away, anytime soon.

Reducing our CO2 footprint via a carbon tax scheme

But for all of the talk… not much has happened.

The fossil fuel industry will spin this for decades, trying to get the world to come to contretemps on the *exact dollar amount* of fossil fuel damage to the environment.

Long before any agreement is reached we will be as lobsters in a pot due to global warming.

And know that there are powerful lobby groups dedicated to keeping a carbon tax from ever seeing the light of day.

The Third Option: Levelling the Subsidy Playing Field

  • Continue fossil fuel subsidies at the same level and not institute a carbon tax.
  • Quickly ramp-up renewable energy subsidies to match existing fossil fuel subsidies.

Both divestment in fossil fuels and reducing fossil fuel subsidies attempt to lower our total CO2 emissions by (1) reducing fossil fuel industry revenues while (2) a carbon tax attempts to lower our total CO2 use/emissions by increasing spending for the fossil fuel industry

I prefer (3) a revenue-neutral and spending-neutral solution (from the oil company’s perspective) to lower our CO2 use/emissions.

So far, there are no (known) powerful fossil fuel lobby groups dedicated to preventing renewable energy from receiving the same annual subsidy levels as the fossil fuel industry.

Imagine how hypocritical the fossil fuel industry would look if it attempted to block renewable energy subsidies set to the same level as fossil fuel subsidies.

Renewable energy received 1/4 of the total global subsidy amount enjoyed by fossil fuel (2014)

Global Energy Subsidies (2014, in billions USD). Image courtesy of IISD.
Global Energy Subsidies 2014. (billions USD). Image courtesy of IISD.

Were governments to decide that renewable energy could receive the same global, annual subsidy as the fossil fuel industry, a number of things would begin to happen;

  • Say goodbye to high unemployment.
  • Say goodbye to the dirtiest fossil projects.
  • Immediate lowering of CO2 emissions.
  • Less imported foreign oil.
  • Cleaner air in cities.
  • Sharp decline in healthcare costs.
  • Democratization of energy through all socio-economic groups.

Summary

Even discounting the global externality cost of fossil fuel (which some commentators have placed at up to $2 trillion per year) the global, annual $548 billion fossil fuel subsidy promotes an unfair marketplace advantage.

But instead of punishing the fossil fuel industry for supplying us with reliable energy for decades (by taking away ‘their’ subsidies) or by placing on them the burden of a huge carbon tax (one that reflects the true cost of the fossil fuel externality) I suggest that we simply match the renewable energy subsidy to the fossil subsidy… and let both compete on a level playing field in the international marketplace.

Assuming a level playing field; May the best competitor win!

By matching renewable energy subsidies to fossil fuel subsidies, ‘Energy Darwinism’ will reward the better energy solution

My opinion is that renewable energy will win hands down and that we will exceed our clean air goals over time — and stop global warming in its tracks.

Not only that, but we will create hundreds of thousands of clean energy jobs and accrue other benefits during the transition to renewable energy. We will also lower healthcare spending, agricultural damage, and lower damage to steel and concrete infrastructure from acid rain.

In the best-case future: ‘Oil & Gas companies’ will simply become known as ‘Energy companies’

Investors will simply migrate from fossil fuel energy stock, to renewable energy stock, within the same energy company or group of energy companies.

At the advent of scheduled airline transportation nearly a century ago, the smart railway companies bought existing airlines (or created their own airlines) and kept their traditional investors and gained new ones.

Likewise, smart oil and gas companies, should now buy existing renewable energy companies (or create their own renewable energy companies) and keep their traditional investors and gain new ones.

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