GettyImages 891501874 4

Exposing the Financial Costs of Climate Change—and Denial of the Climate Crisis

News, Exposing the Financial Costs of Climate Change—and Denial of the Climate Crisis: detailed suggestions and opinions about Exposing the Financial Costs of Climate Change—and Denial of the Climate Crisis.

As a warming planet brings economic tensions to a boil, following the money can reveal some critical stories.

This piece was published originally by Capital & Main.

It hasn’t been the best season for the invisible hand, the 18th century principle that the market be left to its own devices free of government intervention. In August, President Biden took his right hand and applied his signature to the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — signaling that the government would be tipping scales in the economy toward renewable energy. While unanimous opposition from Republicans signaled their continuing lip service to that free market ideology, in truth they — along with some Democrats — have long manipulated the economics of energy by steering billions of dollars in public funds toward the fossil fuel industry.

Fossil fuel companies have received at least $20 billion annually in federal and state government subsidies over the past 10 years alone, and as much as $6 trillion from governments worldwide. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres declared in September that the industry was “feasting off subsidies” while our planet burns. So there’s an important frame to the story of the IRA that’s worth remembering: The $141 billion it allocates to support wind and solar industries represents what is likely the first time that subsidies and tax credits for renewable energy in the United States have exceeded subsidies to fossil fuel companies — and is just about two-thirds of what the petrochemical companies have received from the government over the past decade.

The massive government support for oil and gas interests was largely missing from the reporting on the IRA, and is certainly worthy of greater media scrutiny moving forward. In the U.S. those subsidies come in the form of loan guarantees, tax breaks and discounted rates for drilling on public lands, and in some cases direct payments to explore for oil in difficult locales — all provided to the companies that are, collectively, most responsible for the massive and expensive climate disruptions being experienced on Earth. Identifying which fossil fuel companies receive those different forms of direct and indirect government aid would be a significant contribution to the public interest — particularly since the public funds the subsidies, and the public pays for the billions of dollars in damages to the economy from the companies’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The climate economist Richard Heede has identified the primary contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions, and it is a very small group. Apportioning responsibility for climate costs to any one company is, of course, difficult given the range of emitters. But when Heede reviewed CO2 emissions data from 1854 to 2010, he discovered that just 90 global companies are responsible for two-thirds of the emissions now wreaking havoc in the atmosphere. Among the top 20 global emitters from 1854 to 2010 are five U.S. companies, including the top two, Chevron and ExxonMobil.

We know their names and those of others, and the media can and should remind us of them with each new financial consequence — from the costs of fighting new diseases linked to increased heat to contending with the developmental impact on children of exposure to greenhouse gasses like nitrogen dioxide to rebuilding from extreme weather disasters, which the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) estimates to be at least $15 billion thus far this year alone, and could be as much as $128 billion annually by mid-century, according to the White House Office of Management and Budget. And that’s just one fraction of the damages which will, if current emission rates persist, only increase. NOAA recently issued a handy graph on the accelerating pace of “billion dollar” extreme climate disasters. And here are two sources on fossil fuel subsidies and the industries that bear significant responsibility for those costs: Oil Change International and the Environmental Integrity Project.

This great piece in Nature gets as close as I’ve seen to an explanation for why the helping hands given to the petrochemical companies can be difficult to report. Fundamentally, it’s because they’re so deeply woven into obscure tax codes and provisions of the national budget. Challenges notwithstanding, there are many vital stories to be written on taxpayer-supported handouts to oil and gas entities.  

Story continues