When I think about infinite growth on a finite planet, overpopulation, inequality, climate breakdown, and the ever-present risk of nuclear annihilation, I recall my science teacher son’s remark, “Earth will survive; humankind may not.“
Certainty is growing for global catastrophes to cause more damage to human well-being, endangering — potentially destroying — modern civilization. But this third rock from the Sun will continue spinning after humans make it unliveable.
We are on that track right now and, using public funds to accelerate movement toward existential disaster, political and economic leaders resist material change. Some of that is inertia; some of that is conscious submission to influential supporters; all of it is mistaken.
Fossil Fuel Subsidies: A Closer Look at Tax Breaks and Societal Costs, Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), July 2019:
Some of these subsidies have been around for a century, and …in many cases, the circumstances relevant at the time subsidies were implemented no longer exist. Today, the domestic fossil fuel industries (namely, coal, oil and natural gas) are mature and generally highly profitable. Additionally, numerous clean and renewable alternatives exist, which have become increasingly price-competitive with traditional fossil fuels…
There are many kinds of costs associated with fossil fuel use in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution resulting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels. These negative externalities have adverse environmental, climate, and public health impacts, and are estimated to have totaled $5.3 trillion globally in 2015 alone.
Subsidizing an industry with such large, negative impacts is difficult to justify…
But rather than being phased out, fossil fuel subsidies are actually increasing. The latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates 6.5 percent of global GDP ($5.2 trillion) was spent on fossil fuel subsidies (including negative externalities) in 2017, a half trillion dollar increase since 2015…
While the EESI paper focuses on the United States, the situation is similar in Canada. This pattern of awarding generous handouts developed when abundant fossil fuel energy was seen as vital to economic growth. Massive subsidies also reflect political influence of the industry, which volunteers no concern for negative externalities. Of course, the fossil fuel industry’s political sway ensures governments minimize initiatives in non-destructive energy sources.
Institutional and individual investors also encourage Canada’s witless approach to energy. Important beneficiaries are the largest players in Canada’s financial industry.
Canada has a relatively small economy compared to the USA. Yet five Canadian banks are massively invested in fossil fuels. RBC, TD, BMO, Scotiabank, and CIBC have more than half a trillion dollars in fossil fuel holdings, which is about 1/2 of the investments held by the top 5 banks in a country with 12x our financial strength.
Resistance to taking obvious climate actions is not unlike the resistance seen in recent time to COVID-19 measures. Echoing Donald Trump in 2020, Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick suggested people should volunteer to die to save the economy.
Fossil fuel promoters are not asking for volunteers. Without asking, they are ready to sacrifice our descendants to maintain business today as usual.