Listen to the typical conservative rhetoric about energy being thrown around on talk radio or in Republican presidential debates, and you’re likely to hear that our government primarily uses its regulatory and financial power to create a destructive green energy boondoggle — one that enriches a few politically connected Solyndra executives, appeases a bunch of wild-eyed tree huggers, but hides the fact that renewables supposedly can’t stand on their own in the private sector.Matt Yglesias in Slate:
In the face of catastrophic climate change and dwindling fossil fuel resources, this cartoonish narrative has gained traction because it invokes the moment’s most powerful political metonyms, from implicit allegations of crony capitalism to hippie-themed epithets about environmentalists to “free market” fundamentalism. The underlying idea — which will only be more amplified in the wake of the Obama administration’s pipeline decision Wednesday — is that fossil fuels are being persecuted by the American government.
But the reality, of course, is something wholly different. Indeed, this mythology is a perfect example of Orwellian Newspeak in which the reverse of the rhetoric is true. As recent news highlights, the government is doing exactly the opposite of what conservatives say: It is aggressively favoring the fossil fuel industry in ways that give that industry a special economic advantage over clean energy.
What if I told you that we could obtain half the reduction in carbon emissions needed to stave off climate disaster not with new government interventions in the economy but simply by removing existing interventions?It's similar to the problems with our food system. We don't need to spend more money, all we have to do is stop subsidizing the bad stuff to improve the situation. Too bad it's not likely to happen in either case. All our dysfunctional policies are based on entrenched interests.
Fatih Birol, chief economist of the International Energy Agency is telling you exactly that. In data released this month as part of the IEA’s latest World Energy Outlook report, he shows that in 2010 the world spent $409 billion on subsidizing the production and consumption of fossil fuels, dwarfing the word’s $66 billion or so of subsidies for renewable energy. Phasing fossil fuel subsidies out would be sufficient to accomplish about half the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to meet the goal of preventing average world temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius.
You don’t hear as much about this as you should largely because the biggest offenders are far from our shores. Still, the scale and scope of the issue is worth dwelling on if only because these subsidies are so wrongheaded.