Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Corner: Time to End the Unhealthy Relationship with Fossil Fuels | News, Sports, Jobs
I appreciate fossil fuels. They have heated my various homes over the years, brought me to my office every day throughout my working life, taken me on several exciting vacations and given me many petroleum based products for my home. But it’s time to end my friendship with fossil fuels and hopefully others too.
What makes me want to end this friendship is climate change. The oceans are rising, getting warmer and more acidic; glaciers are receding; droughts and forest fires are becoming increasingly serious; the atmosphere is getting warmer; and extreme weather increasingly brings death and devastation. We can see the impact on the ground – the average temperature in West Virginia rose to 55 degrees from 1950 to 2021. A full 97% of scientists agree that human activities are the cause of these compelling observations about our climate.
One of the ways to end this friendship with fossil fuels is to eliminate or reduce government subsidies for these forms of energy.
Those who are normally opposed to government intervention in the free market have claimed that our federal government supports renewable energy sources and that without such support, markets would not bear the costs of investing in solar and wind sources. In her book “Save us” Evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe describes the massive support our government has given and continues to give to the fossil fuel industry.
The US is second only to China in supporting these industries. This government support comes in the form of tax breaks and cash grants, such as B. Subsidies for exploration. The cost of these direct subsidies is $20 billion a year (20% for coal and 80% for oil and gas). The Environmental Energy Study Institute (2019) estimates that the total cost of fossil fuel subsidies is $5.3 trillion when negative externalities such as carbon emissions and healthcare costs are factored in. Direct subsidies include drilling cost reductions, percentage depletion and credits for clean coal investments. Indirect costs include foreign tax credits, mass limited partnerships (to exempt energy companies from corporate income taxes), and domestic manufacturing deduction. The industry also benefits from below-market value for oil and gas production on public land.
Additionally, our government, through its military, invests millions of dollars in protecting oil and gas resources in places like the Middle East and the Gulf States. We are compromising our core human rights values with the support of oil-rich countries like Saudi Arabia.
The fossil fuel industry is attempting to portray natural gas as an important bridge to help utilities transition from coal-fired power to cleaner energy sources. What they say is that gas power plants can support wind and solar power running intermittently. But battery technology is advancing rapidly to fill that gap, as is smart grid technology to move power from where the sun is shining and the wind is blowing to where they aren’t.
The continuation and expansion of natural gas production, particularly through hydraulic fracturing (ie, fracking) in this region means more waste products for places like Washington County, Ohio. Washington County leads the nation in toxic and radioactive brine waste injection. Many county residents have said about brine waste, “Enough is enough!” We do not want to subsidize this industry disproportionately and unfairly.
Those concerned about climate change claim that plans for a massive expansion of oil and gas resources during this time of high prices could essentially lock us into a world of high greenhouse gas emissions and accelerating climate change (methane from natural gas is 80 times as strong in the short term as a greenhouse gas in the form of CO2). If industry made these fossil fuel investments, the climate impact, including methane leaks, would surpass that of any coal-fired power plant under construction or planned, according to a 2021 report by Global Energy Monitor.
With the help of these government subsidies, US energy companies are expanding gas production and transportation capacity to reach global markets. The effect of these ventures will be to lower the cost of natural gas in other markets but increase those costs in the US, contributing to high domestic energy prices and inflation.
We need to shift our federal priorities from tipping fossil-fuel companies to a carbon fee linked to a dividend that goes directly to American taxpayers. By reducing these subsidies and introducing a carbon fee, we can limit our dependence on this fossil fuel and switch to lower cost clean energy alternatives such as solar and wind power and adopt energy efficiency practices. Such a strategy will improve the environment, our collective health, and our bank accounts.
George Banziger, Ph.D., was a faculty member at Marietta College and academic dean at three other colleges. He is a member of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta’s Green Sanctuary Committee, the Citizens Climate Lobby, and the Mid-Ohio Valley Climate Action Team.
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