Investing Responsibly: Why It’s Time to Cut Fossil Fuel Subsidies

I just wrote this piece for Next Gen Journal!

Our government must spend its money wisely. During this time of financial distress, there is one noticeable way that money can be allocated more justly for a safer and healthier future: cutting fossil fuel subsidies.

A few weeks ago, President Obama called on Americans to contact our Congressional representatives and urge them to reduce fossil fuel subsidies in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. He has outlined specific proposals for how fossil fuel preferences — which total $4 billion — will be decreased.

Some money that is classified as fossil fuel subsidies is actually put toward the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and other federally funded social projects. So President Obama isn’t eliminating all fossil fuel subsidies because some of that money goes towards worthy causes. Instead, his strategy is to eliminate $29.1 billion in tax breaks to the industry and $113 million in research and development for fossil fuel technologies. In total, the United States would save $4.75 billion in 2013 and $39 billion over the next ten years.

There are many arguments for why fossil fuel subsidies should be eliminated. There is the human cost: fossil fuels cause pollution. This pollution contributes to over 2 million severe respiratory illness across the United States. Furthermore, burning of fossil fuels is one of the main contributors to global climate change. The United States is second only to China in fossil-fuel derived carbon dioxide emissions, and we have the highest per capita fossil fuel consumption rates in the entire world. Climate change is having undeniable effects on agriculture, health, economic development, human safety and livelihoods. By supporting and enabling unbridled fossil fuel consumption, the United States is contributing to global decline and harming people’s lives.

The financial argument is compelling as well. Eliminating fossil fuel subsidies will only have a slight effect on the American economy. Less than 1 percent of fossil fuel companies’ revenue would be affected, so cuts wouldn’t kill jobs or substantially affect energy security. The average American would only pay $1.42-6.50 more per year for energy. This is a small increase given the federal savings.

The savings from cutting subsidies have many implications for the future. They will encourage a transition to a greener, cleaner, healthier economy. This money can be invested in renewable energy development and increasing environmental quality in under-privileged neighborhoods. Funding can go towards the education system or tax breaks for low-income households. The alternative uses for this money can contribute to substantial social, environmental and economic good — none of which are achieved by the fossil fuel industry.

Yet the benefits are only theoretical right now- Americans must pressure Congress to remove these subsidies from the 2013 budget. There are a few ways that you can take action and call on your representatives to lobby for these changes.

Students for a Just and Stable Future, a Massachusetts-based political climate advocacy students group, has started a campaign to mobilize support for these cuts. The first step is to sign the petition on, calling on Congress to cut fossil fuel subsidies. You can also call your representatives. Log your call using this form. Lastly, mobilize support on your campus to encourage others to sign the petition and call their senators.

These actions only take a few minutes. But we have the power and duty to tell our government to invest our money in more just and responsible ways.

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