Subsidizing Our Own Destruction

That biblical admonition about “love of money” being the root of all evil continues to be pertinent.

We are now experiencing the initial effects of climate change–effects that scientists have warned about for many years–and sane people know that much worse is to come. Yet rather than directing resources to measures that will ameliorate it, governments all over the globe are continuing to subsidize behaviors that are known to make the problem worse.

The public is providing more than $1m per minute in global farm subsidies, much of which is driving the climate crisis and destruction of wildlife, according to a new report.

Just 1% of the $700bn (£560bn) a year given to farmers is used to benefit the environment, the analysis found. Much of the total instead promotes high-emission cattle production, forest destruction and pollution from the overuse of fertiliser.

The security of humanity is at risk without reform to these subsidies, a big reduction in meat eating in rich nations and other damaging uses of land, the report says. But redirecting the subsidies to storing carbon in soil, producing healthier food, cutting waste and growing trees is a huge opportunity, it says.

The report rejects the idea that subsidies are needed to supply cheap food. It found that the cost of the damage currently caused by agriculture is greater than the value of the food produced. New assessments in the report found producing healthy, sustainable food would actually cut food prices, as the condition of the land improves.

To add insult to injury, in the U.S., those subsidies disproportionately fatten the wallets of big corporate farming operations–not the small family farms urban folks envision when the subject is raised.

Nor is our pell-mell race toward self-destruction limited to farming. When I was researching my most recent book, I was astonished by the enormity of the subsidies of fossil fuels. Despite the fact that climate change is already affecting America’s weather, increasing the urgency of efforts to reduce carbon emissions and increase the development and use of clean energy sources, the United States spends billions of dollars a year subsidizing fossil fuels. The International Monetary Fund estimates that the United States has spent more subsidizing fossil fuels in recent years than it has on defense spending. The IMF found that when indirect subsidies for coal, oil and gas were factored in, subsidies reached $649 billion in 2015, a year when Pentagon spending was $559 billion.

Most inexplicable of all is the fact that that amount includes 2.5 billion per year specifically earmarked for searching out new fossil fuel resources.

Oil Change International calculates that permanent tax breaks to the US fossil fuel industry are seven times larger than those for renewable energy. Several of those fossil fuel subsidies make it profitable to extract resources that it would not otherwise be cost-effective to extract.  Energy experts tell us that, at current prices, the production of nearly half of all U.S. oil would not be economically viable, but for federal and state subsidies.

The Obama administration had proposed to eliminate 60% of federal fossil fuel industry subsidies, but–surprise!– that proposal went nowhere.

During the 2015-2016 election cycle oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying. The industry received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years – reaping a 8,200% return on investment.

It is difficult to argue with the conclusion of the OCI report: “Removing these highly inefficient [fossil fuel] subsidies – which waste billions of dollars propping up an industry incompatible with safe climate limits – should be the first priority of fiscally responsible climate, energy, and tax reform policies.”

Our first priority should be the election of lawmakers who will not be seduced by “love of money” and who will work to save the planet for our children and grandchildren.


  1. Semantics in our current situation; people seemed to understand “we are destroying the environment” but “climate change” and “global warming” have a technical connotation that loses support for making changes, however small, in our daily lives. Not even the escalating death rate of cancers and lung disorders has meaning when told of dumping of hazardous waste effects on climate change and global warming has meaning. Maybe learning how much it is costing the general public to pay for continuing financial support for big corporations will attract attention. We need to make them understand that those subsidies from the government comes from their wallets in the form of tax increases and higher costs of everything we buy. Where do they think the government gets those subsidies?

    “During the 2015-2016 election cycle oil, gas, and coal companies spent $354 million in campaign contributions and lobbying. The industry received $29.4 billion in federal subsidies in total over those same years – reaping a 8,200% return on investment.”

    “We are now experiencing the initial effects of climate change–effects that scientists have warned about for many years–and sane people know that much worse is to come.”

  2. Career opportunities in clean energy would provide people with work that not only pays well, but work that they can take pride in with the knowledge that they are doing what is necessary to stop the destruction of our planet.

    Since we live in a world where money talks and has all of the power, how do we convince people we are at a critical juncture with climate change? How can we educate them with the truth when they are bombarded 24/7 with propaganda from the corporations that care only about keeping their environment destroying businesses alive and thriving?

    They have even infiltrated our educational institutions to ensure their survival. The Koch brothers alone have created and funded ‘economic schools and law schools’ at prestigious universities with the goal of indoctrinating young minds with their political and winner takes all economic beliefs.

    It seems that not enough of we humans manage to grasp the severity and danger of certain situations until they reach a point of no return. I fear this will be the case with our environment/ planet.

  3. Sheila’s readers who live and vote in the 5th U.S. Congressional District, visit Jennifer Christie has placed Climate Justice at the top of her campaign platform. She is seeking to replace Susan Brooks with the passion and expertise of a “bold progressive.” She understands the facts and import of today’s blog, “Subsidizing Our Own Destruction.”

  4. How about, instead of doing something, we just sit around and make fun of 15 year olds who point out our stupidity?

  5. Nothing will stop the irresponsible subsidizing of fossil fuel industries, because another 1% of their revenue goes to lobbyists and/or directly into the pockets of politicians who make those laws. It is the most naked form of corruption, and our system seems unable to stop it. In view of this ugly aspect of capitalism run amok without oversight is OUR fault. We elected the bastards who allow this to happen.

    Secondly, subsidizing farms is sort of necessary because otherwise food makers would fall into the same cesspool of health insurance providers: “How much will you spend to stay alive and/or not starve?” There are far too many humans on Earth, the most wasteful and environmentally irresponsible organism ever evolved.

    Add all this together and is it any wonder that people pray for some sort of escape/rapture?

  6. The public understands; they simply do not want to change their life styles or make any sacrifices. The majority has bought into the idea that science can fix it in such a way that we do not have to give up anything… ANYTHING. Some delude themselves into believing that we only have to elect the right people to office, and then we will be able to still build, and consume, and waste to our hearts content. That’s it! Just vote and we will always be able to travel, shop and seek out entertainment. And we can have it all because we will then be able to continue to exploit the planet and each other for our individual gain. Lord! We can’t give up capitalism!

  7. Inconvenient truth. We want all the convenience and none of the discipline/mindfulness necessary to ameliorate the condition of our earth. Willingly enjoying the abundance of goods within easy arms reach to so many of us, we ignore the long term affect of our willful ignorance, arrogance and moral obligations to the next generations. Inconvenient seems inadequate to describe the truth of our dilemma.

  8. The key to understanding this is that power (the human kind) derives primarily from fossil fuels, particularly oil. Asking those in charge to abandon fossil fuels is literally asking them to abandon their power and wealth. That is why we subsidize it – because it supports the status quo, INCLUDING America’s status as a military superpower and the global economic hegemony that makes possible. Don’t kid yourself — this will not end well for us.

  9. Direct subsidies are one thing…indirect subsidies are killing us and the planet. These external costs are also measured by international organizations that do not get on corporate media because the truth is unpleasant to their advertisers.

    As for the political class, why would they vote to eliminate their prime source of revenue? As Sheila pointed out, why would the corporations stop investing in bribes when those bribes have such a high rate of return. Paying off politicians in the USA is a cost of doing business. Capitalism has already built the shakedowns into the profit model of each industry.

    The Weather Channel blames high omissions on when people mow their lawns in the summer despite Indiana having four mercury belching super burning coal plants spewing toxins in the air.

    Corporate farmers and their CAFOs have polluted every single waterway in the Midwest. You can catch fish in them, but you can only eat so many without getting sick.

    Capitalism, which was built on the backs of slaves, has now grown into a worldwide enterprise of self-destruction measured by “GROWTH.” Ponder that for a minute. As long as GDP is growing, corporate economists and our media are applauding. When they collapse, the average taxpayer bails them out.

    It’s socialism for the capitalists, but rugged individualism for the working man. There was a day we could count on the unions to at least bring fairness into capitalism, but those days are long gone. The UAW is as corrupt as the auto industry and will be screwing over GM workers very soon.

    @AOC and her class of Justice Democrats and Democratic Socialists are the exceptions to the rule as they can speak their minds because they’ve declined corporate donations. They work for the people, but their political party fights them tooth and nail because we must maintain the status quo even at our peril.

    The democratic institutions are all corrupted, and the system is rigged. Albert Einstein saw this in the 1940s. It’s only gotten worse.

  10. I see Brunhilde entering stage left, the Visi-Goths are upon the horizon (which is really your back yard…) The Emperorship is for sale in the streets – and the POX Amerikana is in effect. The truth is the spirit of true Revolution exists, the willingness to take back our government by whatever force necessary to dislodge the traitors. But it doesn’t have to come to weapons being brandished at least not by the populace – or it shouldn’t. But again, this is not a time of letting the wheels of government slowly grind. We have to tear down and rebuild the wheels of government and formulate them once more on the tenets of the Constitution – I would dare to ask any of you if you truly understand WHY the Founders left the 2nd Amendment in – and as imperfect as it is? Not one of them doubted that what was coming or what had happened wouldn’t happen again. This time it is a mafia of unknown scale – using laws that they contrive against the Law of the Land, an organized crime element taking over the highest offices in our
    nation – This demands the action of every honest American – Whether it be calling, writing your reps and senators – to literally standing shoulder to shoulder in the streets and telling the president and his lackeys that HE HAS TO GO! All of them. WE have to do this – !

  11. There was a time when science deniers could be excused as merely ignorant by choice which is not an unusual condition given that most people choose other careers than science. No more. They are actually ignorant by training on entertainment media by fossil fuel sponsored advertising/propaganda/fake news/brainwashing.

    How can fossil fuels afford this? They give a small percentage of what our taxes give them back to our politicians to buy time on entertainment media to influence the public to keep them in power.

    It’s a destructive cycle that leads to even more tax payer obligations paying to recover from the consequences of extreme weather and rising sea level as well as insuring that they will get increasingly worse for decades to come.

    Legalized insanity adding fossil fuel to the bonfires of destruction that lead to us paying after all that to adapt civilization to the reality that we created.

    No need to wonder any longer about how wealth gets redistributed from creators of wealth driving old cars to collectors of wealth driving yachts and jet planes.

  12. I wonder if the subsidies of fossil fuels includes the amount of money spent on roads. All of my overseas travels show me that the US has overbuilt road systems. These fantastic Interstate systems are a direct subsidy for every truck on the road. In Europe, almost any town lager than 25,000 people has a rail station, and travel does not have to mean getting into a car.

  13. Well to bad all the issues that are out there, pollution, subsidies, a bloated Military-Industrial Complex, endless wars, Medicare For All, tax reform for the working class, making sure the 1%, and Big Corporations pay their taxes here in the USA rather than legalized money laundering to some island, $15 minimum wage, renewable energy, etc., will be ignored.

    We now have been diverted by impeachment, which will suck all of the air out and stifle the other issues. The Cable Entertainment net works, like FOX, CNN and MSDNC have geared up and eagerly await those high ratings over the next announcement of – We Got You News reporting with their usual suspects on the panels.

  14. The House has nothing to do except impeachment because all of their normal work merely adds more paper to the growing pile on Moscow Mitch’s desk.

    Therefore it’s almost a sure thing that this administration will be held accountable using all of the evidence gathered during the investigation by voters next year rather than Congress this year.

  15. “Our pell-mell race toward self-destruction”. What a ridiculously stupid epitaph for humanity and all the other life forms on this planet that, unfortunately for all of them, are only along for the ride as we destroy both ourselves and the only planet we have due to abject stupidity and rampaging pursuit of the almighty dollar. We have truly met the enemy to paraphrase the old “Pogo” cartoon and it is definitely us. It used to be said that the nuclear arms race and the then postulated growing likelihood that we would destroy ourselves through the use of thermonuclear weapons in a dreadful global war. No one then that was focused on preventing the prospect of a nuclear Armageddon could bring themselves to realize that we could be even stupider than that and destroy our climate instead and kill ourselves and our planet through greed.

    We have a choice – can sit back and let this happen to ourselves or prevent and mitigate this outcome by standing up against those that deal in rampaging stupidity and stop them from doing this to us and succeeding generations of human beings and all the other life forms that populate this planet. It’s perfectly obvious that our survival depends on us doing the latter and doing so very soon.

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