The International Energy Agency (IEA), which tracks global energy developments for the world’s industrial countries, recently reported that subsidies around the world for fossil fuels (coal, gas, and oil), at $312 billion per year, are nearly six times the $57 billion in subsidies for renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. The IEA also offered a simple policy prescription: take the money now directed toward supporting consumption of fossil fuels and switch it to supporting renewables.
An article from the Web site of The Ecologist on the IEA report quotes the group’s executive director Nobuo Tanaka as saying, “Getting the prices right, by eliminating fossil-fuel subsidies, is the single most effective measure to cut energy demand in countries where they persist, while bringing other immediate economic benefits. [Renewable energy sources can play a] “central role in reducing carbon-dioxide emissions, but only if strong and sustained support is made available.”
To the debit account of fossil fuels must be added the cost of pollution, which is not reflected in either subsidies or market prices. For U.S. coal alone, the National Academy of Sciences, in a 2008 study, put that cost at over $60 billion annually. Globally, it must be well up into the hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
Here in the U.S., energy subsidies for fossil fuels also continue to outrun those for renewable energy, even though the fossil fuels industries have generally been mature and more than capable of standing on their own two feet for decades. Which begs the question: when will we wise up, and start betting on the future instead of the past?