On the left side is a lush green field with solar panels scattered through it. On the right is cracked earth and an oil well.
On the left side is a lush green field with solar panels scattered through it. On the right is cracked earth and an oil well.
Photo by iStockphoto.com/Ales_Utovko

When I think about the fact that our nation spends billions every year to subsidize the fossil fuel industry, I am reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech on the Vietnam War. Surveying the disparity between what the nation was spending on actual war versus “the so-called war on poverty,” King concluded, “We must undergo a vigorous reordering of our national priorities.”

More than 50 years after King gave his speech, this country is still using taxpayers’ money to destroy homes, create refugees, and kill — this time, by subsidizing the industries primarily responsible for climate change. We must end these giveaways to the corporations making a fat profit by cooking the planet and redirect our collective funds toward building a greener, brighter future for us all.

Thanks to generations of industry lobbying, government subsidies mask the true price we pay for fossil fuels. Renewable energy already saves money for consumers and taxpayers; by ending subsidies for fossil fuels we would save even more. The Trump administration continues to lavish corporations with incentives to spew carbon, which means they are incentivizing irreparable harm to our homes, our health, our beloved wild places, and the planet we will leave our children.

In fact, this administration has had the audacity to increase fossil fuel subsidies — while cutting funding for programs that help people live dignified, secure lives. This year, the Trump administration spent nearly ten times more on subsidizing fossil fuels than on education, according to the International Monetary Fund’s estimates. Again and again, the Administration has put the priorities of their fossil fuel donors ahead of the needs of the American people — including our need for a habitable climate.

Getting rid of fossil fuel subsidies would help us make powerful progress toward reducing carbon emissions, and not just because we’d no longer be spending money to encourage something harmful. Without subsidies, half of the proposed new oil wells in the US would be unprofitable, according to a 2017 study in Nature Energy. Get rid of the giveaways to rich executives and that oil stays in the ground where it belongs.

We can do even better than that, though — by directing former fossil fuel subsidies to renewable energy. A study from the International Institute for Sustainable Development found that by taking just 30% of the subsidies currently being spent on fossil fuels and using them to support clean energy would give us an 11 to 18% increase in emissions reductions. That alone would constitute major progress toward meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement.

That’s why I’m asking you to get in touch with your representative today. Ask them to grow the good, instead of subsidizing the bad, by supporting the GREEN Act, a set of tax incentives for a clean energy economy. It’s our last and best chance for climate action in Congress this year.

The GREEN Act will help sustain and create jobs in the rapidly growing field of clean energy, and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Research from the Rhodium Group suggests that extending and expanding these tax credits could get us one-fourth of the way toward meeting our Paris Agreement goals.

Equally importantly, the GREEN Act would be another step toward building a greener economy that works for everyone. That’s a priority we can all get behind.

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