26 June 2011

Subsidising planetary destruction

The International Energy Agency does valuable work in quantifying the subsidies to fossil fuel production and consumption.
We estimated that consumer subsidies [for fossil fuels] were worth US$ 312 billion in 2009. In the current economic climate, this is a significant amount of money which could be used to more directly tackle priorities such as poverty alleviation, health or education. Our modelling also showed that if subsidies are reformed by 2020, global energy demand could be reduced by 5%. This has significant implications for energy markets and efforts to combat climate change. International Energy Agency’s Senior Energy Analyst Amos Bromhead in conversation with 'Subsidy Watch', April 2011
It's scandalous that these subsidies continue. They transfer funds from the poor to the rich. They do nothing to help the poor that could not be better done by more-targeted assistance. And they subsidise environmental depredation. In this, energy subsidies have much in common with agricultural subsidies, still continuing decades after their lunacy was exposed and quantified. One example from last year:
What could be more outrageous than the hefty subsidies the U.S. government lavishes on rich American cotton farmers? How about the hefty subsidies the U.S. government is about to start lavishing on rich Brazilian cotton farmers? If that sounds implausible or insane, well, welcome to U.S. agricultural policy, where the implausible and the insane are the routine. Our perplexing $147.3 million–a-year handout to Brazilian agribusiness, part of a last-minute deal to head off an arcane trade dispute, barely even qualified as news .... If you're perplexed, here's the short explanation: We're shoveling our taxpayer dollars to Brazilian farmers to make sure we can keep shoveling our taxpayer dollars to American farmers — which is, after all, the overriding purpose of U.S. agricultural policy. Why the US Is Also Giving Brazilians Farm Subsidies, by Michael Grunwald 9 April 2010
The gap between the governments we have and the people they are supposed to represent hardly looks like closing. Ordinary people, along with planet Earth, are left behind in the policymaking process. We have to put up with whatever comes out of the bargaining between interest groups, be they large corporations, government agencies, trade unions or (so-called) religious bodies. For reasons social, financial and environmental, such a policymaking process cannot last much longer. If we are lucky, there might be time to turn towards making policy as if outcomes mattered.

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