Even more from NASA’s climate guru:

Given the damage that fossil fuels cause to the climate, human health, wildlife, forests, lakes, ocean fish, etc., you may think that we place a very high tax on fossil fuels, right? Umm, well, not exactly. On the contrary, our government, egged on by special interests, chooses to subsidize them, or, more accurately, they volunteer you to subsidize fossil fuels.

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Being from Iowa, I point out an example on the farms, pointed out to me by Bruce Johansen, who found it in an article by Steve Mufson. Franklin Roosevelt granted subsidies for coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to farms in the 1930s. Although this goal has long since been achieved, rural electric cooperatives continue to rake in billions of dollars to build conventional coal-fired power plants. These subsidies remove any pressure for the rural co-ops to promote energy efficiency or aggressively tap renewable resources. As a result, rural co-ops rely on coal for 80 percent of their electricity, compared with 50 percent for the rest of the country, and electricity demand at rural co-ops is growing at twice the national rate.

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This is an example showing that fuel use does depend upon pricing, in this case a negative tax (a subsidy). As Amory Lovins has shown, there is enormous untapped potential in energy efficiency and energy sources that produce less or no CO2. However, to fully tap that potential we need to eliminate perverse disincentives such as fossil fuel subsidies, and we need to institute a moderate price on CO2 emissions. It does not need to be large, but businesses and consumers need to be aware that a gradually rising carbon price is certain. This provides time for technology development and for the phasing in of new practices and economic replacement of aging infrastructure.

Hansen also wrote this on special interests:

Actions needed to avert dangerous climate change are difficult mainly because of resistance from special interests. The special interests pretend that they are speaking for the good of the public. Horse manure. Overall the world “beyond petroleum” with stabilized climate will be a healthier world. Of course, moving to the next phase of the industrial revolution will require changes, dislocations, sacrifices and hard work. But these provide no reason for inaction. Indeed, moving forward will result in economic benefits from extensive technology development, with many good high-tech high-pay jobs. Prompt action that minimizes climate change will also allow most of the creatures of creation to survive, to continue to live on a planet resembling the one that has existed during the interglacial period covering the past several thousand years, the period of civilization. Most of the species now on the planet would be able to pass through the “bottleneck,” the period in which the explosion of human population and associated pollution is stressing the ability of the planet to sustain all living things. By dealing with pollution, we can create a brighter future for the planet and all of life.

This post was created for ClimateProgress.org, a project of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

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