Drought And The Climate Change Freeloaders

CraneStation, via Flickr

by Joe Mendelson, via Wildlife Promise

By now our news media has probably made you aware of the historic drought that is gripping the country. Almost 80 percent of the nation’s agricultural land is experiencing drought conditions not seen since the 1950′s. In mid-July, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimated this year’s corn harvest will drop by 12% and food prices for all of us will start to rise. But hardly anyone is connecting the dots to the fossil fuel producers who pollute our atmosphere, bank record profits, and pay none of the costs of climate change.

The drought is the latest manifestation of the extreme weather that is gripping the U.S. and placing a striking economic toll on our country. And as pre-eminent NASA climate scientist James Hansen has recently stated (and backed up with peer-reviewed science):

Our analysis shows that it is no longer enough to say that global warming will increase the likelihood of extreme weather and to repeat the caveat that no individual weather event can be directly linked to climate change. To the contrary, our analysis shows that, for the extreme hot weather of the recent past, there is virtually no explanation other than climate change (watch Dr. Hansen explain here).

Rising Costs to All of Us

The costs to all of us resulting from the drought and other extreme weather (watch extreme weather video) continue to mount.  Consider some of these numbers:

And yes, these are mere bullets in the growing price tag. Whether it is the direct human toll caused by recent heat waves, property damage from the wildfires that have raged in Colorado, New Mexico or Oklahoma (to note a few), or losses to the outdoor economy as sportsmen see fish dying by the thousands because of warming streams, the year’s full cost of climate change fueled extreme weather is staggering.

Climate Change Free Loaders

What should strike all of us is how these rapidly escalating costs are shining a spotlighting on our country’s major free rider problem. In economics, a free rider is someone who enjoys the benefits of an activity without paying for it. When it comes to the extreme weather costs of climate change, fossil fuel producers are the poster children for the free ride.

In the fiscal year of 2011, major energy companies extracted the following fossil fuels from federal lands—those are lands that are the property of all of us taxpayers:

  • 627 million barrels of oil;
  • 448 million short tons of coal; and
  • 4609 billion cubic feet of natural gas

What is more, these fossil fuels are extracted at below market prices. A recent report highlights that below market leases for coal extraction from public lands has cost the U.S. Treasury approximately $28.9 billion in lost revenue over the last 30 years. And of course this doesn’t include the non-market cost to our government for dealing with the impacts of climate change when it hits home.

So let’s be clear when we look at the costs and consequences of extreme weather. Right now, families at the dinner table, farmers, insurance companies, and the fiscal solvency of the country are all paying for the costs of climate change and extreme weather. Those who produce and sell the fossil fuels that result in carbon pollution being dumped into our atmosphere like an open sewer, cause the extreme weather, and drain our wallets are shouldering zero, zip, nada responsibility for the costs they are creating.

Take Action

It is time to end the carbon polluter freeloading. The current situation should make the case for putting a price on carbon clear and out in the open. Look at the simple math. A one-time, $1 climate change impacts surcharge for each barrel of oil or ton of coal extracted from our public lands in 2011 (just one fiscal year!) would yielded over $1B in revenue.  That certainly isn’t chicken feed and beats slashing agriculture conservation programs by $383M to help drought stricken ranchers.

Joe Mendelson serves as the National Wildlife Federation’s Director of Policy, Climate & Energy Program. This piece was originally published at National Wildlife Federation’s Wildlife Promise and was reprinted with permission.

14 Responses to Drought And The Climate Change Freeloaders

  1. prokaryotes says:

    Bill McKibben Bill McKibbenVerified ‏@billmckibben

    “America’s heat wave has caught up with California”–record temps in Modesto today

  2. Tami Kennedy says:

    Deniers preach that Hansen, McKibben et al say the sky is falling. Their sky might get a bit cloudy if subsidies dry up and they see carbon controls impact their change purse.

  3. Hoedad says:

    This is not denial.
    They own the air and the airwaves. They can blow smoke into any rational discussion creating informational smog.
    Their profits increase while we “adapt”?

  4. Heard some truthiness from Romney today. He says Obama is waging war on coal.

    Coal miners needn’t worry about their jobs anytime soon though.

  5. Mark Shapiro says:

    Yes. Remember how up in arms we were when Obama launched his pre-emptive pro-coal ad a few days ago?

    Does anyone think for a minute that Obama isn’t better on energy than Romney?

  6. Mark Shapiro says:

    BTW, “climate change freeloader” is pretty good rhetoric. So is “carbon polluter freeloader.”

    How about adding “as you sow, so shall you reap”?

  7. Ken Barrows says:

    I guess Obama’s better, but if the problem is as dire as many on the site suggest, the “better” is irrelevant.

  8. Mark Shapiro says:

    Better is always relevant.

  9. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    The value of leaving the coal in the ground is greater than what the companies are paying.

  10. Leif says:

    Stop profits from the pollution of the commons. Go solar, resistance is fatal…

  11. Ozonator says:

    Gas fracking is waging war on coal miners driving the price below which their employers can hide the black lung and the infrastructure can support the coal trains. Mitt-witt could easily say Team Obama is waging war on beeswax candles to keep subsidizing EssoKochs’ paraffin. Unlike even killer bees, todays fracking is tomorrow’s earthquakes.

  12. Ken Barrows says:

    You say better is always relevant, but how so? I know you think electing Mr. Obama has benefits, but I think a more useful way to look at it is what we need to do and when. If the candidates running cannot do that, look somewhere else. A revolution may be necessary.

  13. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    I’d say that Obama is 99% useless and the Stormin’ Mormon and his Sorcerer’s Apprentice 110% Bad News.

  14. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    The value of leaving all the carbon pollutants untouched is literally infinite, at least as far as our species is concerned.