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Fossil fuel companies are the real abusers of the welfare system

Fossil fuel companies are the real abusers of the welfare system

It is time we shift the cost of climate disasters away from the American taxpayer and to the industry that is largely responsible for the damage. That means putting a price on carbon instead of subsidizing their dangerous pollution.

Storms in 2017 cost American taxpayers more than $300 billion, more than any year on record. That’s enough money to feed every food insecure household in the United States — all 17.6 million of them — for an entire year and still have money left over to provide free healthcare to 9 million low-income children for the next 30 years.

It is easy to glaze over this stunning amount in the news headlines and ignore the staggering cost of these storms, but this is exactly what the fossil fuel industry wants you to do. We should pause before taking a conventional course of making the payments only to do the same thing all over again when another awful climate disaster happens in the months ahead. 

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For example, Hurricane Harvey cost American taxpayers a full $125 billion in 2017. Climate scientists found that Hurricane Harvey’s precipitation was as much as 38 percent greater as result of human-caused climate change. Why shouldn’t fossil fuel companies pay for the damage that was sustained as a result of that additional 38 percent?

 

More generally, scientists estimate that burning fossil fuels costs the United States about 240 billion dollars per year. This didn’t include the cost of the three hurricanes in 2017. Currently, these costs are falling onto the backs — and lungs — of American families in the form of dangerous pollution. 

Indeed, the fossil fuel industry has relied on American handouts in two major ways: by directly taking subsidies from the United States and silently letting American families pick up the tab for the cost of their pollution.

As a society, we experience these costs by paying our taxes (which then go to organizations like FEMA to provide relief in climate disasters), shouldering the increasing costs of healthcare for pollution-caused disease and illness, and experiencing the economic effects of drought, sea level rise, and wildfires.

When we raise these issues, certain pundits and politicians are quick to caution against “politicizing” a disaster. To the contrary though, it’s the politicians and pundits who won’t acknowledge the effects of climate change who politicize science itself. What could be more heartless when confronted with victims of climate change than to deny climate change itself and to refuse to demand accountability from those industries that caused it?

We should hold polluters responsible for the damage and pain that they are knowingly inflicting on millions of Americans. To think otherwise ignores the real pain that American families experience and plays into the hands of the fossil fuel industry. What could be more patriotic than to stand up for these families, for those who lost everything as a result of the ferocity of these storms?

The good news is that there is a real policy solution that can help to hold these polluters accountable for this damage. This solution is a carbon tax, a price that is added to the cost of fossil fuels. A carbon tax essentially shifts the burden of paying for environmental damage away from us — the American taxpayer — and onto the industry that is polluting our air and fueling these treacherous storms.

Groups like Citizens Climate Lobby have proven that such a policy is bipartisan, demonstrating that dozens of members of Congress from both parties support a carbon tax. Groups like Our Climate are mobilizing hundreds of young people across the country to advocate for a price on carbon, too, and they’re gaining steam. Let’s finally take a bold step in the face of climate change, declare that fossil fuel companies should pay for the costs they’re putting on America’s families, and put a price on carbon. 

Jake Kornack is a member of Our Climate Board of Directors.