It could well be said that we are subsidizing our own destruction. Despite centuries of use, fossil fuels around the world today receive about 500 billion dollars annually in the form of economic incentives from Earth’s various governing bodies. With alternatives to fossil fuels becoming less costly and more widely available, and with the impacts of human-forced climate change growing dramatically worse with each passing year, such wasteful and harmful misuse of public monies is starting to look actively suicidal.
Fossil Fuel Funding for Global Catastrophe
Given so much money going into the hands of what are already the wealthiest corporations in existence, one would expect that the practice of providing these economic powerhouses with such a massive largess of public generosity would result in some kind of amazing overall benefit.
Energy itself is certainly a benefit. It allows for the rapid and easy transportation of groups and individuals. It lights up homes, powers machinery, keeps us warm in the winter and cool in the increasingly hot summers. But despite what the industry would like you to believe, fossil fuels themselves only represent a small fraction of the global energy available to human civilizations. And the kinds of energy fossil fuels provide is often in its lowest efficiency and most highly externally destructive forms.
What these deleterious industries instead provide is the dirtiest sources of energy in the world. Harmful energy whose particulate pollution alone results in the death of 7 million people each year. More deaths than warfare, more than natural calamities such as earthquakes, and more than even those two combined. That doesn’t even begin to add water pollution from practices like coal burning and fracking. Nor does it add in the ramping up of a global mass extinction event due to the pumping out of hothouse gasses at the rate of 13 billion tons of carbon every single year. A rate that is likely faster than during even the worst previous periods of hothouse extinction in all of Earth’s long geological past. Probably faster than during the Permian, and certainly faster than the last heat spurred mass die off — the PETM of 55 million years ago. A harmful emission that threatens to, by mid Century, wreck much of global civilization and ruin the prospects of all of the children of humankind, not to mention that of millions of species living on this planet.
(Arctic glacier melts under the heat of human-forced climate change as Ludovico Einaudi plays a haunting requiem. Fossil fuel burning has led us to this pass, and things are now about to get much worse. But, for some inexplicably immoral reason, we continue to pump billions of dollars every year into the very industries that are causing the trouble in the first place.)
As such, the fossil fuel industry produces the exact opposite of a public good and its very continued operation is a dire existential threat. One that grows worse each and every time any of us light up a fossil fuel fire. Back during the 1930s, at a time when the US was recovering from another destructive period of corporate excess, it was thought that a corporation should not exist unless it produced some form of benefit to civilization. So the question must be asked — why do the destructive fossil fuel industries continue to receive so much support from the political bodies of the world when the use of these fuels results in so much harm inflicted upon the very publics they are supposed to serve?
It’s not as if there aren’t any viable alternatives.
Tesla Plans to Merge With Solar City
One example of a corporation that could produce an amazing public benefit by speeding the transition away from harmful fossil fuels is Tesla. Since its inception, this auto company has dedicated itself to producing only electrical vehicles. And it was the first Western company to do this successfully on a large scale despite a massive opposition coming from the fossil fuel special interest political and economic bodies themselves.
The reason for such opposition is due to the fact that the electric vehicle represents the potential to radically transform the way people across the world use energy. The electric motors and batteries that drive electric vehicles are themselves 2-3 times more efficient than fossil fuel based internal combustion engines. So even if the global EV fleet were powered by fossil fuels, it would result in less overall fossil fuel demand.
But an EV can be charged by anything, including wind turbines and solar panels. And this mating of battery powered vehicle with these two sources provides an amazing opportunity for individuals to dramatically reduce fossil fuel use yet again. Finally, the batteries produced in electrical vehicle manufacturing can be used, after and during their use in cars, as a device to store renewable energy produced in homes, commercial buildings or cities.
(Tesla has long marketed itself as an energy storage provider. Its expanding battery supply chain, increasing reductions in battery cost, and recent proposed merger with Solar City provides the potential for Tesla to provide fully integrated renewable energy systems. Image source: Tesla Motors.)
The average home in the US uses about 10 kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity on any given day. The Tesla Model 3 will come with a 60 kwh battery pack. Fully charged, this battery could power a home for nearly a week. But just sitting in the garage or driveway, the vehicle could take in energy from rooftop solar panels during the afternoon and evening hours, and with the simple application of some smart electronics and software, provide that energy back to a home during the night.
It’s an integrated system that largely can remove a person’s dependence on oil, gas, and coal for energy all in one shot. One that can reduce individual carbon emissions by 60 to 80 percent. And one that can result in greater systemic carbon emissions reductions if it becomes integrated into the full chain of manufacturing and transportation. And even more alluring is the fact that the more batteries are produced, the more solar panels that are sent down manufacturing lines, the lower the prices and the greater the public access to these energy transforming technologies. In such cases, it becomes more and more likely that an EV + solar combo will be supplemented by an inexpensive home battery capable of smoothing out times when the vehicle is not longer parked.
It’s a combination that the fossil fuel industry is apoplectic to prevent from hitting the market in a way that is broadly accessible. And, up until this point, there has never been one company that had the ability to integrate all these various systems in one go and under one roof. It’s a situation that changed yesterday when Tesla Motors offered to purchase Solar City.
(The Solar City + Tesla merger has the potential to provide a number of integrated renewable energy solutions there were not previously available. EV charging stations mated with solar power generation is just one of many potential innovations that are likely to provide the opportunity to transition away from fossil fuel use. Image source: Clean Technica.)
The announcement came as CEO Elon Musk spoke of Tesla’s plans to fully solarize its network of charging stations. An innovation that would essentially begin to replace gas stations with solar and battery stations — and a huge step away from fossil fuels in itself. But the real transformative potential of the first fully vertically integrated renewable energy company in the form of Tesla + Solar City would be in its ability to provide single family homes with the potential to operate on renewable energy in a manner that is completely independent of any outside fossil fuel based source. And that, unlike oil, gas, and coal, is a public benefit that is entirely worthy of a government subsidy.
Hat tip to Vic
Hat tip to Greg