Hilarious Misdirection

Progressive green web site the Thin Green Line takes on subsidies for petroleum products, saying that reducing such subsidies could immediately have a major impact on CO2 production.  Fine with me, I am no fan of subsidies by governments of any private activities, though I don't live in fear of CO2.

However, the author, trying I guess to buff his progressive credentials in a sort of typical knee-jerk for green writers, tries to imply all this largess is somehow flowing to large oil companies, and the implication is that western nations like the US are subsidizing folks like Exxon and BP:

The timing couldn't be better: With BP's oil continuing to pollute the Gulf Coast, the question of how much our alliance with the oil industry really costs us is at the front of the everybody's mind.

The International Energy Agency released an early draft of a report documenting, for the first time ever, how much the fossil fuel industries get in subsidies each year (H/T Grist). The timing is, of course, coincidental: The IEA's work stems from an agreement made at this years G20 conference that subsidies of fossil fuel industries should be phased out as part of international efforts to reduce carbon emissions.

So "” drum roll, please! "” how much money are the energy giants taking in? $550 billion a year.

But the author is, I believe, misunderstanding the study and the underlying economics (no surprise there from a green progressive writer).  This is from a study of 37 developing, not rich, nations.  There is no way these guys are paying $550 billion in cash into private oil company pockets.  In fact, most of these countries barely let the private oil companies even play, or force them into some marginal operator role subservient to their state oil company.

If these countries are subsidizing producers at all, the vast majority who are getting such largesse are large state-run companies, not western private oil companies.

However, my guess (and I have not seen the report yet) is that what they mean by most of these subsidies is actually selling fossil fuels to their citizens at below-market prices.  These subsidies are not transfers of state dollars to oil companies at all, but below-market pricing of oil products to consumers by state-run oil monopolies.   The people getting subsidized here are poorer consumers, not private oil companies.  Countries like China, Iran, Iraq and even Venezuela (run by progressive heart throb Hugo Chavez) sell petroleum products way below market prices to their citizens.  I am fairly certain this is the half trillion dollar subsidy the report refers to.

So we have the ultimate irony of a "progressive" lamenting government-subsidized energy for poorer people in developing nations.  Wow, I never thought I would say this, but if this is the progressive position, I agree with it.  The whole situation does highlight the difficult tension between development and CO2 reduction programs, and reinforces my argument that aggressive worldwide CO2 abatement will mainly hurt the poor.

  • epobirs

    Hurt the poor is putting it mildly. A lot of environmental types talk casually of encouraging or even imposing mass sterilization of the poor. I've encountered some who go farther and openly hope for some plague to eliminate 90% of our species. Somehow, they always includes themselves among the surviving inheritors of the planet.

  • LoneSnark

    My favorite is when they include road construction as a subsidy to fossil fuel producers.

    If the government didn't build roads, we would still have roads. Maybe even for less money than we currently pay in gasoline taxes.

  • Craig

    Sweden (often held up as a progressive ideal) was still sterilizing the Sami people (formerly known as the Lapps) as late as 1970, on the basis that they were racially inferior.

  • William Newman

    You write "the people getting subsidized here are poorer consumers, not private oil companies." But oil and fuels derived from it tend to be pretty fungible, so I think this is probably only approximately true at best, and perhaps only as true as "half of the costs of Social Security are paid not by employees, but by employers."