TreeHugger.com’s Brian Merchant, MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan, and NASA’s James Hansen recently discussed an economic strategy to reduce carbon emissions and inspire Green innovation. It’s called the Defense Energy Project, and it simultaneously diagnoses the systemic causes of our addiction to fossil fuels – especially oil – and provides rational, market-driven solutions.
When discussing the oil industry’s power over national politics, we tend to focus solely on campaign contributions and political family ties to the industry. But as Ratigan points out in his book Greedy Bastards, the industry’s power extends way beyond the monetary pollution of our democracy.
It seems as though the American military has formed an unbreakable bond with Big Oil. And it’s about time that someone connects the dots of the military-(oil)industrial complex’s relationship to global warming. The military secures the industry’s economic interests around the world. According to Ratigan, aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf alone have cost the taxpayers $7.3 trillion for the last twenty years. Merchant continues: “That is not a cost a lot of people recognize — the American taxpayer footing the bill for but the oil company gets a huge deal. They get to use that as their own personal security detail. It’s a huge cost for American taxpayers.”
What’s more are the billions of dollars we spend on subsidies to Big Oil each year. While Europeans routinely pay 7 or 8 Euro for a gallon of gas, we have the nerve to complain about $3 or $4.
So how do we even the economic playing field? How do Ratigan and Merchant propose we get back some of our taxes and break up the military-(oil)industrial complex?
Actually, it does not appear to be all that difficult and is gaining popularity. Merchant explains: “The plan is simple: charge oil, gas and coal companies a small, annually increasing fee on fossil fuels sales—then collect the fees and evenly distribute them amongst the American people. The idea has the support of not just environmentalists, but scientists, politicians, and free-market conservatives.”
A key idea in their argument is the notion of “price integrity.” Price integrity can be a vague concept, but it essentially means that prices reflect the real value of a product or service. In order to restore fossil fuel’s price integrity, Ratigan proposes a plan of “fee and dividend”. While the conventional cap and trade plan confines the exchange of money within the industry itself, Ratigan’s plan radically suggests that money be returned to the public: “We would effectively be taxing energy waste and rewarding with a dividend energy efficiency.”
Price integrity combined with a reduction in subsidies would motivate industry to move toward clean energy and innovation. NASA scientist and author James Hansen envisions this project as the spark of innovation that America needs: “If there is even a modicum of price integrity restored to this scenario we would see American innovation unleashed. We would see clean tech solutions. We would see a whole new outpouring of funding into a new sector. This would be a job creator… this would do kind of all of the things that need to happen in this sector so America can get a foot forward.”
This project has real potential for mainstream support. It provides a market-based strategy to reduce carbon emissions and provide incentives for individual consumers. Most importantly, the Defense Energy Project addresses the military-(oil)industrial complex, which is a topic rarely tackled by environmentalists but is the keystone of the industry’s power. As long as our military protects Big Oil’s economic interests, our nation will never kick the habit, and our reputation for innovation will die right alongside our environment.
Brian Merchant reviewed Ratigan’s book here: http://www.treehugger.com/energy-policy/true-cost-fossil-fuels.html