Switching to renewable energy is not enough to clean up the damage from human reliance on fossil fuels for countless years. Supplies are fading swiftly among never-before-seen demand. Eliminating carbon is one item on the list, but there are numerous related areas of the planet to clean up during the transition — and it is not cheap.
How are animals and their habitats? What about buildings and subsequent pollutants? Companies — especially hard-to-abate sectors and energy — must be held accountable and budget for additional transitional and cleanup costs from excessive fossil fuel abuse.
The Secret Cost of Fossil Fuels
Scopes define the origin and impact of carbon emissions. Scope 1 is self-originated carbon emissions and down the line, Scope 3 explains indirect emissions caused by third-party activities mostly outside an individual’s or company’s control. These define the hidden costs — or externalities — of fossil fuels. Households pay for natural gas or coal once a month, but the big picture demonstrates a steep, accumulating tab.
What do experts consider to be fossil fuel externalities? It’s the symbolic price citizens pay to heat homes and charge iPhones. Paying into fossil fuels funds increases air and water pollutants, ailing aquatic ecosystems and land species alike, and putting people in the hospital for respiratory illnesses as if they were lifelong smokers.
Smog causes visual pollution for hikers seeing the once-stunning view of a valley. Homes flood after natural disasters, causing health issues and structural damage. Marginalized communities with limited access who rely on the land to survive struggle to make ends meet because of profoundly ingrained classism and environmental racism. It’s because of unethical strip mining, raw material extraction, gas-guzzling transportation and burning of fossil fuels.
The True Amount for Responsible Parties
Advocates, corporations and governments have debated who is responsible for financial environmental restitution for decades. Does it make sense for subsequent generations to bear tax burdens if megacorporations are at the most apparent fault for profiting over morally questionable business structures? Is it fair to place this price on fossil fuel companies when all humans fund and rely on them to survive?
Many argue it is corporate responsibility, as the renewable energy transition could have happened much sooner. Instead, environmental exploitation was simpler and more enticing in pockets than funding R&D for clean tech.
A recent report tabulated an estimated price tag for how much the world’s top 21 fossil fuel companies would have to lay down to cover fossil fuel remediation. The metaphorical burden falls to these worst offenders that have known for decades how they were damaging the world, despite countless families doing what they can to help the planet. The top 1% of earners contribute around 15% of the world’s emissions, and fossil fuels and their combustive nature are in there.
The amount is the equivalent of $208 billion annually — a price fossil fuel companies can more than easily manage, particularly if it scales based on the degree of participation in environmental degradation. The amount doesn’t include the cost of some externalities, such as the expedited extinction of spectacled eiders and dunes sagebrush lizards, among others.
The Productive Application of Funds
If companies made the morally correct decision in fronting the cash, what would it go toward? Citizens and governments would inevitably shoulder some costs, such as eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, and increasing taxes to fund clean energy infrastructure or agricultural land management and ecosystem protection. Regardless, fossil fuel reparations will help shape the implementation of these legislative actions.
Companies that pay their tab will fund reduced competition in the energy sector, bolstering renewable efforts and accessibility by helping them overcome struggles inherent to their industries.
The high cost of solar panels and geothermal heat pumps makes these options less attractive for lower-middle-class citizens and impossible for developing nations. The price fossil fuel companies pay will lower energy inequality and create more collaboration between regions instead of developed, climate-aware countries focusing on themselves.
Funds would cover future loss and damage fossil fuel companies might execute as they transition to more eco-conscious business models. It’s a cost climate lobbyists have posed over the years, but reparations involve more costs outside of this because it isn’t enough. Understandably, companies can’t become net zero and clean overnight, so funds have to cover these incremental spendings.
The Most Critical Bill Worth Paying
Either fossil fuels collaborate with governments and adjust internal operations to fix and fund fossil fuel cleanup, or the planet could glide quickly into declining environmental degradation that’s impossible to stop. Assigning a bill to fossil fuel companies could swiftly shift a fossil fuel-reliant planet to one optimized for Earth-friendly energy.
Jane Marsh works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.