In order to halt global warming, greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced, and that means transitioning from the use of fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is proof positive that fossil fuels are dangerous, as is the break in a Chevron oil pipeline near Salt Lake City that occurred over a week ago. Many people say this is impossible. They look solely at the time it will take to transition. Bill McKibben believes that nevertheless, Obama needs to seize the moment and issue a ‘stirring’ call for Americans to wean themselves from fossil fuels.
There are things the U.S. government can do to transition away from fossil fuels, and among them is eliminating subsidies to fossil fuel companies, including oil companies.
While speaking to an audience of around 300 people at Carnegie Mellon University earlier this month, President Obama said part of transitioning to a clean energy economy is rolling back the tax breaks oil companies receive so investments can be made in clean energy research and development.
The Organisation for Economic Development (OECD) agrees with Obama. Recently, the OECD released a report that said phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels, which amount to $557 billion worldwide, could reduce GHG emissions by as much as 10 percent. The International Energy Agency (IEA) released analysis two weeks ago that found phasing out subsidies would cut global oil demand by 6.5 million barrels per day in 2020, about one-third of current U.S. demand.
There other ways the U.S. can transition away from petroleum. The IEA outline for reducing American oil consumption by 29 percent between 2007 and 2030 includes increasing public transportation, shifting to hybrid and plug in hybrid vehicles, using more biofuels, increasing conservation in heating homes, and almost eliminating oil use in electricity generation.
A phased-in oil tax that reached the equivalent of about $1.70 per gallon of gasoline by 2030 would reduce oil consumption by around 10 to 15 percent, says Ian Parry, senior fellow at Resources for the Future.
The U.S. could reduce oil-powered transportation in the U.S. by 40 percent between 2010 and 2025 by shifting around half of car transportation to public transportation and one-third of domestic flying to high-speed trains, according to Anthony Perl, director of the Urban Studies Program at Simon Fraser University.