Global Fossil Fuel Subsidies, History, and Human Vulnerability

In 2009, G20 nations pledged to phase out global fossil fuel subsidies. In 2022, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global subsidies surged to $7 trillion when accounting for the total costs of burning, developing, and subsidizing fossil fuels.

Talk is cheap, and too often climate aspirations fail to deliver results. As in the case of fossil fuel subsidies, quite the opposite, marching steadily in the wrong direction.

Fossil fuel subsidies reveal the cognitive dissonance between what we say we’ll do, what we do, and the consequences.

Guns and Money

A complex world was made even more so these past few years, with a war in Europe coming on the heels of a global pandemic. Promises made in 2009 didn’t accurately anticipate the world in 2023. And there’s the rub.

There will never be a good time to address climate change or keep the promises we made years and decades ago. That time has passed.

In our divisive, convoluted times, we must balance the vagaries of dictators, disease, and economics with preserving what’s left of a stable climate and healthy environment. Nothing happens on a denuded planet.

Guns and money drive the affairs of shortsighted, nihilistic men. We may think, sometimes rightly, that those people are not us. But none are immune to the worst human tendencies, at least occasionally.

We devise cultures, social contracts, and constitutions to guard against these undesirable propensities of human nature. We have survived thus far, haltingly, by working together to solve existential challenges. Like the humans who created them, these institutions sometimes follow a dangerous path, and we feel swept up in its vortex. Changing the trajectory feels beyond our control.

Climate Change and History

We are living history. The human project unfolds before us, leaving our descendants to speculate the motivation for our actions today. Layered on top of this human maelstrom is climate change and its many vagaries. A benevolent environment encompasses human history.

We lay a heavy burden at the feet of policies like fossil fuel subsidies. Nobody wants to pay more for energy than they have to. Nonetheless, weigh the short-term benefit of global fossil fuel subsidies in 2022 with the fossil energy sector’s record $200 billion profit.

Trillions of dollars get thrown around, US taxpayers are in it for an estimated $20 billion, and nothing much changes.

Sure, gas prices set record highs, with a significant economic impact on many families. But some introspection helps reveal another way to think about things.

Do I need an 8-ton behemoth to Walgreens? That’s everyone’s right–if you can afford it. Without trillions in fossil fuel subsidies, few of us could.

That could force us to find other, better options.

Planned Retreat

We are too entrenched and comfortable in a fossil energy-based economy to “stop burning fossil fuels now.” That is a false hope.

We dream of waking up in a green world of boundless clean energy, driving a happy, thriving world at peace. Then there’s the world we live in.

If a temporary increase in fossil fuel subsidies is required to stabilize a global economy in the wake of a pandemic and the onset of war, so be it. It is also an opportunity to consider the resilience of a system disrupted so much by a petty dictator. Global fossil fuel subsidies reveal our vulnerabilities in an unsustainable energy economy.

Extricating ourselves from the grip of fossil energy requires a planned, if hasty, retreat—more a transitionary step forward than a fall-back into familiar territory. We can shift our priorities, resources, and assumptions to avoid the harmful influence of “cheap” oil, guns, and money.

It can be unsettling to live on the uncertain fulcrum of human history. Change is hard. It’s also inevitable.

Thomas Schueneman
Thomas Schueneman
Tom is the founder and managing editor of and the PlanetWatch Group. His work appears in Triple Pundit, Slate, Cleantechnia, Planetsave, Earth911, and several other sustainability-focused publications. Tom is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Get in Touch


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related Articles

Stay in touch

To be updated with the latest climate and environmental news and commentary. Learning to live in the Anthropocene.


Latest Posts