Subsidizing climate chaos: National youth climate convergence calls for an end to polluter payouts

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No matter where you sit on the political spectrum, ending fossil fuel subsidies should be a no-brainer. In fact, that's exactly what former conservative cabinet minister David Macdonald called it prior to the release of this year's federal budget.    

When it comes to stopping climate change, or, at the very least, balancing our federal budget, ending the annual $1.4 billion in fossil fuel subsidies is the lowest of the low-hanging fruit. Why is it, then, that as oil companies rake in historic profits and our government slashes the services we depend upon, we're continuing to dish out an annual bonus to big polluters?  

This morning, in collaboration with PowerShift 2012's ongoing campaign to end fossil fuel subsidies, Leadnow.ca launched a petition calling on Members of Parliament to support an upcoming motion that could end the $1.4 billion in polluter handouts for good.  

The youth-drafted motion calls on the Government of Canada to honour the Prime Minister's promise to eliminate all federal subsidies to oil production by immediately eliminating the two largest subsidies, while appointing a special committee of the house to review all other subsidies to fossil fuel production. The motion will be brought forward by the NDP in the coming weeks. 

Subsidies ... so what's the big deal? 

For one, we're subsidizing the richest companies on the planet. The five biggest oil companies alone made $137 billion in profits in 2011, and during the first quarter of 2012, they earned a combined $33.5 billion -- that's a whopping daily $368 million.

Financially, they're doing just fine on their own. And it's not as if most of the cash ends up in the pockets of industry workers: the majority of profits are sent out of the country and into the hands of a few executives and rich investors. 

Subsidies are supposed to go towards something we want to encourage that wouldn't be able to thrive without our additional funding. In other words, they should reflect our values. By giving out billions to big polluters while ramming through an omnibus budget bill that slashes vital public services, what is our government really prioritizing? 

A lot to gain, a lot to lose

 Ask yourself where that $1.4 billion could have gone in this austerity budget. We could have a 60 per cent head start on a national childcare program, secure safe drinking water on all First Nations reserves, or lower tuition rates by 57 per cent across the country. We could be topping up our desperately underfunded social services. 

We must stop funding what NASA scientist James Hansen calls "a prescription for disaster" If we stopped burning all fossil fuels tomorrow, we would still be three quarters of the way to a two-degree celsius rise. Ending subsidies is an easy first step: the International Energy Agency predicts that it would take us halfway towards our goal of preventing a 2 degree rise.

At the same time, we could reduce our dependency on oil by investing in green jobs. What's more, investment in the renewable sector yields significantly higher employment returns per million dollars spent: an average of 16.7 jobs, compared to only 5.3 jobs per $1 million in the fossil fuel sector.  

Organized money vs. organized people

 If this is such a no-brainer, why is the government lining the pockets of wealthy oil companies with public money? It's a simple question of who has the resources and connections to dictate our environmental and fiscal priorities. 

Over the past year and a half, our Environment Minister has met with oil and gas lobbyists 48 times but only 7 times with environmental groups. The revolving door of influence between the Prime Minister's office and the big oil lobby is no secret -- Gwyn Morgan, a former CEO of Encana, has been an advisor to the Prime Minister. Encana is also a subsidiary of Enbridge, the corporation who is behind the incredibly irresponsible Northern Gateway pipeline that is set to bring tankers and oil spills to the west coast. 

There is a lot of organized money keeping Canada from making the logical decision to end fossil fuel subsidies. We know that the only force that can overcome organized money is organized people. This October, thousands of Canadian youth are gathering in Ottawa for PowerShift 2012, a national convergence to shift not only how -- but who powers society. 

As thousands of us prepare to converge in our country's capital to demand that our future be a sustainable and equitable one, let's take this very first step toward a clean energy economy by putting an end to the pipeline of money that's leading us straight to climate chaos.

Amara Possian is coordinating PowerShift 2012's Actions and Advocacy team. She is a Montreal-based writer, activist, and organizer who often focuses on environmental and climate issues.  

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