These Charts Show the Hidden Costs of Dirty Energy

Adding up the price in money—and lives.


This year, the world’s governments are expected to hand out tax breaks and subsidies to the oil, gas, and coal industries to the tune of $233 billion. But the free ride for fossil fuels goes beyond that. That’s because fossil fuel companies don’t have to pay for the huge amount of damage caused by pollution from their products. Instead, we all do.

Recent research by the International Monetary Fund finds that the hidden economic and environmental costs of fossil fuel consumption—”externalities” in econspeak—add up to nearly $5 trillion a year, or 33 percent more than the federal budget.

About three-quarters of that comes from air pollution—for example, medical expenses incurred by people sickened by smog. The rest comes from climate change-related impacts: The costs of wildfires, floods, droughts, etc. The remedy, researchers say, is to increase taxes on fossil fuel energy so that we use less of it, and so that the biggest consumers will shoulder more of the social costs. That would make a gallon of gas more expensive—but potentially save tens of thousands of lives.

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This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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