Subsidizing Ourselves to Death

Green energy can’t save us unless we stop burning fossil fuels

A large liquified natural gas transport ship sits docked in the Calcasieu River, near Cameron, La. (Jon Shapley via Getty Images)

Writing in the Los Angeles Times on Monday, Bill McKibben and Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr. urged President Joe Biden’s administration to block “a massive fossil fuel buildout” being proposed in Louisiana. The argument they make is worth journalists’ attention, for it highlights a central challenge often overlooked in climate coverage.

It’s indisputably good news that solar, wind, batteries, and other climate-friendly energy sources have been plummeting in cost and gaining market share, because this can reduce demand for fossil fuels. But reducing the supply of fossil fuels is the true measure of successful climate policy, because global temperatures will keep rising until the world stops burning those fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel industry has no intention of letting that happen. ExxonMobil just announced a $60 billion purchase of a rival oil and gas producer, signaling that Exxon plans to sell vast amounts of fossil fuel for decades. The United Arab Emirates is expanding its production capacity by 7.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent, even as Sultan Al Jaber, who heads UAE’s state-owned oil company while also presiding over next month’s COP28 summit, insists that he favors a net-zero future.

The contradiction at the heart of the climate fight, as Paris Agreement architect Christiana Figueres told the recent “Climate Changes Everything” conference, is that climate-friendly technologies are accelerating even as fossil fuel industry intransigence keeps greenhouse gas emissions climbing. This is the contradiction that our reporting needs to spotlight and explain to audiences.

In Louisiana, oil and gas companies want to construct an array of pipelines and terminals to export liquid natural gas. The climate implications are enormous, partly because LNG is as carbon intensive as coal. The proposed CP2 terminal alone would “be responsible for 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions annually than the controversial Willow oil drilling project in Alaska” that Biden approved earlier this year, McKibben and Yearwood write, according to analysis by the US Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department cited by the Sierra Club.

Journalists do not have to be in Louisiana to report this story. As Damian Carrington and Matthew Taylor revealed last year in their “carbon bombs” expose for the Guardian, scores of similar climate-busting projects are being proposed or developed all over the world.

Incredibly, governments and public lending agencies are spending trillions of dollars to subsidize such climate-wrecking fossil fuel production. In 2022, they paid out $7 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies, the International Monetary Fund calculated. “That’s a definition of insanity,” John Kerry, the US special envoy for climate change, said two years ago in the lead-up to COP26.

As journalists prepare to cover the COP28 summit starting November 30 and elections in the US and elsewhere next year, it’s essential we understand — and help our audiences understand — that fossil fuels have to go, soon, if a livable planet is to be preserved. Questions to explore in your reporting include: How much is your country’s government spending to subsidize fossil fuels? And what is your country doing — or failing to do — to stop burning the fossil fuels that are dangerously overheating the planet?

From Us

COP28. What’s the difference between “carbon dioxide removal” and “carbon capture and storage,” and what role might each play in decarbonizing the global economy? Journalists are invited to join our webinar “Understanding Carbon Dioxide Removal Before COP28” with leading climate scientists Dr. Katharine Hayhoe and Sir David King. November 9. RSVP. 

Climate connection. The CCNow resource “Making the Climate Connection” has been updated to include scientifically vetted language that journalists can use when connecting climate change to extreme weather and its impacts, as well as new sections on sea-level rise and snow and ice.

Noteworthy Stories

Blowing smoke. Using a legal loophole, the US Environmental Protection Agency has excluded pollution from clean air records in over 70 counties, enabling local regulators to claim the air is cleaner than it actually is for more than 21 million Americans. The Clean Air Act’s “exceptional events rule” allows some pollution — for example, from wildfires — to be omitted from records. A collaboration of the California Newsroom, the Guardian and MuckRock…

Note, the investigation above is available for republication, as are the following related stories. (Click on “Republish This Story” in each article to do so.)

EU COP28 plan. European Union countries plan to advocate for a global deal to phase out fossil fuels at the November UN COP28 climate summit, according to a draft EU document. “The shift towards a climate neutral economy will require the global phase-out of fossil fuels and a peak in their consumption already in the near term.” By Kate Abnett at Reuters…

Net zero roadmap. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have laid out a plan with 80 recommendations for the US to justly and equitably reach its goal of becoming a net-zero greenhouse gas emitter by 2050. The plan emphasizes the need for reforms in permitting processes, electrical grid modernization, and expansion of energy-efficient programs. By Tik Root at Grist…

  • Banning gas lines in new construction is one recommendation reported by The Washington Post.

Winds of change. In the American Northeast, the offshore wind industry is experiencing a mix of progress and challenges, which has led to confusion among the public. This explainer offers an overview of the state of the industry now. By Miriam Wasser at WBUR…

Green infrastructure. In China, Yu Kongjian, an advocate for “sponge cities,” has been pushing for urban landscapes designed to absorb more water and mitigate flooding. Despite initial resistance, his ideas have gained traction, leading to the creation of several sponge cities that prioritize natural elements like wetlands over traditional concrete solutions. By John Ruwitch at NPR…

Reports & Events

Lagging grids. To limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world must add or replace 80 million kilometers of electricity grids by 2040, an amount equivalent to the entire current global grid, according to a new International Energy Agency report. On Wednesday, the Biden administration announced it’s investing $3.5 billion to improve the US’s electric grid.

Oil at COP28. The place of oil and gas, and national oil companies, will be a point of discussion at COP28. Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy will host a panel on national oil companies’ decarbonization goals, clean energy investments, and the role of oil and gas at the upcoming climate summit. October 23. RSVP.

China. Yale University World Fellow Dr. Binbin Wang will share key findings from a public survey on climate change in China and the country’s role in global policy. October 23. RSVP.

Opposition research. Panelists from DeSmogBlog, Yale Law School, the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Studies, and Brown University will discuss evolving climate obstruction tactics by the Atlas Network, PragerU, the Alliance for Responsible Citizenship, and more. October 26. RSVP.

Hangout. Join a Caribbean Community Hangout where guest speakers will discuss the impact of the “era of global boiling” on the Caribbean, and how to communicate it. October 26. RSVP.

Industry News

Misinformation. Climate journalist Gerhard Maier of the Austrian Broadcast Corporation warns reporters to exercise diligence when covering climate rhetoric from governments and companies. Journalists “often need extensive knowledge to debunk greenwashing [public relations]” amidst large-scale campaigns to undercut the clean energy transition. Read more at the Reuters Institute.

EJC Awards. Congratulations to the European Journalism Centre 2023 Climate Journalism Award winners, who covered stories on the cheap meat business, shrinking glaciers, rainforest carbon offsets, sinking cities, and a trailblazing country in the climate fight. See the winners here.

Jobs, Etc.

Jobs. The Buffalo News in Buffalo, N.Y., is hiring an environment and climate reporter. DeSmog is looking for a freelance reporter. Harvard University’s Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability in Cambridge, Mass., is hiring a digital producer. The Society of Environmental Journalists is recruiting an executive director.

Pitches. is looking to assign features that help ground COP28 in specific communities. Stories should center people and place and help contextualize issues such as climate migration, managed retreat, community adaptation, reparations, climate finance, and food systems. Between 1,000 and 2,500-words at $1/word. Pitch deadline is October 24. Send pitches to

Grants. The Sitka Foundation has 10 journalism  grants to support reporting on biodiversity issues in British Columbia, Canada. The application deadline is November 1. Learn more.

The Climate Beat will be away next week. We look forward to seeing you on November 2.