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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Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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