Who’s Buying the Rope? We Are.

Last year, the fossil fuel industry that is destroying our planet received $7 trillion in subsidies.

No, that figure is not coming from the Socialist Workers Party, Greenpeace, or the Sierra Club. It comes from a report that was issued last month by those radical rascals at the International Monetary Fund [IMF].

You know—the UN agency founded in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire in 1945 to “foster global monetary cooperation, secure financial stability, facilitate international trade, promote high employment and sustainable economic growth, and reduce poverty around the world” after the tumult of WW II.

Large sums are notoriously difficult for ordinary mortals to comprehend. To get a grip on this annual $7 trillion, we divided it by 365 and rounded down the result. After blithely shaving off $178 million per day as a petty distraction, we see that the global fossil fuel industry is being subsidized to the amount of $19 billion every day of the year.

We are a notoriously chintsy operation. That figure is still too big for our penny ante brain to process. How much is that per hour? According to our steam-powered calculator, the answer is $791,666,666—a figure we will leave in its natural state to retain its amusement value.

So, finally, a figure we can almost comprehend: nearly a billion dollars an hour—every hour of the day, every day of the year. As Everett Dirksen might say, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

Even in a world where taxpayers are accustomed to involuntarily forking over vast sums of money to gigantic corporations—been to the hospital lately?—the size of this drain on the economy comes as a surprise. There’s a good reason for that. It’s generally hidden.

In their bloodless jargon, economists have a phrase that helps camouflage this sort of theft: “externalized costs.”

To explain it honestly to a four-year old, you could simply say corporations are not made to pay for the havoc they wreak.

They get away with this, in this country, at least, thanks in large part to the First Amendment. In its God-given wisdom, as the Founders intended, that provision gives wealthy corporations the right to every iota of free speech that their lawyers can finagle. By stretching this loophole to its limits, fossil fuel companies have convinced legislators in Washington, D.C. and around the world that they have nothing to do with the stinking miasma which has gradually enveloped the globe and is well on its way to making it uninhabitable by humans.

Having thus shaken off their own culpability through a confluence of magical thinking, finance, and legislative malfeasance, the fatcats and their flunkies found themselves in need of someone to be left holding the proverbial bag. Boldly casting a global net, they managed to catch everyone else—right down to, and including, subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa who have never enjoyed the thrill of rolling down the highway behind the wheel of a big ol’ V-8.

Perhaps we should consider whether these costs are being ignored to spare the tender feelings of the companies’ accountants. After all, how would you like the job of managing the spreadsheet tracking how many people the guy who signs your paycheck killed this fiscal year?

No, probably not. According to an article at CleanTechnica.com, “Several years ago, Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of ExxonMobil, was asked his opinion about a rapidly overheating planet. ‘People will just have to adapt,’ he snarled. That may be easy for wealthy white men, but not so easy for many other members of the human family.”

If they did keep track of their kill count, these corporations would hardly be likely to tell us, their potential victims, the actual number. We can hear it now, “Sorry. That’s proprietary information.”

Well, to hell with them, and their feelings. The IMF has spilled the beans: 4.5 million people die prematurely every year from fossil fuel air pollution. Yes, of course we did the math. That’s 12,328 people every day, or 513 an hour.

The hidden costs of fossil fuels extend, though, far beyond the body count.

On Tuesday the World Meteorological Organization announced that Earth just had “the hottest three-month period on record, with unprecedented sea surface temperatures and extreme weather.”

That same day, in Greece, after weeks of drought, heat, and wildfires, it began to rain. That’s good right? Well, no. Twenty-one inches of rain fell in ten hours. According to CBS, “The rain seen in Zagora is more than 55 times higher than the average rainfall for September.”

Locally it seems like it’s been dank all summer. We did have some lovely weather—we could probably count them all on our fingers. Now we’re in a post-Labor Day heat wave.

Lenin—or Marx, or Stalin, we’re a capitalist country, so you get to pick your favorite commie—is thought by many to have said, “The Capitalists will sell us the rope with which we will hang them.”

QuoteInvestigator.com looked it up and found the real story is more nuanced, and stranger. In 1955, an Army Major named George Racey Jordan attributed a version of this saying to Lenin.

Gordon had Lenin saying, “When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will vie with each other for the rope contract.” Major Gordon was—quelle surprise!—a right wing darling at the time, campaigning against water fluoridation and the censure of Sen. Joe McCarthy [R-Wisc.].

Not only are this sort of right wing cranks still with us, now they’re openly threatening to de-democratize the country—in the name of “originalism,” of all things. These types love to whine about “unfunded mandates,” but they have no objection as every person on the planet is being robbed. Whatever property they may own is being devalued as the planet’s habitability deteriorates. And that’s not the worst of it.

The workers of this world are being extorted to pay the capitalists who are choking us all to death.

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