Julien Vincent, who wrote the following blog, is a climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace International. This blog is the first in a series about energy subsidies and feed-in-tariffs.

Scanning the many arguments that naysayers use to campaign against renewable energy, it isn’t long before I get to this doosie: renewables are a bad idea and inefficient because they rely on government subsidies. Let’s not dwell too long on the fact that if this were a reasonable argument, it would also mean that providing access to health services, food, clean water and education for our children were also bad ideas. Logic doesn’t always get you very far when arguing with a renewable energy naysayer.

But let’s get some perspective on renewable energy subsidies. Bloomberg last week revealed that subsidies to fossil fuels worldwide outweigh renewable energy support by a ratio of 12:1. While subsidies for renewable energy worldwide amounted to US$43-46 billion last year, fossil fuels received US$557 billion in 2008 according to a recent IEA report.

Given that the playing field is so uneven, the headway renewable energy has made into so many energy markets is even more impressive. Last year, in both the US and EU, more renewable energy power plants were built than any other source, as the global market grew by 22%. Imagine the pace of growth for renewables and transformation of our energy sector possible if the subsidy ratio was reversed. 

The fossil fuel industry isn’t exactly short on cash. If you look just at the profits made by ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP alone, they amounted to nearly $US48.4 billion last financial year. So just three oil companies are profiting more than the entire renewable energy industry receives in government support worldwide.

Going a step further, BP has just written off US$32.2 billion because of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, but thanks to US corporate tax law, they’re going to claim back $10 billion of that money from the American taxpayer. So if you’re one of the many Americans who have watched in horror at the oil spill disaster, it’s worth knowing that you’re covering BP’s backside to the tune of $32.

I said I wouldn’t dwell on my first point but there is a matter of principle here. Democratic governments are appointed by citizens and control state affairs with taxpayers’ money. They are supposed to fund things in the public interest, and penalise activities that are contrary to the public good. How about telling your government that you don’t want your tax dollars funding the next oil spill, coal mine collapse or nuclear power “incident” and instead fast-tracking renewable energy?