The costs of addressing the many health and environmental impacts of fossil fuel extraction and use are generally not internalized in the market prices of fossil fuels. Instead, we all pay these external costs through medical expenses, costs of environmental cleanup, and impacts on our quality of life. Moreover, the prices we pay at the gas pump or on our monthly utility bill do not even cover the financial costs of fossil fuel extraction. Rather, fossil fuel prices have been kept inexpensive as a result of government subsidies and tax breaks to extraction companies.
The profitable and wellestablished fossil fuel industries still receive far more financial support from taxpayers than do the young and struggling renewable energy sources. In this way, we all pay extra for fossil fuel energy through our taxes, generally without even realizing it. Wherever fossil fuels are extracted, people living nearby face the environmental, health, and social impacts of extractive development. When local people are allowed to participate in this development, however, they may also gain substantial financial benefits.
In North America, communities where fossil fuel extraction takes place often experience a flush of high-paying jobs and economic activity, and for many people these economic benefits far outweigh other concerns. Perceptions can change with time, however. Economic booms generally prove temporary, lasting only as long as the resource holds out and market prices for fuel stay high. At some point all booms go bust, and once the jobs and money have left a community, its residents may be left with the legacy of a polluted environment for generations to come.