Fossil Fuels: Why We Need to Change
What are fossil fuels?
Given the name, you may have already guessed where fossil fuels come from… fossils! The bodies of tiny plants and animals that lived and died millions of years ago contain carbon molecules. Over time, the buried remains of these organisms became compressed and formed a mineral known as kerogen, which slowly transforms into fossil fuels. The three main types are coal, petroleum, and natural gas. The creation of these substances is dependent on the type of fossil, the amount of pressure, and the amount of heat.
What are fossil fuels used for?
The use of fossil fuels drastically rose in popularity with the industrial revolution starting in the 18th century, where coal was used as a source of energy to power manufacturing production, machines, and factories. Why fossil fuels? Well, they are relatively easy to obtain, cheap to use, and have higher energy density than other sources – meaning they generate more electricity per pound when burned.
Fast forward to today, where around 80% of our world’s energy is supplied by petroleum, coal, and natural gas. We depend on these fuels to power our industries, methods of transportation, heat our homes, and perhaps most importantly – provide us with some electricity. Undoubtedly, being able to accomplish such things is great, but at what cost?
The extensive impacts of fossil fuels
The most substantial side-products of the utilization of fossil fuels are their negative impact on our planet. These effects extend long before, and after they are used.
In order to make use of petroleum, coal, and natural gas, they need to be burned – a process known as thermal generation. The combustion of these fuels produces massive quantities of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere causing the global temperature to rise. In fact, the use of fossil fuels is responsible for close to 90% of all global carbon dioxide emissions and is the dominant cause of global warming.
After land is used to extract, process, and transport fossil fuels, it is never the same. Take strip mining as an example. Huge portions of land are scraped and broken up to reveal the coal or petroleum beneath the surface. This destroys the landscape and the ecosystems that once belonged.
Fossil fuel development is detrimental to our planet’s waterways and groundwater. Oil spills and leaks can contaminate drinking water and singlehandedly ruin entire ecosystems. When mining for coal, acid mine drainage washes harmful chemicals into local rivers, streams, and lakes. The waste produced from fossil fuel operations make their way into aquifers, contaminating our water with pollutants associated with birth defects, cancer, and more.
What NEEDS to change
Let’s take a look at the big picture. Even if fossil fuels were not harmful to the environment (which clearly isn’t the case), they are still a non-renewable resource – they will not last forever. We need to make a progressive transition from fossil fuels to renewable, alternative energy sources. This shift extends from large-scale energy generation all the way to smaller-scale microgeneration solutions such as our home wind turbine: The Anorra. To learn about other microgeneration energy sources, visit this blog post!
Looking forward, there is no doubt that the switch to renewable energy will be challenging. However, progressively reducing our reliance on fossil fuels must be accomplished to not only save our planet from climate change, but to achieve sustainable energy for our future.