We hear the word fossil fuels being thrown around a lot on the topic of climate change and today’s environmental issues and weather concerns.
But what are fossil fuels? And why do they bring up so much controversy?
Fossil fuels are rock-like liquid resources or gas that are burned in order to produce power.
There are three main types of fossil fuels: coal, natural gas and oil. These three substances are used within the electricity and transportation sectors as an energy source.
They’re also the leading cause of the world’s climate change.
In this article, we will outline what makes fossil fuels so harmful and what we can do to start reversing the effects they have been creating on our planet over the last 200 years.
Types of Fossil Fuels
Before delving into the heart of fossil fuels, it’s beneficial to know exactly what substances we’re dealing with and where they come from.
As mentioned above, there are three main types of fossil fuels, all of which can be used for energy production.
Here, we will take a closer look into these infamous energy sources.
Coal is a solid fossil fuel that was formed throughout millions of years by land vegetation and decay. When layers become compacted and are heated up over the years, the deposits are formed into coal.
Coal was the first widely used fossil fuel as it releases more energy than word and essentially made the Industrial Revolution possible. Within the Earth’s tropical areas during the Carboniferous Period, forests of trees similar to ferns were plentiful.
When they died, the remains created large areas of peat which were covered in sediments over millions of years.
As the sediments grew, the peat became buried ever more deeply and became coal.
During this time, the oceans were bursting with algae and other small sea creatures. When they died, their decomposed remains dropped to the bottom of the sea and combined with sea floor sediment.
The mixture of sediments and creature remains built up throughout millions of years. The sediments turned to rock while the creatures turned to oil.
3. Natural Gas
This form of fossil fuel was formed during the same time as coal and oil. The main element found in natural gas is methane.
Similar to oil, it moves in an upwards motion and can be trapped in a few different ways.
There are two methods for extracting fossil fuels from the Earth: drilling and mining.
While mining is the extraction process for solid fossils like coal, drilling helps to remove liquid or gas-like fossil fuels that can be forced to the surface.
Both of these processes result in severe health and environmental impacts. For more information on these health and environmental concerns of drilling and mining for fossil fuels, check out this site.
While these issues are harmful enough, it’s the final stage of the fossil fuel for energy process that is becoming one of the most concerning.
How Does Burning Fossil Fuels Contribute to Global Warming?
In terms of universal and potentially irreversible results of burning fossil fuels is its strong contribution to climate change.
To answer this, we need to talk about how the Earth is warmed naturally.
When sunlight hits the Earth’s surface it can do one of two things: be reflected back into space or become absorbed by the Earth.
Once the sunlight is absorbed, the planet releases a portion of the energy back into the atmosphere in the form of heat (or infrared radiation). Greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) or water vapor (H20) absorb this energy and prevents the heat from escaping back into space.
When we burn fossil fuels, they release a large amount of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Once this CO2 becomes released, it acts like a blanket, trapping heat and energy along with it – making Earth warmer than it should be. This process is also known as the “greenhouse effect.”
In 2016, roughly 78% of global warming emissions from the US were energy-related of CO2, made up of the fossil fuels we talked about earlier.
Final Points: Our Future on a Warming Planet
The most important part to realize is that this problem and these effects are not necessary. On top of that, they’re very much avoidable.
Non-fossil fuel energy technologies such as wind, solar and geothermal have contributed a total to less than 1% of all the energy-related climate change emissions.
While it involves a bit of investment at first for governments to make the initial switch, the benefits are far more advantageous than what these ancient, dangerous and depleted energy sources can provide.
The question is: how are you going to help lead the way to a better, cleaner and safer world?