Do you want to know why we are in predicament on our use of fossil fuels? Bottom Line: In 200 years – world population increased 8-fold multiplied by an 8-fold increase in prosperity. This article provides you concise facts on the harms of fossil fuels, why we are still using fossil fuels, and where we are with reducing its use.
Can We Continue This Unprecedented Growth Of Human Activity And Use of Fossil Fuels?
Since 1800 (pre-industrial) to the present there has been unprecedented growth in human activity, human economic prosperity, and the use of fossil fuels. This is definitely a time for human ingenuity in order for us to continue our prosperity and save the planet. Below are some facts to put things into perspective on what has happened since 1800.
- CO2 Levels Increased 50%, Where It Had Not Increased To These Levels Previously. Carbon dioxide, created by fossil fuels, is a Greenhouse Gas and is a leading cause of Global Warming. For 100,000 of years CO2 levels have remained relatively constant, but as of 2021 CO2 levels are 50% higher than pre-industrial levels and of any time in the past.
- 1 Billion Versus 7.9 Billion People. In 1800 there were 1 billion people on the planet and as of 2020 there are 7.9 billion people (See Wikipedia).
- GDP Per Capita Increased at Least 8 Fold. GDP per capita (economic output of a nation per person) has increased significantly since 1800 increasing at least 8 fold, if not 20+ fold for some regions of the globe (see Federal Reserve’s The Industrial Revolution: Past and Future).
What Harm Is There Using Fossil Fuels?
Below are the ill effects of using fossil fuels.
- Land Degradation. Unearthing, processing, and moving underground oil, gas, and coal deposits take an enormous toll on our landscapes and ecosystems.
- Water Pollution. Coal mining operations wash acid runoff into our waterways. Oil spills and leaks jeopardize freshwater or ocean ecosystems. Fracking can contaminate drinking water.
- Air Pollution. Fossil fuels emit harmful air pollutants.
- Global Warming. Fossil fuels produce large quantities of carbon dioxide when burned. Carbon emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and lead to climate change.
See NRDC’s Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts for more details on the ill effects of fossil fuels.
Why Do We Continue to Use Fossil Fuels?
The primary reason we are still using fossil fuels is that fossil fuels are making significant contributions to our prosperity. Oil, natural gas, and coal currently have many advantages over other fuel sources. As it is a given that we desire to remain prosperous, the three reasons that we continue to use fossil fuels over other energy sources are as follows:
- Efficient. Fossil fuels cost less than other energy sources.
- Convenient. Due to existing and emerging technologies and infrastructure, fossil fuels are convenient to use.
- Logistics. Fossil fuels already have an existing transportation infrastructure and their weight when compared to batteries are less costly to transport.
- Stability. Fossil fuels are available on a continuous basis versus other energy sources such as wind and sun are not always available in that they are dependent on the weather.
See University Sustainability Blog’s 3 Reasons We Are Still Using Fossil Fuels for more information on why we are still using fossil fuels.
Where Are We With Reducing The Use of Fossil Fuels?
Despite all our efforts, oil, coal, and natural gas provide about 80 percent of our energy needs. We are making great advances in renewable energy and energy efficiency, but the economic advantages of fossil fuels continue to be superior. We are also making great progress in making batteries more efficient, but batteries and the electric grid that powers batteries are not an actual energy source. It is still fossil fuel that is the predominant energy source that powers our economy and enables our continued prosperity. See below for a breakout of our current use of fossil fuels.
- Petroleum. Provides 37 percent of U.S. energy needs, with the transportation sector consuming the most.
- Coal. Power plants that burn coal account for less than a third of U.S. electricity generation
- Natural Gas. Provides nearly 30 percent of U.S. energy needs
See NRDC’s Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts for more details on our use of fossil fuels and growing use of renewable energy sources.
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