Since the dawn of industrialization, the world has been changing rapidly and shaped itself into a modern world that we see today. It all began when we harnessed the power of coal to run large machines and produce resources at a faster rate than human hands making it an everyday phenomenon.
At first, it was just coal, but then oil and natural gas also started being used as a recognized energy source. Together these energy sources could power anything from large factories to cars and provided electricity to the farthest corners. With time, as more and more people shifted to these energy resources, the demand for them increased which caused a surge of fossil fuel mining.
Till today fossil fuels are considered an important energy source. Everything that we touch, see or hear uses energy supplied by these fossil fuels. Although we have alternatives to fossil fuels such as solar, hydropower, wind and even nuclear energy which are in development; we still see an increase in the use of fossil fuels every year. A report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) in 2007 claimed that 86.4% of the primary energy used by the world’s population can be traced back to fossil fuel sources.
Fossil fuels and their effects on the environment have been studied extensively. Both pros and cons have been noted and argued on for centuries. Most of the advantages of fossil fuels are used by big refineries and fuel companies as arguments on the world stage, many of which are valid and meticulously researched.
Recently the general public has become aware of the negative effects of fossil fuels on the environment and years of research papers by scientists validate this impact. However, even after a long list of vices we still use fossil fuels because many world systems still rely on it and have provided us with advantages unparalleled by any other resource.
The good and bad effects of fossil fuels still stay as a prominent topic to debate in modern society. Before diving into the debate of whether the fossil fuels are good or bad;let me first tell you what they are and how they are formed.
What are Fossil Fuels?
Fossil fuels can be classified into three major categories which are coal, oil and natural gas.
They are classified based on their natural state, chemical structure, and process of formation. Fossil fuels are formed through years of dead organic materials compressed under immense pressure and temperature in the earth. This matter starts decomposing, releasing the organic matter into the crust and the carbon and hydrogen molecules get converted into fossil fuels.
These molecules form a long chain of hydrocarbons and each type of fossil fuel has a varying length of this chain. This chain takes millions of years to form and is difficult to be created in an artificial setting. Different conditions and resources are required to create each type of fossil fuel. The synthesis of coal requires the decomposition of land-based plant matter and has the longest hydrocarbon chain, which requires more energy to burn but produces the least amount of energy. In comparison to coal, oil has a medium length of the hydrocarbon chain and is made from small plants and ocean animals. The shortest chain is natural gas, which can also be made after burning oil or coal as a byproduct. It releases the highest amount of energy out of the three.
Even though it takes years to synthesize fossil fuels, they are still the most preferred source of energy. To understand their continuing popularity, we need to know the advantages and disadvantages of them and weigh their benefit over risks.
More on Types and Sources of Energy.
Advantages of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels have been selected as a major source of energy providing more than 85% of the world’s needs. The following reasons may also answer why we are so dependent on fossil fuels. Let’s see what are the major pros of using fossil fuels in today’s world!
1. Advanced Technology
The technology used to obtain fossil fuels has become very well-developed. This is because Fossil fuels have been a sole source of energy for quite a while now and we have been working on the technology to obtain energy from these sources more efficiently.
2. Cheap and Reliable
Fossils fuels are cheap as they are available in huge quantities around the world and as we have spent years and years developing the technologies for it, some believe that it’s better to use fossil fuels so as to reap the efforts. The energy production per gram of fossil fuels is higher than many alternative sources of energy (greater amount of energy released with same amount). They are extremely reliable to be used as primary source of energy, as compared to the other renewable sources of energy which are not reliable.
3. Highly Efficient
This means that even small quantities of fossil fuels can generate loads of energy, The best fuels to be used for vehicles is petroleum undoubtedly because no other source of energy comes even close to the rapid generation of energy from petroleum.
4. Easier transportation
Fossil fuels can be transported quite easily. Coals can be transported on trucks and natural gas or petroleum through pipelines. Although initially laying down these pipes costs a fortune, but later on they turn out to be very efficient means of transportation. One can understand that unlike fossil fuels, renewable sources of energy such as Wind and Solar cannot be transported.
5. Job Opportunities
Use of Fossil fuels generates thousands of jobs for the workers ranging from mine workers, to truck drivers as well as jobs at petroleum companies. Abandonment of Fossil fuels could result in a very high spike in unemployment, and with the overpopulation issue nowadays, it could lead to an economic crisis.
6. Easy Set-up
As we all know, renewable sources of energy are dependent on the availability of the source such as wind or sunlight to generate energy. Fossil fuel plants can however be installed anywhere and made to produce enormous quantities of energy as long as it has a reliable supply of fuel to generate power.
Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
After using fossil fuels for years on end, we realized that there were some unprecedented cons of using and very well abusing Fossil Fuels. Let’s see what those disadvantages of fossil fuels are.
1. Major contributors of climate change and global warming
Fossils fuels are clearly not a green source of energy, they are rather damaging to the environment due to their high carbon content. The carbon di oxide is released from burning fossil fuels which is a greenhouse gas that causes Air Pollution as well as ozone layer depletion. These effects ultimately lead to global warming. Other than that there is also environmental degradation of the earth due to mining practices.
2. Major fuel reserves needed
Power stations need a constant supply of fuel to be able to generate the demand of power. This means large quantity of coal needs to be transported everyday which leads to further increase in our carbon footprint. Hence, it is essential to build fossil fuel plants near to fossil fuel reserves to decrease transportation costs and damage to the environment.
3. Non-Renewable source of energy
Many believe that fossil fuels being non-renewable source of energy mean that they are present in finite amounts in the world and cannot be replenished naturally. However, the truth of the matter is that they are replenished naturally through the process of anaerobic decomposition of organic matter but the process takes millions of years to make reserves sufficient for our use.
4. Unsustainable use of Fossil fuels
Given that the reserves of fossil fuels are plenty but the way we are using fossil fuels is simply unsustainable. It will take a million years for the earth to produce more fossil fuel resources. This has led to people thinking different and shifting to green sources of energy.
5. Sweet Incentives
Fossil fuels have been quite cheap due to the government providing incentives for use of these sources of energy. Coal, Natural gas and petroleum have received subsidies amounting to $4.22 Billion. Compared to these incentives, Solar, which is a green source of energy only received $1.13 Billion.
6. Accidents can prove to be quite fatal
Accidents may happen anywhere ranging from nuclear plants to solar panels. Although the accidents happening in fossil fuel mechanisms are not as dangerous as nuclear systems, they are obviously more risky than wind power or solar power. The deep water horizon spill which happened in April of 2010 is still fresh in our minds.
7. Damage to Public Health
Fossil fuels are extremely opposite to being environment friendly. Burning of these fuels results in all kinds of pollution, the most apparent being air pollution. WHO claims 7 Million premature deaths are because of air pollution. Polluted air can cause various lung diseases and also trigger allergic reactions which could trigger asthma in many people. Humans living In overcrowded cities are more exposed to polluted air and hence carry a higher risk of Asthma.
8. Economic Issues
A few Middle-east countries have been rewarded with surplus amounts of oil reserves and fossil fuels. These countries are behind 40% of the oil production in the world. Majority of the world has to depend on these countries to fulfill their oil demands. Lower production, political instability, economic sanctions and wars have a profound effect on the trade and could lead to high fluctuations in the oil prices.
9. Health Hazards for Coal Mine workers
Mine workers are exposed to highly contagious gasses which have proven to be quite fatal to human health. Hundreds of People working in mines as well as oil-drilling sites die each year.
Trees are cleared out of forests to make way for mining practices. Mining requires quite a large land and hence, can’t be done with trees being present. Other than the mine, many trees need to be cut to make way for roads and infrastructure to make for transports to and from the mine. This leads to severe loss of ecosystems and subsequently habitat destruction.
Conclusion regarding Fossil Fuels
There are numerous pros and cons of fossil fuels and only a few have been listed here. Perhaps the most important thing to note here is how damaging it is to the environment. Fortunately, quite efficient, green and renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power have been invented and made available to the population. These alternative sources of energy will lead to less and less people relying on conventional fossil fuels. We need to play our small part in producing a better future.