Problems of Burning Fossil Fuels

Written by debashree sen | 13/05/2017

Fossil fuels--coal, oil and natural gas--provide for the major extent of energy needs around the globe. With the growth of industrialisation, our dependence on fossil fuels increases each day. However, the combustion of fossil fuels is the largest source of atmospheric pollution. The presence of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has serious ramifications on the environment. In addition, the pollution generated from burning fossil fuels also poses health hazards.

Global Warming

Combustion of coal and petroleum is mainly responsible for the presence of the increased amount of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap heat and contribute to the warmer temperatures across the earth. According to the National Geographic, global warming may lead to drastic climatic changes such as changes in rainfall patterns, melting of ice worldwide and rising sea levels. Consequently, it has an effect on the ecosystem as a whole.

Acid Rain

Sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere as byproducts of burning of fossil fuels. These gases react with water to form acidic solutions of sulphuric and nitric acid, which in turn forms acid rain. Acid rain causes lakes and streams to be acidic thereby posing a threat to aquatic life. It also damages animal and plant life and therefore affects the food chain. In addition, it degrades buildings and monuments.

Health Hazards

Fossil fuel combustion generates pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, sulphur oxide and hydrocarbons. Automobiles are the major source of carbon monoxide emissions. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, carbon monoxide exposure can cause headaches and may aggravate stress in people with heart conditions. Exposure to nitrogen oxide can result in bronchitis, pneumonia and irritation in the lungs. Hydrocarbons emitted to from vehicular exhausts reacts with nitrogen oxides the presence of heat and sunlight to form ozone. Prolonged exposure to ozone can result in permanent lung damage. Particulate pollution which includes dust, soot, smoke and other suspended matter can cause respiratory problems in human beings.

Effect on Aquatic Life

Combustion of fossil fuels produces heat. A portion of this heat is converted to electricity in thermal-power generation plants. However, a significant portion of this heat remains unused and is released into the atmosphere or into water reservoirs, which are used as coolants. Water reservoirs are connected to larger water bodies such as rivers or lakes, which are heated in the process. Increased heat poses a threat to the aquatic life.

Depletion of Natural Resources

Fossil fuels are used as the main source of energy for major activities such as industrial manufacturing, transportation and agriculture. Since fossil fuels are non-renewable resources, the burning of fossil fuels causes a decline in the world’s natural reserve. An imminent scarcity of energy looms throughout the globe as the world is not equipped presently to generate enough energy from alternative resources. This makes the energy scenario more precarious.

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