What Are the Consequences of Using Fossil Fuels?

Updated July 19, 2017

Fossil fuels such as coal and oil provide 95 per cent of the world's energy, but supplies are finite and dwindling. Using fossil fuels has affected all living creatures on Earth and has caused a global energy and climate crisis, political and social problems, and wars

Greenhouse Gases

Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, including nitrogen, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide. Much like sunlight passing through the glass panes of a greenhouse, short wavelengths of sunlight pass through the air and are dispersed, but the longer light waves or the infrared rays are trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gases, generating more heat and a higher temperature.

Global Warming

The greenhouse effect also describes carbon dioxide absorbing infrared rays and not allowing much of the heat to escape into space, eventually causing the temperature of the Earth to rise. According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, "A total of 560 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases were released into the atmosphere between 1990... and 2005."

Creating Energy Creates Problems

According to Dr. Jerry Mahlman, the Senior Research Associate at the National Science Foundation, "Our burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) is the indisputably direct cause of the ever-increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This added carbon dioxide acts directly to warm the planet." Dr. Mahlman and other scientists predict that global warming will cause a rise in sea levels, increase extreme weather events, and irreversibly change plant and animal species.

Importing Oil Can Be Hazardous

The United States imports 55 per cent of its oil, which makes oil spills a serious issue. Television gave the world a graphic window into the effects of the Exxon "Valdez" oil spill into Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989. The wildlife death toll included 250,000 to 500,000 seabirds, 300 harbour seals, and 250 bald eagles. Some species have not been able to recover from the spill, and it has permanently altered the environment and cost the United States government three billion dollars to clean up. Importing oil also makes the United States vulnerable to wars for oil resources and terrorism.

Pollution Kills People

Fossil fuels also cause indoor air pollution, and the World Health Organization estimates that worldwide 1.6 million people die, as a result, from pneumonia, chronic respiratory disease, and lung cancer. This toll is five times as high as the number of people who died from outdoor air pollution. Particles from fossil fuel burning can exist in the air for several weeks at a time and travel for miles. They invade the lungs and bloodstream and can carry toxic metals and pollutants

Alternative Fuels Research

Countries all over the world are working to develop alternative fuels such as ethanol, natural gas, propane, electricity, hydrogen, biodiesel, and methanol, which are better for the environment, the global economy, and international security. Industries are working to expand wind, solar, and nuclear power options. They are researching to improve fossil fuels and integrate them into the 21st century fuel picture--but as one feature, not the entire picture.

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