In 2011, over half of the world's energy needs are supplied by fossil fuels. However, dependence on fossil fuels creates numerous effects on both society and the environment. Fossil fuels are limited and will eventually run out. In addition, they are the greatest source of pollution and contribute to rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which could lead to dangerous greenhouse effects worldwide. Understanding the consequences of fossil fuels is the first step in providing a cleaner future.
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Although fossil fuels are created naturally through geologic processes, they are not replenished in amounts anywhere near the amount of our daily consumption. Eventually all fossil fuels, in particular coal and oil, will be used up. The estimates of when we will run out of fossil fuel vary from a few decades to several centuries, but demand is likely to increase and put further strain on supplies as the developing world becomes more industrialised.
From coal power plants to cars, the burning of fossil fuel releases toxic byproducts into the atmosphere. If enough pollution is released, clouds of smog can cover a city skyline and create drastic health problems for the nearby population. Incidences of lung disease are higher for people regularly exposed to air pollution, especially from coal power plants.
Although the role of humans in the acceleration of the greenhouse effects is hotly debated, fossil fuel consumption still produces large amounts of carbon dioxide. Acting as a greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide helps trap heat in the atmosphere, which is slowly raising the global average temperature. As the Earth warms, the ice caps will melt, causing the sea levels to rise and endangering coastal cities as well as disrupting weather patterns that agriculture relies on.
Mining and drilling can have drastic effects on the environment. Coal is often mined from the surface through strip mining. Strip mining removes the overlying layers of rock and in mountainous areas can destroy an entire mountain. Underground coal mining can kill miners if the roof collapses or in gas explosions. Oil spills, like the Exxon Valdez or the Deepwater Horizon disasters, can take decades to clean while having long-lasting effects on regional economies and marine life.
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