What problems do fossil fuels cause?

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What problems do fossil fuels cause?
Fossil fuels are used in countless industries. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images)

Fossil fuels are created when organic deposits break down and decompose over millions of years. This material can then be burnt to create energy. Fossil fuels include coal, peat, petroleum oil and natural gas. Because of their relative abundance and the ease of turning these substances into energy, fossil fuels have long been the chief fuel resource for the UK and the rest of the developed world. These sources are nonrenewable, however, and their use takes a toll on the environment.

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Price hikes

Because fossil fuels are nonrenewable, the price for oil, coal and other natural resources will naturally rise throughout time as supplies begin to dwindle. Making things worse is that the countries with the largest supplies of certain fossil fuels -- such as petroleum -- are countries with whom the western world has tenuous relationships. Some critics have pointed out that this leads to a conflict of interest. According to the Renewable Energy Trust, a website devoted to the conservation of fossil fuels, estimates in 2003 show our traditional energy sources are being depleted. For example, current oil supplies around the world will only last until 2041, barring new discoveries. This statistic alone highlights the need to find alternative energies.

Greenhouse gases

When fossil fuels are combusted, such as in large-scale factories or even under the bonnet of the average car, greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere. While these gases occur naturally in the Earth's atmosphere, the rise of industrialisation has contributed to a rise in these gases. This directly leads to what scientists call the "greenhouse effect," and what has popularly become known as global warming. This happens because the greenhouse gases in the upper atmosphere absorb heat from the sun's rays as they travel back from the Earth's surface. Rather than letting them pass through into space, these rays are bounced back into the atmosphere. Under normal conditions, this is what keeps the Earth at a stable, liveable temperature, but when added gases from fossil fuel combustion join the natural gases in the atmosphere, it can cause rising temperatures.

Land and water pollution

The extraction of fossil fuels from the ground can take a devastating toll on the environment by itself. Because many fossil fuels are found beneath the groundwater supply, the extraction process often breaks the barrier between the two layers. This can lead to the groundwater becoming contaminated with the fossil fuels. Additionally, extraction typically calls for a significant amount of development and industrialisation in areas that are often a haven for wildlife. This type of sudden disruption can wreak havoc on the natural ecosystem. Finally, oil spills over the years have created long-term damage in a number of lakes and oceans.

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