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How Important Are Fossil Fuels To Society Environmental Sciences Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Environmental Sciences
Wordcount: 1867 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Thirst for knowledge is human’s natural behaviour which has led to various inventions and discoveries. Humans need energy for doing all types of work. Without generating energy, all the luxuries of everyday life will come to an end. Fossil fuels, a remarkable discovery by humans have simplified our lives. However, the rate at which these resources are being depleted are threatening to run out soon. Fossil fuel usage began on a large scale with the introduction of industrial revolution in 1800’s.Nowadays, a lot of alternative energy options are available, like wind , hydro , and sun energy. But ironically, majority of our energy is derived from non-renewable energy sources, which are commonly called fossil fuels. Like every other invention or discovery influence society, same applies to fossil fuels as well. In order to know how fossil fuels affect our society, one needs to examine it.

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Without fossil fuels, there wouldn’t be any means of transportation, and the world and the economy would come to standstill. We need energy to heat houses, and energy is needed for agriculture and industries. Without fossil fuels, there would be no energy, no heat, and the cost on running on the alternatives would be a lot higher than what we have on fossils. Fossil fuels are comprised of hydrogen and carbon bonds. Coal, oil and natural gas, are the three kinds of fossil fuels used for delivering energy. With the increasing population, the demand for energy also increases, which increases the pressure on the environment. Another major variable, that threatens and pressurizes the energy sector to move into nuclear, solar and other environmentally friendly energy sources, is due to the fear of climate change.

Coal, oil and natural gas supplies are forecasted to peak as the reserves are running out. Coal is a form of solid fossil fuel which is formed by decay of land vegetation. It is plenteous as compared to oil and natural gas. Forecasters predict every now and then, that the coal usage will increase as oil supplies becomes less. Present supply of coal might last about 200 years or more. Developing countries such as India and China, can’t meet the expense of using natural gas or oil, and therefore depend on coal for delivering energy. According to IEA’s world energy outlook forecast (2006), “85% of the increase in coal demand is likely to come from China. Coal consumption is predicted to increase by 1.4% yearly until 2030, with about two-thirds of the demands in India and China”. According to the statistical survey done (2007), “The coal consumption in 2006 was 3 billion tonnes. China, India, South Africa and Germany claimed to be the largest consumers of coal”. The natural gas exploration is getting cheaper and big industries are switching to natural gas instead of coal which has other side problems, besides environmentally unfriendly.

Oil is a liquid fossil fuel, formed from the remainders of marine micro-organisms deposited on the sea floor. Millions of years after, the deposits eventually end up in sediments and rock, in which oil is confined. Oil consists of a lot of organic compounds, which are altered into usable products by refining process. Oil is not found in all the places on earth, and there have been wars on oil supplies. Gulf war which happened in 1991, is a well-known example of this.

The local production of oil has lowered since 1960.In 1970’s the oil production has plunged reaching a peak point of 9.6 million barrel per day(Mbbl/d). Since then, oil demand has increased significantly such that industries supply less than half of all its oil that we consume. However there had been a radically change in consumption from 1960 to 1970 (from about 10 Mbbl/d to about 17 Mbbl/d) as shown in the figure. Moving to suburb and driving for miles caused an increase in consumption which was a turning point in American society’s lifestyle. Nevertheless, during 1970’s, demand levelled off and then declined suddenly as oil prices increased to over a dollar per gallon from $0.25. Since 1980’s, oil demand has grown progressively as prices stabilized while inflation continued to grow. Currently we sit at 19.6 million barrel per day in U.S. which is about 25% of the worldwide consumption of 77 Million barrels per day.

Natural gas is a gaseous form of fossil fuel which is versatile, available in plenty and relatively cleaner as compared to the oil and coal. Like oil, it is also formed from the remainders of marine micro-organisms. Natural gas is made up of methane, and is highly compressible, and is drilled to bring it on the earth’s crust. More coal was used until 1999, than natural gas. It has surpassed coal now in developed countries. However, humans are frightened that natural gas supply will eventually run out, like oil and coal. Predictions say that this might take place at the end or the middle of the 21st century. Unlike oil supplies, Natural gas reserves are distributed more uniformly around the planet.

Energy produced by combustion of fossil fuels is converted to heat and electricity in power plants. On combustion, carbon and hydrogen reacts with oxygen to yield carbondioxide and water with heat. Electricity is produced by transforming this heat into electrical energy in a generator. Although, building a power plant needs a lot of money, the efficiency it delivers to convert fuel into energy is very high, and is worth the money spent to build it. The demand of electricity varies throughout the year, and provisions should be made to meet the demand in peak load. When the demand surpasses the capacity of power plants to generate electricity, momentary blackouts are experienced. In 2001, California experienced shortage of electricity, drawing attention to the crude oil and natural gas shortage.

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In the past, fossil fuels were present in abundance and were easy to obtain and deliver. The present trend of using these energy resources by mankind is one of the important issues questioning its long term sustainability. We have created a horrible situation for ourselves, by denying the fact that these resources will not be running low, and trying to run away from the reality rather than facing it. People are afraid of the consequences of what may happen if the fossil fuels actually run out. Fossil fuel combustion contributes to a lot of environmental issues that are also high on political agenda these days. Examples of these issues include emission of greenhouse gases, acid rain, air and water pollution, and ozone at ground level. These environmental concerns are caused by the burning of fossil fuels, which produces impurities like nitrogen, sulphur, and organic volatile compounds. These bi-products influence people and our atmosphere in many harmful ways. Like a glass in a greenhouse, these pollutants build a barrier and prevent the excess heat from earth to escape. The temperature of the earth increases with the increase in this barrier, resulting in global warming. Global warming has become a serious issue, which could threaten our existence. Have people ever thought that why Antartica experienced the warmest years in all of history? Have people thought of rising sea level, which resulted due to melting of ice? The intensifying sea level could lead in floods and hurricane. If these changes are not enough to alert humans, the effect on agriculture around the world might be frightening. Production of maple is decreased by 10% because of warmer and shorter winters. A study comparing the yields of six main staple crops was done at the Lawrence Livermore National Labs and Stanford university. Study showed that for every one degree rise in temperature, there will be a decline of about 3% to 5% in the yield of those crops. Those six crops is responsible for about 55% of non-meat calories consumed by people, and about 70% of the animals’ feed all over the world.

Acid rain is caused by the emission of sulphur and nitrogen, by burning fossil fuels. Acid rain is a combination of dry and wet deposition from the sky which contains higher amounts of nitric acid and sulphuric acid than normal. It makes the lakes and streams acidic, which leads to destruction of trees at higher altitude and soils. Acid rains also contribute to the decay of buildings and sculptures, decreases the visibility and have harmful effects on public’s health. Acid rain not only cause damages where it falls, but it affects all over the planet, since lakes and streams transport the water throughout earth’s crust and finally to the ocean. The plants and animals that are dependent on this water to survive are affected and may decease if the chemicals in the water are present in extreme excess.

Another problem resulting from fossil fuel usage is Air pollution, resulting in smog. Apart from human sickness, smog also affects the crops, by seeping through the leaves’ protective layers and destroying the essential cell membranes. This makes the crops weaker and decreases its yield. Combustion of fossil fuels produces nitrogen and other organic gases that form ozone. Ozone is formed near the surface of the earth causing air pollution. According to the CESI report (2006), “Ground level ozone has affected the health of Canadians including respiratory problems, cardiovascular diseases, premature deaths and over 6000 hospitalizations”.

All above discussed issues are caused by the emission of impurities that are present in the structures of fossil fuel .Presently, combustion of oil accounts for about 30% of carbondioxide in the environment. The maximum emission of pollutants is caused by the burning of coal. Natural gas consists of methane structure, due to which it doesn’t emit as much carbondioxide as compared to oil and coal. The question arises, that looking at these consequences, why are we still using fossil fuels to such large scale? The answer is simple; because fossil fuels are comparatively cheaper than using alternatives we know so far. People have made their lives so much dependable on fuels, that if these run out, the human civilization will come to an end too. Also, digging fossil fuels from earth surface is dangerous, as digging of mines and wells could result in change of surroundings and may fetch immense quantity of salt water to the earth’s surface, which can result in damaging the ecosystem in close proximity with no appropriate treatment and sequestration. There are procedures to follow to minimize the hazards, but it is hard to completely eradicate them. However, regulations are not enough, we should continue researching new technologies for fossil fuels and renewable sources both, to add increasing conservation measures. Few environmentalists predict that because of insufficiency, fuel prices will increase exponentially in the coming century. We cannot completely stop using fossil fuels, but we must make some changes in our consumption pattern by avoiding oil products and favouring available alternatives for our sustainability.


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