At the heart of almost any talk about sustainability is the problem of fossil fuels. For close to 200 years, fossil fuels have been powering our lives in one way or another, making up the majority of our energy sources. While at first, using these resources for power allowed us to make many scientific and technological discoveries, they have since become outdated, as renewable energy has started to make its mark.
Not only have fossil fuels run their course as a useful material for energy, but they have also become one of the leading causes of climate change in the modern world! Between coal, crude oil, and natural gas, fossil fuels contribute heavily to air and water pollution, which in turn drive global warming onwards.
Unfortunately, change doesn’t happen in a day, and in 2020, fossil fuels still made up around 80% of all energy usage in the United States. While there is a definite shift towards renewable sources of energy, it is moving slowly, and in the meantime, fossil fuels continue to do damage to our world!
Thankfully, all is not lost, and there is still time to make some real change. One of the best ways to do this is through education! When more people can learn about the actual dangers of fossil fuels and awareness spreads, there is a higher chance of real, tangible change occurring.
In this article, we’ll break down the reality of fossil fuels and why they need to be a thing of the past
What Are Fossil Fuels Made Of?
Even though most people have heard the blanket term “fossil fuel,” most people also don’t know what all of the fossil fuels are! As you can probably guess from the name, these fuels are taken from the remnants of plants and animals from millions of years ago. As the organic matter of the fossils broke down, fossil fuels were created.
There are three main types of fossil fuels:
- Crude oil
- Natural gas.
Each fuel serves a different purpose and provides a different energy source, but all three are a significant danger to the environment. Let’s dig a little deeper.
When it comes to fossil fuel emissions, coal runs the show, so to speak. When measuring the amount of CO2 emitted by fuel type, all four different forms of coal take the top four spots on the list, meaning that coal is the most carbon-intensive fuel source out there. Even without considering its use as an energy source, coal is a massive threat to the environment due to the way it is mined.
The two main coal mining methods, strip mining and underground mining, are both extremely damaging to the ecosystems around them. Strip mining, in particular, uproots and pollutes entire ecosystems in one go, worsening the already disastrous effect of coal on the climate crisis. Regardless of what you have been told about coal, there is simply no clean way to use it.
If there’s one bright side, it’s that coal is one of the more outdated sources of energy we have, and today, only about a third of the energy used in the United States comes from coal-burning. It is perhaps the best answer to the question “Why are fossil fuels considered nonrenewable resources,” as it simply cannot stand the test of time. While it dominated the fuel market for more than 200 years, its time is finally coming to an end.
Following the widespread use of coal, oil became the next significant source of energy in the US. Used to create products such as gasoline, propane, and jet fuel, oil covers a wide range of energy needs, which is why it is so hard to phase out.
Crude oil can be found in many different places, including the pores of sedimentary rock (often referred to as oil shale) and in mixtures of sand, clay, water, and bitumen (more commonly known as tar sands).
Extracting the oil happens through drilling and strip mining, depending on the source of the oil. As we already went over, these extraction methods are often equal to or worse than using the oil itself.
When it comes to ending oil use, there’s good and bad news. Thanks to newer energy and fuel efficiency standards, the use of oil is projected to decrease over the next ten years. This should help to lessen its impact on the environment, though making a complete switch to renewable fuel sources would do much more.
At the same time, however, US oil production has increased over the last ten years, thanks to more efficient mining techniques like hydraulic fracturing (better known as fracking). New technology like this brings us ever closer to something called “peak oil,” or the point where oil production tops out and begins to decline. We can only hope that peak oil happens sooner than later, as it may be one of the only ways to make a significant stand against climate change.
The final category of fossil fuels is made mainly of methane, also known as natural gas. Like oil, natural gas is accessed through drilling or fracking, both of which make tremendous amounts of greenhouse gas. However, the burning of natural gas itself is relatively clean, compared to the other two major fossil fuels.
In fact, burning natural gas is actually cleaner than letting it escape into the atmosphere, as methane is a much stronger greenhouse gas than CO2. This isn’t to say that natural gas should be our primary form of energy, but compared to the other two, it is the lesser of the evils.
A Turning Point
Though we don’t know when we will run out of fossil fuels, the fact remains that they are finite, polluting, and a constant strain on our environment. The only real path forward is a path that focuses on renewable, clean energy, and reducing the damage that we have already done to the planet.
At Manifest Commerce, we’re doing this by revolutionizing the world of eCommerce. We work with retailers to package, store, and ship products using entirely green methods! With our combined efforts, we can help reduce fossil fuel use, and encourage renewable energy across all industries! We won’t fix climate change alone, but with your help, we can start to make an impact.