The Truth About Fossil Fuels

Many individuals are aware of the growing stigma surrounding fossil fuels, but are they really as bad as some make them out to be? Well, that question might not be so easy to answer, as there are many different factors to consider to determine this. Especially in the realm of scientific literature, simply claiming something as good or bad for the environment isn’t – for the most part – accurate. This is due to the nuance and the many different scenarios that must be considered within the scientific method.

The Truth About Fossil Fuels

A good example of nuance within environmentalism is biomass. The generalized statement that biofuel is eco-friendly isn’t scientifically accurate due to varying factors. If biofuels are comprised of whey, waste cooking oil, or methanol and methane from wood, they do end up having a lower environmental footprint than fossil fuels. However, if biofuels are produced from soy, corn, or rye, they aren’t eco-friendly and, in some cases, can even be just as bad as fossil fuels in terms of carbon emissions. This is why it is incredibly important to acknowledge the nuances within scientific literature and to not make broad, definitive statements.

This brings us to fossil fuels. This non-renewable energy source is used to power vehicles, buildings, and pretty much everything else in everyday life. The three most common types of fossil fuels are oil, coal, and natural gas. The most common way to obtain this energy is via drilling or mining. The materials obtained through this method are then burned for electricity or refined to be utilized in heating or transportation.

What exactly is being mined? It might sound surprising, but the energy that powers the globe is produced from prehistoric plants and dead animals. When these animals/plants die, they decompose into the surrounding area, allowing layers of rock to build up around them over time. As time passes, this rock coupled with the decayed organisms creates varying fossil fuels dependent upon the mixture of organic material, duration, and temperature.

Life Cycle Assessments

To understand the true impact of fossil fuels on the environment, we must look toward life cycle assessments. Life cycle assessments are a comprehensive report of the entire impact that a given product has from sourcing, production, use stage, and end of life stage. Currently, life cycle assessments have concluded that fossil fuels have a rather large impact on the environment.

During the production process of fossil fuels, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide are all emitted into the atmosphere in such large amounts that the fossil fuel industry accounts for nearly 75% of all human-caused emissions.

In the case of fossil fuels, the nuance is few and far between. However, there is the potential to lower the environmental impact of this energy source via the implementation of certain sustainable initiatives. For example, the businesses that mine for fossil fuels could make an effort to restore the land after use, therefore bringing life back to the local ecosystems.

Other similar initiatives could also be implemented to lower the impact of this energy source. Still, with the growing knowledge of alternative energy taking over the marketplace, the footprint of fossil fuels will likely never be lower than that of renewable energy.

This brings us to our next discussion; what are the alternatives?

Throughout the past few decades, the energy alternatives that have been implemented have shown immense promise. Solar, wind, hydro, biomass, and geothermal all have had comprehensive life cycle assessments done that showed them to be far more eco-friendly than fossil fuels. The problem with many of these alternative energy sources lies in the cost of manufacturing. Even though the long-term costs of these energy sources are actually comparative or even cheaper than fossil fuels, the initial cost is what deters many people.

Solar and wind energy have shown that when implemented in larger numbers due to growing demand, the costs actually drop substantially. This is promising for the future of alternative energy and provides the potential for affordability to a wider audience.

Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up

There is a rather large debate within the environmental movement about what is the best approach to solving the growing problem of fossil fuels. Some people believe that it is solely the responsibility of the government to pass legislation for sustainability initiatives. Others are certain that it is the responsibility of the consumer to demand better options. That being said, most scientists and researchers carry along the theme of nuance and promote the unity of both approaches to solve climate change.

A top-down approach does help substantially since governments have a large impact on what is happening within a given economy. On the flip side, a bottom-up approach works via supply and demand. If there is a growing demand for a certain good, then companies and governments must meet that demand for the economy’s well-being and their businesses.

Governments are now beginning to shift toward meeting these demands and initiate more sustainable options. Perhaps one of the most notorious ways is through the creation of the Paris Agreement in 2015. This international treaty has been adopted by 195 parties who vow to cut global emissions and limit global warming to 35°F (2°C). The treaty sets standards for all participants to follow and provides the opportunity for nations to support others along this journey. As a result of the Paris Agreement, a domino effect has begun to transpire, making the transition to a sustainable society much easier to attain.

Whether you believe a top-down or bottom-up approach is better, the general consensus on fossil fuels cannot be ignored. With the growing awareness of the severity in which this energy source has on the environment, more and more businesses and governments are going to shift to alternative energy. This has the most potential for the betterment of the planet due to the large number of emissions that this sector accounts for. With a decrease in fossil fuel usage, there will be a decrease in environmental impacts, thus paving the way to a more eco-friendly and sustainable world.


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