Monday, March 24, 2008

Fossil fuels - dominant but dangerous

Carbon cycle process. Click on picture for full size.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable energy sources since they need millions of years to form and its reserves are being depleted much faster than new ones are being formed. Fossil fuels category includes oil, coal and natural gas. Fossil fuels when burning release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and carbon dioxide is very harmful greenhouse gas, mainly responsible for the global warming problem.

More than 6 billion gigatons of carbon dioxide is produced per year because of the burning of fossil fuels and natural processes are only capable in absorbing just about half of this amount and so we have every year increase of about 3 billion gigatons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Fossil fuels currently provide about two thirds of US electricity and about 85 % of all the energy consumed in the US. US dependence on fossil fuels is traditional and therefore dominant because America owes to fossil fuels great deal of its economic power, so it's very likely that this reliance on fossil fuels will continue in the next decades despite some significant progresses in alternative energy sources.

Fossil fuels will not last for eternity and reserves in the ground are very limited (especially the ones of oil and natural gas, better situation is with the coal) while their demand grows significantly every year. Fossil fuel is still "dirty" energy source despite of some technologies that were developed to make their use environmentally cleaner (i.e. coal purification).

Not only does combustion of fossil fuels generate carbon dioxide but it also generates sulphuric, carbonic and nitric acids that result in acid rain. Oil spilling accidents, dangerous coal mining methods are just some of the other negative environmental sides which use of fossil fuels carries.

Cleaner technologies have some potential but their potential is limited only to rich states while other states lack needed funds for this expensive research and stick with that what they already have (which is in many countries coal since it's the cheapest fossil fuel).

Alternative energy sources are getting more attention but reason for this isn't just the ecological awareness of countries' governments; it's more to do with the fact that fossil fuels are limited and so it's necessary to find alternative sources.

And while Earth is warming, world leaders still just debate about global warming and some of them even say "global warming doesn't exist". Who they try to convince? Us or themselves? Fossil fuels really need good alternative and they need it fast. But this alternative must be ecologically acceptable even if this means sacrificing economy.

CO2 emissions by sector and type in 2005. Click on picture for full size.

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