Fossil Fuels and Alternative Energy

“In the United States, 80% of our energy is produced by using fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas, and coal) (U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis’)” The use of these sources of energy are a concern for multiple reasons. We need to educate the world on what renewable energy is and what fossil fuels are doing to cause damage to our planet we live on. Whether it’s the contribution to climate change, the impact on local environments and water supplies, or even just the monetary cost, there is a very clear need to start switching over to renewable energy sources.

Fossil fuels are neither sustainable nor safe. They pose a serious risk to the environment. “Just to obtain and process them, entire sections of land – whether it be forest, field, or even mountaintop – are blasted away to get to the oil and coal lying underneath.(Denchak 2019)” The wildlife is extinguished in these areas, some of which are critical for migration and breeding. This poses a danger to some ecosystems which rely on certain types of animals and insects living there. Another type of living thing in our ecosystem is plants. Plants are important to humans and to the animals and insects, they are a great food source and they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen in which we all need to breathe. “According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), at least 236 plant species and 51 animal species are in danger of extinction in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo island.(‘Pacific Ecologist’ 2009)” According to the Pacific Ecologist article Indonesia is the second country with the largest number of endangered species in the world. Our planet needs all of the living organisms it has to stay healthy and keep these plants and animals from being endangered.

Fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is one of the leading techniques that are used in oil and gas production. “It involves injecting millions of gallons of water, chemicals, and sand underground at extremely high pressures to allow natural gases and oils to escape via the fractures it creates in the underlying geology.(‘Fracking, Oil and Gas Development’)” Chemicals from the wastewater produced by fracking – substances such as formaldehyde, lead, arsenic, and mercury – contaminate the local water supplies. Not only is this a risk for wildlife, but for human drinking water as well. The quality of our water needs to be as clean as it can be, or it can cause very life-threatening diseases to all living things on our planet. “Arsenic and fluoride in drinking water present the greatest health risks, for example as many as 77 million people may be affected by Arsenic contamination of drinking water in Bangladesh. (‘PLOS ONE’)”. Some studies have linked proximity to local fracking sites and developmental and reproductive problems in humans. “Even more concerning, 781 of the 1.021 chemicals (76.4%) have not been tested or studied to determine potential health threats (Greenwood 2018).” These studies have found that drinking contaminated with arsenic can cause cancer to many organs (skin, kidneys, bladder) in the human body. Animals is also harmed by contaminated water; they do not show external signs of symptoms which makes it very dangerous when humans consume these contaminated animals.

Coal mining, too, has a long history in the United States. There are two main risks involved in the production of this type of fossil fuel: human health hazards, and overall impact on the environment. Coal mining is a dangerous occupation. Workers are at risk while on the job for fatal accidents such as explosions and tunnel collapse. Long-term, however, the toll is higher. Pneumoconiosis, or black lung, is an incurable disease that affects coal miners. Its symptoms are typical of those seen in people with asthma and can lead to decline in lung function. Lung cancer is also a huge risk factor. “In one study, over 12,000 coal miners showed a significant increased risk for lung cancer versus those who had never worked underground.(‘CDC – Mining Topic – Respiratory Diseases – NIOSH’ 2019)” If coal mining is causing so many people who worked underground and around the area of where the mining was taking place, why does it need to continue to happen. We can make a change and stop coal mining and put more of our money into renewable energy rather than causing risks for humans and other living species.

The impact of coal mining and other production of fossil fuels on the environment is very real. The aforementioned wildlife and human health concerns, significant though they are, are overshadowed by an undeniable impact on the earth’s climate. “97% of scientists agree that over the past century, climate-warming trends are “extremely likely due to human activities”.(‘Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate is Warming’ 2020)” The use of fossil fuels has caused a serious increase in the emissions of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This leads to rising temperatures, the melting of the ice caps, rising sea levels, and acidification of the ocean waters. There are so many living objects on this earth that are affected by climate change and if it continues to get worse there will be no more living species on this planet.

As the earth warms, there will be impacts on every level. More hurricanes, flooding, wildfires, and extreme weather patterns will cause more disaster situations, having not only an impact on the economy but on human lives. These disruptions will lead to migration – people moving away from areas that are no longer as habitable, which will lead to further conflicts and global insecurity. “Natural disasters will happen more frequently and it will lead to the extinction of entire species and ecosystems.(‘AGU Position Statement on Climate Change’)” Arguably, climate change is the largest human health risk of all, and humans are the main contributing factor.

There is a solution for lessening the damage that humans are causing by relying on fossil fuels. Renewable energy uses not only on an individual level, but on a national and global scale, may help to reduce the rate at which the earth’s temperature is rising. Clean, safe, and sustainable resources such as wind, water, and solar, are crucial for mitigating climate change. Solar panels are a great way to help keep the earth clean and sustainable even though it can get very expensive. “By using radiation from the sun, solar panels offer a clean and endless supply of energy. (‘Springer – International Publisher Science, Technology, Medicine’ 2015)”

Even if one were to disregard all the risks of fossil fuels and its impact on the environment and human health, renewable energy makes economic sense. From a current projection, the Global GDP if the US transitions to renewable energy is expected to rise by 19 trillion USD in cumulative economic gains by 2050. This ends up saving up to six times more than the cost of decarbonisation. “The job creation in the expanding field of renewable energy will also increase to 26 million by 2050 from the current 9.8 million today – far exceeding the job losses from ending fossil fuel production. (‘Renewable Energy: A key climate solution’)”

Overall, the benefits of renewable energy far outweigh those of fossil fuels. Renewable energy is far safer for both its workers and for the environment. Climate change is a real threat that it’s too late to reverse – but not too late to contain. Humans, as far as we know, only have this one planet to live on. We will always continue to look for more planets sustainable to live on, but why do we keep looking for another planet when we have the perfect on that we all live on right now. This planet was made to maintain living species on it, so causing danger to our ecosystem defeats the purpose of living on this planet. Mass extinction is not a price that should be paid for corporations to profit off of fossil fuels. The damage to our water supplies, our health, our wildlife and environment is not worth the ease of continuing to produce fossil fuels. Switching to renewable energy makes sense both from a scientific and economic standpoint and should be a goal of individuals and nations. We all can make a small change in the way we live if we educate ourselves and others on what can and is happening to the beautiful planet, we live on called Earth.

Work Cited Page

  1. “AGU Position Statement on Climate Change.” Welcome to AGU, www.agu.org/Share-and-Advocate/Share/Policymakers/Position-Statements/Position_Climate.
  2. ‘Biofuels threaten sustainable tribes.’ Pacific Ecologist, no. 17, 2009, p. 42+. Gale Academic OneFile Select, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A199069799/EAIM?u=edirect_gvrl&sid=EAIM&xid=6ae9d82e. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
  3. “CDC – Mining Topic – Respiratory Diseases – NIOSH.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Oct. 2019, www.cdc.gov/niosh/mining/topics/RespiratoryDiseases.html.
  4. Denchak, Melissa. “Fossil Fuels: The Dirty Facts.” NRDC, 16 July 2019, www.nrdc.org/stories/fossil-fuels-dirty-facts.
  5. Goddard, Leah. ‘The solar panel manufacturing industry’s boom, bust, and future.’ Business Economics, vol. 50, no. 3, 2015, p. 147+. Gale Academic OneFile Select, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A433119639/EAIM?u=edirect_gvrl&sid=EAIM&xid=720a8e74. Accessed 7 Feb. 2020.
  6. Greenwood, Michael. “Toxins Found in Fracking Fluids and Wastewater, Study Shows.” YaleNews, 27 Sept. 2018, news.yale.edu/2016/01/06/toxins-found-fracking-fluids-and-wastewater-study-shows.
  7. “Fracking, Oil and Gas Development.” American Rivers, www.americanrivers.org/threats-solutions/energy-development/fracking/.
  8. Lucas, Patricia J., et al. ‘Dissemination of Drinking Water Contamination Data to Consumers: A Systematic Review of Impact on Consumer Behaviors.’ PLoS ONE, vol. 6, no. 6, 2011, p. e21098. Gale Academic OneFile Select, https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A476886778/EAIM?u=edirect_gvrl&sid=EAIM&xid=1b367b91. Accessed 8 Feb. 2020.
  9. Renewable Energy: A Key Climate Solution, www.irena.org/climatechange/Renewable-Energy-Key-climate-solution.
  10. “Scientific Consensus: Earth’s Climate Is Warming.” NASA, NASA, 21 Jan. 2020, climate.nasa.gov/scientific-consensus/.
  11. “U.S. Energy Information Administration – EIA – Independent Statistics and Analysis.” U.S. Energy Facts Explained – Consumption and Production – U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), www.eia.gov/energyexplained/us-energy-facts/.