Fossil fuels are a controversial subject, and for good reason: they simultaneously power and diminish our planet. As the global population continues to rise and as our efforts to “go green” continue to fall short of expectations, the disadvantages of fossil fuels are becoming ever more stark and serious.
This post examines the most substantial and detrimental disadvantages of fossil fuels, on both local and global levels. I also encourage you to continue to explore the complexities of globalization and how it affects economic and cultural relationships with this comprehensive online course on the Geography of Globalization.
1. Foreign Affairs And Rising Prices
The United States currently imports more than half of its petroleum, much of it from countries that are not exactly “stable.” Having to rely on other countries for our energy is a huge disadvantage, as we can control neither price nor supply. More than once countries have taken advantage of this fact, both by raising prices and constricting our supply in an effort to exert power over us.
While fossil fuels continue to be our cheapest, most reliable energy source, this may not be the case for long. The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC, as it is more commonly known) is comprised of 13 countries who produce 40% of the world’s oil supply. OPEC is believed to keep extremely close tabs on world consumption and to adjust its production accordingly, thereby keeping prices high and on the rise. Start lending a hand in spreading green energy, and profit from it, too, with this five-star course on how to break into the $2 billion solar energy industry.
2. Waning Supplies
Fossil fuels have had a good run, but they’re on their last legs. While coal reserves are still estimated to last us 300 years based on current projections, we only have 40-50 years left of the kind of limitless oil supply we enjoy today. Once the next few decades expire, oil supplies are expected to be cut in half, and then continue falling from there. In other words, if you think about all the things that run on oil – factories, vehicles and a million others – then you realize that a tremendous and possibly crippling change awaits us in our lifetimes.
There is reason to hope, however, as geothermal energy is not only a growing green alternative, but it can single-handedly power the world’s energy needs. This blog post examines all the pros and cons of geothermal energy.
3. Environmental Issues
If there’s one thing we have an abundance of, it’s environmental issues. Let’s break them down into a few sections:
To deny global warming at this stage of the game is to deny fact. Is chlorophyll green? Yes. Is global warming happening and is it a direct result of burning fossil fuels? Yes. Humanity seems to be infinitely hopeful that we’ll find a solution to the problem and save the world, but the possibility continues to exist (and increase) that catastrophic and potentially apocalyptic damage will take place. If this does, in fact, happen, then fossil fuels will go down in history as the greatest and most mis-managed mistake in the history of mankind. So mark that one down as a “disadvantage.”
Mining coal, while very efficient and safer than ever, is still incredibly dangerous and damaging to the environment. Coal mining destroys vast tracts of often pristine land. They’re even cutting off the tops of some of the oldest mountains in the world to make accessing the coal underneath easier. And once a coal mine is gutted, the byproducts of mining coal have already caused significant ecological damage of the surrounding environment, from acidification of soil and water to large-scale erosion.
If, for whatever reason, you’re somewhat fond of coal, round out your perspective with this comprehensive list of all the advantages and disadvantages of coal.
A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall
Bob Dylan infamously denied that he was singing about a “nuclear, acid rain” in his song A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall, but this is in fact what happens when we burn fossil fuels. Sulphur dioxide is a common byproduct and we burn them at such a prolific rate that we literally turn the rain acidic. Needless to say, this can make agriculture quite difficult, not to mention environmental life in general.
Greenhouse gases burn holes in the atmosphere. That’s a ridiculous statement. I don’t really need to expand on it, but to make a long story short, depleted ozone allows UV rays to penetrate the atmosphere and descend upon the Earth in extremely dangerous quantities. In some parts of the world time outside is already limited, as if we don’t get out enough as it is.
Does that make you want to become an expert of energy alternatives? Learn all the facts behind energy efficient protocols with this LEED preparation guide designed by Clean Edison.
4. Hungry Plants
I’m talking about power stations and power plants. The problem is that our fossil fuel infrastructure is so interconnected that it’s difficult to change one thing without changing anything else. This is an advantage in the sense that we’re already set-up for fossil fuels and it makes using them easier than ever, but it’s a massive disadvantage now that we know we have to eventually (and sooner rather than later) ween ourselves away from them. Power plants are a great example because they require ungodly amounts of coal, and they need this coal constantly available. This generally means that train tracks have to be built directly into the plant’s design and that a coal mine needs to be located close by and that there should be a large storage facility in order to build up a considerable reserve.
As I just mentioned, so many things run on fossil fuels and are interconnected that it’s going to require unfathomable amounts of resources and energy to build new factories, new equipment, new vehicles, etc. The transition away from fossil fuels is going to be long, expensive and more difficult than anything the human race has yet experienced. An entire way of life is going to have to change, and we are already seeing just how much resistance certain people and groups intend to administer.
This particularly applies to oil, as the United States still imports over 40% of its petroleum from other countries. This dependence on others has always been a disadvantage, and we have suffered eye-popping economic losses because of it. Fossil fuels are non-renewable, so supplies must be monitored and controlled, which means that prices are also monitored and controlled. This is what we call price manipulation, and OPEC is quite talented at it. It is estimated that price manipulation costs the United States upwards of $500 billion a year. That’s $1 trillion every two years. By the end of 2014, the national debt is predicted to be just shy of $18 trillion, which is probably what we have paid in price manipulation in the last 30 years.
6. It’s Just . . . Dirty
Soot, oil spills,, noxious gas, smog-cities, devastated wild lands . . . there’s nothing green or clean about fossil fuels. They have essentially and single-handedly made our planet an uglier, dirtier and less safe place to live, whether you’re a frog embryo or the President of the United States.
But to be fair, all major sources of energy have their pros and cons. If you want to learn about a variety of environmental issues and trade-offs associated with different energy sources, check out this Energy Economics and the Environment course taught by former White House economist, Ben Ho.