The Problem With Fossil Fuels

November 27, 2016

Our atmosphere has just passed the 400 PPM threshold of Carbon Dioxide, but what does that mean for us? While 400 PPM may seem a small percentage, its environmental indications are tremendous. ​Carbon dioxide levels haven’t been this high for thousands of years, in fact, the last time they were at this level humans weren’t around. What caused this problem, you may ask? The answer, as usual, is us.

Since the Industrial Revolution when we discovered coal as a power source, our carbon dioxide emissions have been on the rise. Carbon dioxide levels had been regulated for years before this by plants who stored it until they died, but with humans putting more and more CO₂ out, the plants can only do so much. Over the years we’ve discovered more fossil fuels which we use to power machines, our homes, and our cars. ​Without these, we wouldn’t have developed as far as we have technologically, but it came with a price.  ​As humankind wants to develop more, we cut down forests which, once the trees die, they let out the CO₂ they’ve been storing for years. World Resources Institute says that “​Loss of forests contributes between 12 percent and 17 percent of annual global ​greenhouse gas emissions​.”  These emissions, along with the pollution that comes from creating and using our fossil fuels is stuck in our atmosphere. Even as we’re turning to greener power alternatives such as solar and wind, we can’t reverse the damage we’ve done. Carbon dioxide can’t just dissipate from our atmosphere, it’ll stay there for thousands of years affecting many generations to come. ​CO₂ is one of the handful of greenhouse gases which collect in our atmosphere and trap the sun’s UV rays in, creating a greenhouse effect on Earth. The Earth’s climate is changing, affecting plants, ecosystems and our way of life.

Although it seems as if all hope is lost now that we’ve crossed past the safe 350 PPM of CO₂ , there are still things we can do to help. Some scientists claim that the damage we’ve done is irreversible, and while some of it may be, that doesn’t mean we should give up hope.  Our best option at the moment is to completely change our habits as a society. We’ve gotten to be too reliant on traditional forms of energy and even though alternative energy sources are available, the US Energy Information Administration quoted that “​In 2015, renewable energy sources accounted for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 13% of electricity generation.​” This may be because of the higher prices for solar and wind versus coal and oil but, when you factor in the future of mankind, it’s value is much higher. Many states have started to give tax rebates to those who switch to cleaner energy sources, which is a great start. Along with changing our power source, we have to mimic the Dutch and ditch our cars. Why drive when you can bike or walk or, at the very least, carpool? These changes while not completely reversing the damage that’s been done, will keep us from inflating the levels of ​CO₂ further.