Renewable Vs. Nonrenewable Fuels – Part 1 Of 2
Written By: Warm Thoughts Communications on April 20, 2021
Nonrenewable fossil fuels like coal and oil have shaped civilization, powering our homes, factories, vehicles, and cities since the late 1800s. But the dangerous impacts of burning and extracting fossil fuels have brought us to a point of global crisis, as climate change and habitat destruction threaten people and the planet.
It’s a ship we have to turn around. The question is, how do we do it? One of the best ways to start the shift is to make small switches in how we live day to day, including the choices we make about how we power our homes and apartments.
In this first of a two-part post on renewable vs. nonrenewable fuels, we’ll establish some basic differences between the two classes of fuels, and why the use of non-renewables is dangerous and unsustainable. In Part 2, we’ll talk about renewable alternatives that could start to turn things around—and how you can be a part of the change.
Why Do We Still Use Fossil Fuels?
If fossil coal and oil are causing so many problems, why do we continue to use them? That’s a pretty complicated question to answer, but at least part of the answer boils down to the advantages that made fossil fuels popular in the first place:
- They’re relatively cheap. Because fossil fuels have powered our world since the 1880s, we have learned the best ways to extract them so they can be produced and distributed cheaply.
- They’ve been reliable. Fossil fuels have been a reliable source of energy for a long time — a big reason why their use has become so widespread and common.
- They’ve been abundant. Fossil fuels have remained plentiful for the first 150 years we used them.
- They make useful by-products. Petroleum is essential to the production of plastics, which we rely on every day for our health, wellbeing, and comfort.
The problem with these fossil fuel advantages is that they disappear as supplies dwindle in easy-to-reach locations. In recent years, costs to extract fossil fuels are skyrocketing, as are the risks involved in the extraction process. And as we now see, supplies aren’t infinite. This is a problem that will accelerate as the global population continues to grow.
What Problems Do Fossil Fuels Cause?
The main reason we need to make changes in our use of fossil fuels is that they cause problems that threaten the health and well-being of life across the planet. Here are just some of the disadvantages of fossil fuels:
- They’re nonrenewable. Once you burn a gallon of oil, it’s gone for good—and supplies aren’t unlimited. In fact, it’s estimated that we have about 50 years of crude oil left, with about 100 years of coal behind it.
- They’re increasingly dangerous to produce. As sources of fuel become more remote and difficult to access, the risks to people and the environment associated with mining and refining them become ever greater. From oil rig explosions and mining disasters to oceanic oil spills, we pay the price for every gallon we pull from the earth.
- They’re choking our atmosphere. Nitrogen oxide from vehicles, factories and coal power plants, along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from gasoline, paints and solvents cause smog all over the world, especially in large cities, and coal burning releases hundreds of tons of toxic mercury into the atmosphere every year.
- They’re damaging our environment. Acid rain—caused mostly by pollution from fossil-fuel-burning power plants—damages trees, lakes, rivers, crops and wildlife, along with the infrastructure of our cities. Damaging fuel extraction techniques are decimating landscapes and wildlife habitats around the world.
- Global warming. Climate change resulting from the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere is causing immeasurable damage to our environment and its inhabitants by changing weather patterns, causing more severe storms and raising sea levels around the world.
The Bottom Line
Given all the troubles they cause, the unlimited use of fossil fuels is unsustainable in our power-hungry—and growing—modern world. So, what are the alternatives, and how do we start to make the change? Spoiler alert: It starts at home.
We’ll talk about those changes in Part Two of this blog. Stay tuned!