Fossil fuels helped many nations to industrialize. This energy resource has built our modern civilization. It has not been without consequence. These are the environmental impacts of fossil fuels which must be considered.
1. It can lead to health disorders.
The mining of fossil fuels is known to cause health issues such as pneumoconiosis, which is more commonly called Black Lung Disease. Mines can also collapse or subside, contaminating local water flows and exposing local populations to potential toxicities within their drinking water.
2. It may change the environment.
The combustion of fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and other gases to the atmosphere. These gases potentially cause a reflective effect on sunlight, magnifying the warm the Sun provides. This may change the environment by warming it.
3. It leads to air pollution.
Nitrogen oxides, which are a byproduct of all fossil fuel combustion activities, contribute to ground-level ozone. This “heavy” air can trap particulates while causing lung tissue irritation. High levels of these oxides may even contribute to chronic respiratory diseases. Nitrogen oxides can also be combined with sulfur dioxide to form acid rain.
4. It increases water consumption.
Power plants which use fossil fuels consume four times more water than all residences in a community. About 80% of the cooling water that is used in power production comes from local rivers or lakes as well, which changes a local ecosystem and put stress on the local water supply. In the US alone, 1 in 5 watersheds is under stress because of activities like these.
5. Fossil fuels have various levels of purity.
Some fossil fuels must be refined before they are burned, which further contributes to the environmental impacts of this product. Eastern US coal, for example, contains high sulfur levels which must be extracted before combustion. The purification process produces a toxic slurry of mercury, arsenic, cadmium, chromium, and various heavy metals. This slurry typically goes into an impoundment, which then may leak if not properly maintained.
Fossil fuels may have helped us to build our modern civilization, but the evidence shows that it may be time to modernize once again. We only have one planet at our disposal. If we fail to take care of it, then we may be limiting our future potential.