“We must get rid of fossil fuels by developing injection systems for automobiles, which can run on bio-fuel.”
A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, Statesman
Advantages & Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
Fossil fuels are fuels that have been formed over millions of years by natural processes like anaerobic decomposition of buried organisms.
Prominent examples of fossil fuels include coal, gas and oil.
Our global industries are heavily dependent on fossil fuels in order to ensure their energy supply.
Also we as a society need those fossil fuels for our cars and many other purposes.
However, fossil fuels also have many serious downsides.
In this article, the pros and cons of fossil fuels are examined in detail.
Advantages of Fossil Fuels
- Cheap source of energy
- Fossil fuel reservoirs are easy to detect
- Relatively independent of weather conditions
- Waste products can be used for plastic production
- Fossil power plants are relatively easy to set up
- Only small surface areas required
- Efficient process
- Mature technology
- Relatively safe
- No high upfront costs
- Relatively easy to transport
- Local jobs
- Many machines and vehicles need fossil fuels
Cheap source of energy
Since the technology behind fossil fuels is quite advanced and has been optimized for many decades, energy that is produced by using fossil fuels is generally quite cheap compared to other alternative energy sources.
Thus, the use of fossil fuels is quite attractive for industries and also for private persons.
Fossil fuel reservoirs are easy to detect
Since our technological progress is already quite advanced and will continue to accelerate in the future, it is quite easy to detect fossil fuel reservoirs.
Depending on the location, it can be easily evaluated on an individual basis if the respective reservoir provides enough value to mine for fossil fuels or if it is too costly to exploit those reservoirs.
Relatively independent of weather conditions
The power production from fossil fuels can also be considered to be rather independent of weather and climatic conditions.
Contrary to other alternative energies like wind or solar power which rely on significant wind speeds or sunlight, fossil fuel power plants do not rely on any of those factors, which makes them a much more reliable power source.
Waste products can be used for plastic production
By using and processing fossil fuels, there are harmful as well as useful by-products.
The useful part of those by-products can be used for the production of material things made out of plastic.
For instance, chances are high that your plastic garden chair and many other plastic things in your household have actually been manufactured out of the by-products from fossil fuel production.
Fossil power plants are relatively easy to set up
Compared to other alternative energies like hydropower where the construction of dams and reservoirs can take many years, fossil power plants are relatively easy to set up.
Hence, this also implies that the construction time as well as the construction costs will be much lower in most cases.
Therefore, the use of fossil fuels is quite attractive for power production companies since it is quite promising in terms of profit maximization.
Only small surface areas required
Fossil fuel power plants only require rather small areas of land for construction compared to other energy sources like biofuels or hydropower.
Thus, even it has several other disadvantages, fossil fuels could actually be regarded to be sophisticated in terms of land use compared to many other alternative energy sources.
The power production with fossil fuels can also be considered to be quite efficient.
On the one hand, the energy that is produced through fossil fuels can be used in an efficient manner since the devices and machines that use this kind of energy had been optimized for many years.
On the other hand, also some of the by-products from fossil fuel energy production can be reused for the manufacturing of other material things.
Thus, overall, resources are used quite efficiently in the energy production process related to fossil fuels.
Since fossil fuels have been used over many decades, the technology behind fossil fuels is quite advanced and had been optimized over quite a long period of time.
Therefore, it can be regarded as one of the most reliable power sources, at least until these fossil fuels become subject to depletion or other environmental issues.
The overall energy production process related to fossil fuels can be regarded to be relatively safe compared to other technologies.
For instance, an accident in a nuclear power plant can cause the radioactive pollution of large areas of land.
The wind can carry nuclear particles even thousands of miles to other countries. In contrast, accidents in power plants that are operated with fossil fuels will only have local consequences and the contaminated area will be rather low.
No high upfront costs
Compared to other technologies like hydropower, the upfront costs for the construction of fossil power plants are much lower and the safety issues are also less severe.
For instance, if the planning and construction of a hydropower plant are not done correctly, chances are that dams break and valleys become flooded, which in turn would lead to the death of many people.
Thus, the safety standards and also the construction costs of those hydropower plants are quite high compared to fossil fuel power plants since the damage from fossil fuel power plants may be much lower in case of an accident.
Relatively easy to transport
Through pipelines, fossil fuels can be transported over quite long distances in a rather easy, fast and reliable manner.
Even though the construction of those pipelines is initially quite costly, in the long run, it definitely pays off to use those pipelines since it is much cheaper compared to shipping fossil fuels over quite long distances to power plants.
The fossil fuel industry can be quite beneficial for the local job creation, especially in areas that otherwise would suffer from significant levels of unemployment.
Through the construction and operation of fossil fuel power plants, many jobs can be created and the average income in those regions will likely increase.
Many machines and vehicles need fossil fuels
Our current society is heavily reliant on fossil fuels.
The largest fraction of our power supply is generated by the use of fossil fuels.
Moreover, we also rely on fossil fuels to run our cars or for household devices like heating.
Consequently, the supply with fossil fuels is crucial in order to be able to continue to live our life like we currently know it, at least until we find a way to transit to fully renewable and green power sources in the future.
Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels
- Fossil fuels contribute to global warming
- Destruction of habitats
- Biodiversity loss
- Acid rain
- Public health issues
- Health of workers in this industry is threatened
- Not renewable or sustainable
- Dependence on other countries
- Global dependence as a society
- Large amounts of water are needed
- Hazardous waste
- Risk of increasing world market prices
- Accidents can cause oil spills
- Pipelines may be targets for attacks of fundamentalists
Fossil fuels contribute to global warming
One of the most important downsides of energy production with fossil fuels is that it implies the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases, which in turn contributes to the global warming issue.
Scientists estimate that if we continue to emit large amounts of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere, chances are that the average air temperature will increase more than 4 degrees Celsius (around 7 degrees Fahrenheit) until the end of the century.
This may sound rather harmless to you, however, an increase of 4 degrees Celsius would have horrible environmental effects.
Scientists agree that we should decrease our greenhouse gas emissions to a level that we can confine the increase of the average air temperature to 2 degrees Celsius (around 3,6 degrees Fahrenheit) until the end of the century.
In order to reach this ambitious goal, we have to quit the use of fossil fuels and transit to the use of renewable energies quite fast.
Fossil fuels like coal have to be mined. However, through those mining processes, large areas of land have to be used and natural living conditions of many animals and plants are altered in an adverse manner.
Moreover, in the mining process, harmful chemicals are used which could lead to serious levels of soil and water pollution if those chemicals are not handled with great care.
In addition, those mining processes also involve the use of machines which are also run by fossil fuels, which leads to significant air pollution and also contributes to global warming.
Destruction of habitats
The use of fossil fuels also implies the destruction of habitats for a variety of animals and plants.
Through the emission of greenhouse gases and global warming, large areas of land will be flooded in the future, which will destroy the natural living space in those areas.
Moreover, many animals and plans are also quite sensitive to changes in their natural living conditions.
An increase of global air temperature of a few degrees may cause many species to decrease in population since they may not be able to adapt to these new climatic conditions in a short period of time.
An increase in air and water temperature due to the use of fossil fuels will also lead to significant biodiversity loss.
For instance, many corals and ocean plants will die off if water temperatures increase.
Moreover, also many fishes may become endangered or even extinct since an increase in water temperature also implies lower oxygen levels.
Since fishes and other water animals are quite sensitive to the oxygen levels in the water, these water organisms may drop in population or may even become extinct.
The use of fossil fuels also implies significant levels of pollution of many different sorts.
For instance, the emission of greenhouse gases into our atmosphere leads to serious air pollution and also to the formation of smog.
Moreover, our ozone layer may also be depleted due to the excessive emission of harmful gases into our atmosphere.
The use of fossil fuels and the implied emissions of harmful gases into our atmosphere also contribute to the formation of acid rain.
Acid rain can have severe adverse effects on the local flora and fauna.
Moreover, it can also affect crop yields since plants are usually quite sensitive to the acidity level of the soil and may no longer be able to produce sufficient crop yields once the acidity level is altered too much.
Public health issues
The use of fossil fuels can lead to a variety of different serious public health problems.
The air pollution which is implied by the use of fossil fuels can lead to pulmonary diseases like asthma or even lung cancer in the long run.
Moreover, due to global warming, epidemics or even pandemics are more likely to develop and spread.
Thus, the use of fossil fuels may also indirectly contribute to an increased number of deaths, especially in poor developing countries on our planet.
Health of workers in this industry is threatened
Depending on the regulation regarding working conditions and safety at work, employees working in the fossil fuel industry may also significantly suffer from long term health issues.
This may be especially true for miners who often work under extreme conditions, which may translate into physical or even mental health issues in the long run.
In extreme cases, mines may collapse and many miners may even lose their life.
Not renewable or sustainable
Another significant downside of the use of fossil fuels is that they are not renewable nor sustainable, meaning that they may become depleted sooner or later.
Even though experts estimate that our fossil fuel supply should last for a few more decades, at one point in time, this resource will be entirely depleted.
If we reach this point in time before we had been able to transit to renewable energies, our economy would likely collapse since our energy supply would no longer be ensured.
Therefore, it is crucial to transit to renewable energy sources as soon as possible in order to become independent from fossil fuels.
Dependence on other countries
The use of fossil fuels like oil also implies a significant dependence on other countries.
For instance, while countries like Saudi Arabia or Russia can make large amounts of money by exporting oil all over the world, many other countries who rely on those fossil fuels are quite dependent and may be forced to accept quite bad trade conditions since those countries may simply have no choice until they have made the transition to renewable energies and do no longer rely on the supply with fossil fuels anymore.
Global dependence as a society
Neither as a country, nor as a global society as a whole is it a good idea to be dependent on a single power source.
Thus, as a human species, we should strive to leave the use of fossil fuels behind and transit to renewable and green energies instead.
Even though this is the plan in many industrialized countries, it will likely take many years to achieve this energy transition process so that the use of fossil fuels may no longer be needed.
Large amounts of water are needed
In the cooling process of fossil fuel power production, large amounts of water have to be used in order to ensure the proper functioning of devices.
However, water will become a quite scarce resource in the future due to global warming, especially in the Southern hemisphere of our planet.
Thus, even though the dependence on large amounts of water may not sound to be alarming first, it could become a serious issue in the near future and there may even be fights and wars over water in poor, hot and dry regions of our planet.
Even though some by-products from fossil fuel energy production can be used for the manufacturing of plastic things, others are quite harmful to our environment and should be treated with great care in order to avoid environmental pollution.
Especially in countries where waste disposal standards are rather lax, the incorrect disposal of those harmful components may lead to serious pollution.
Risk of increasing world market prices
Since the price of commodities is determined by supply and demand, the world market price for fossil fuels will likely significantly increase in the near future.
Since fossil fuels are a finite resource and the supply will eventually decrease, with steady demand, prices will increase.
Thus, it may be a good idea for countries to accelerate the transition process from fossil to renewable energies in order to become independent of global world market prices for fossil fuels.
Accidents can cause oil spills
Coal and other fossil fuels often have to be transported to power plants.
However, there are sometimes accidents with trucks that transport fossil fuels.
In those accidents, large amounts of fossil fuels can contaminate the local soil and also our groundwater.
Pipelines may be targets for attacks of fundamentalists
Since our Western world is heavily dependent on the use of fossil fuels, pipelines that are crucial for our oil supply may become targets to attacks of fundamentalists.
Such attacks may lead to a vast problem for industrialized countries, since the supply with one of their main sources of power would be decreased dramatically.
Hence, it may not be a good idea to rely on the use of fossil fuels like oil in the future.
Top 10 Fossil Fuels Pros & Cons – Summary List
|Fossil Fuels Pros||Fossil Fuels Cons|
|Cheap unit price of energy||Global warming|
|Reservoirs are easy to find||Mining|
|Independent from weather conditions||Habitat destruction|
|Waste products can be reused||Loss of biodiversity|
|Fossil power plants are easy to set up||Many sorts of pollution|
|Only small areas of land required||Acid rain|
|Quite efficient energy production processes||Public health problems|
|Mature power source||Health issues for workers|
|Safe technology||Not sustainable nor renewable nor green|
|Rather low upfront costs||Dependence on other nations|
Do Fossil Fuels Have A Future?
Even though we have seen that fossil fuels have many advantages, they are definitely not the way to go in the future.
In order to fight global warming and several other issues related to the use of fossil fuels, we as a global society have to transit from fossil to green energy sources.
Only then will it be possible to save millions of lives and to ensure a livable future for the next generations.
About the author
My name is Andreas and my mission is to educate people of all ages about our environmental problems and how everyone can make a contribution to mitigate these issues.
As I went to university and got my Master’s degree in Economics, I did plenty of research in the field of Development Economics.
After finishing university, I traveled around the world. From this time on, I wanted to make a contribution to ensure a livable future for the next generations in every part of our beautiful planet.
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