Fossil Fuels: What Everyone Should Know

Mark Snyder
Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance

I attended a presentation recently titled, “The Love of Fossil Fuels: The Root of All Evil?” While the title was partly a clever play on the age-old phrase, “Money is the root of all evil,” it also had some element of truth on its own.

Studies by the U.S. Department of Energy – – show that world energy consumption is currently projected to rise by nearly 60% in the next 20 years, with most of that energy coming from oil or natural gas. World electricity generation is projected to nearly double in the next 20 years, according to the International Energy Agency –

Why should we care? After all, there’s still plenty of coal and oil left, right? Maybe, but maybe not. And what happens if there’s not? A World Energy Assessment conducted in 2000 concluded “Sometime in the coming century, world-wide production of petroleum liquids will reach a peak and then begin to decline…[but] there is little agreement about when this will happen, and how steep or gradual the decline will be.” In other words, we’d better start investing now in alternatives to fossil fuels.

Even if there’s an unlimited supply of coal and oil, fossil fuel use contributes to a wide range of environmental problems. Among them include acid rain, emissions of mercury and other toxic chemicals, sprawl, smog (through increased driving) and solid waste (mostly combustion ash and oil refining waste). In Minnesota, our dependence on fossil fuels has led to fish advisories for mercury on 95% of our lakes.

Nationally, the “footprint” for food production and resource use of the typical American is roughly 25 acres per person. If we divide that into the total habitable land area on Earth, we’ll find that the carrying capacity for the planet, if everyone consumes like the average American, is 600 million people. With slightly under 300 million people, that means the “footprint” of the United States population is about half of what is available to the world. How much longer do you think that can last?

The articles that follow will show you some ways you can cut your fossil fuel use as well as introduce some more sustainable energy sources that are available today or will be soon.

Fossil Fuels

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