Understanding Pollution: The Advantages and Disadvantages of Fossil Fuels

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When people talk about pollution, invariably the topic of fossil fuels will come up.  This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone considering the fact that 60% of the world’s energy consumption is fueled by fossil fuels, but what exactly are fossils fuels?  Despite the fact that fossil fuels are one of the leading causes of pollution there are benefits that are associated with their use.  There are also many disadvantages and problems that arise from their use.  It is impossible to have a discussion about pollution, or green energy, climate change, or the demands that society places on the energy sector without discussing fossil fuels.  They are a huge issue, and they are one that everyone should seek to have at least a basic understanding of.

Fossil fuels 1

Fossil fuels are “a fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) that is formed in the earth from dead plants and animals.” [i]  That sounds pretty simple, and you’re probably thinking something along the lines of how are we running out of fossil fuels with plants and animals dying all the time throughout history?  The problem lies in how long it takes fossil fuels to form.  The coal, oil, and natural gas that we use today wasn’t formed a century, or even a millennia ago.  They weren’t even formed from dead dinosaurs as is a common belief.  In fact, they were formed hundreds of millions of years ago, and millions of years before the first dinosaur was even alive![ii]  It is difficult to estimate how much oil, coal, and natural gas are left in the world, because technology is constantly advancing and granting access to heretofore inaccessible sources. Until about a decade ago oil and natural gas in tar sands was impossible to access.  What we do know is the places that are already running out of fossil fuels.  Great Britain is set to run out of its own supply of fossil fuels within the next five years.[iii]  That means that the UK will have no choice but to import ever increasing amounts of fossil fuels as their population expands unless an alternative energy source is utilized.  France and Italy are two more countries that are finding themselves running out of their own supply of fossil fuels.[iv]

There are several advantages to the use of fossil fuels for energy consumption.  To begin with, the technology required to utilize fossil fuels is already in existence, and is in fact advancing quite rapidly.[v]  There is a reason for that however, and that reason is that we have been using fossil fuels for centuries, with coal being discovered as a fuel source sometime in the 1700s.[vi]  We know these fuel sources.  We know how to mine them, transport them, and utilize them, and familiarity breeds comfort.  That’s not necessarily a good thing as a sense of familiarity often hides disaster.  Another advantage to fossil fuels is that they are cheap and reliable.[vii]  Again, we know how to mine and utilize these energy sources, and we have had a great deal of time to perfect the processes associated with them.  Ultimately, the advantages of fossil fuels come down to convenience.  If we continue to use what we have used for centuries we don’t have to change.  We can blame the problems of fossil fuels on those who came before us for sticking us with this situation.  The problem with that is that there is no sense of personal responsibility.  By using the energy and enjoying the conveniences of fossil fuels you are responsible for the consequences.

Fossil fuels 2

The disadvantages of fossil fuels are fairly well known, and often much talked about.  That being the case, I won’t go too in depth here, especially as many of these issues are covered in other articles on the site.  To begin with fossil fuels all contribute to global warming specifically, and pollution in general.[viii]  There is then the fact that fossil fuels have been linked as one of the main causes of the increase of acid rain which causes immense damage to manmade structures, ecosystems, animals, plants, and humans.[ix]  As mentioned before, fossil fuels are a finite resource.  They will one day run out.  When that day comes humanity is going to find itself in a bit of an awkward predicament unless we have made a change to a more sustainable, hopefully renewable source of energy.  Another major problem is that when that day comes we will have an outdated and useless energy infrastructure.[x]  Think about it.  How much of what we use today is run from fossil fuels?  From cars and trains to planes, and satellite launches, electricity generation to manufacturing in general.  Almost everything runs on fossil fuels, and again it is a finite resource.  There’s an old saying about putting all your eggs in one basket, and I’m afraid to say that seems like what we are doing.

Fossil fuels are used to power our world today, and have done so for decades if not centuries.  As technology has advanced we have focused on improving our current tried and true methods for energy creation and use, and called it innovation.  True innovation lies in seeing the challenges that face us and finding new and better ways of doing something.  True innovation is in finding a way to power our ever expanding society in such a way that allows us to continue to dominate the world around us, but also preserve it so that we can continue to be the dominant species of Earth for centuries.  If we do not innovate, and move away from fossil fuels, we run the risk of our society breaking down when the day comes that we run out of them.


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Fossil Fuel.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fossil fuel>.

[ii] “DOE – Fossil Energy: How Fossil Fuels Were Formed.” DOE – Fossil Energy: How Fossil Fuels Were Formed. Department of Energy. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.fe.doe.gov/education/energylessons/coal/gen_howformed.html&gt;.

[iii] “Fossil Fuels: UK to ‘run out of Oil, Gas and Coal’ in Five Years.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/uk-to-run-out-of-fossil-fuels-in-five-years-9385415.html&gt;.

[iv] “Fossil Fuels: UK to ‘run out of Oil, Gas and Coal’ in Five Years.” The Independent. Independent Digital News and Media. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/uk-to-run-out-of-fossil-fuels-in-five-years-9385415.html&gt;.

[v] “Fossil Fuels Pros and Cons – Energy Informative.” Energy Informative. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://energyinformative.org/fossil-fuels-pros-and-cons/&gt;.

[vi] “DOE – Fossil Energy: A Brief History of Coal Use in the United States.” DOE – Fossil Energy: A Brief History of Coal Use in the United States. Department of Energy. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.fe.doe.gov/education/energylessons/coal/coal_history.html&gt;.

[vii] “Fossil Fuels Pros and Cons – Energy Informative.” Energy Informative. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://energyinformative.org/fossil-fuels-pros-and-cons/&gt;.

[viii] “Fossil Fuels Pros and Cons – Energy Informative.” Energy Informative. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://energyinformative.org/fossil-fuels-pros-and-cons/&gt;.

[ix] “Disadvantages Of Fossil Fuels.” ConserveEnergyFuture. Web. 22 Nov. 2014. <http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/Disadvantages_FossilFuels.php&gt;.

[x] https://www.udemy.com/blog/disadvantages-of-fossil-fuels/

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Understanding Pollution: How Acid Rain and Other Industrial Chemicals Destroy the World around Us

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The greatest and most precious resource to be found on planet earth is the abundance of water.  Water which is the building block of all cells, and without which there would be no life.  Yet, as mankind has advanced we have been willfully blind to the effects that our actions are having on water.  Everyone knows the dangers of radiation; so imagine if our water supplies were to become irradiated.  We use storage tanks to hold dangerous liquids and gases underground to ensure they do not impact our lives.  Imagine if those tanks were to, not even break, but simply leak while remembering that just over 30% of fresh water is ground water.[i]  Finally, think of the effects that acid rain has on buildings of stone that have stood for centuries.  Then, think of the effects that that same acid rain is having on marine ecosystems around the world.

water pollution 2a

Radioactive wastes.  Two very simple words that should instill one with a sense of worry.  Radioactive wastes is defined by The Macmillan Dictionary as “The harmful waste that is produced while making nuclear energy.”[ii]  Everything that poses a danger to humanity on the scale that radiation does should be regulated, and in the United States radioactive waste is regulated by the Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards.[iii]  The problem is that government regulations allow radioactive water to be released from power plants to the environment containing “permissible” levels of contamination. However, since there is no safe threshold to exposure to radiation, permissible does not mean safe.”[iv]  According to River Keeper the Indian Point plant releases over 100 different types of isotopes, and in February 2000 an accident at the plant discharged 20,000 gallons of radioactive coolant.  That is bad enough, but the same month 200 gallons of irradiated water were released into the Hudson River[v], Water, which is our most vital resource, is being exposed to radiation which has the potential to permanently degrade any cells that it comes into contact with.  The majority of radioactive waste water pollution originates from the European continent, and traces of that radiation have been found in waters over 2000 miles away from the European coasts.[vi] That says the majority, not all.  Remember Fukushima?  That was a nuclear power plant in Japan that had a meltdown a back in 2011.  Currently, a couple of years after the disaster, radiation from Fukushima is being detected in the waters of the West Coast of the U.S.A.[vii] Radiation is one of the greatest dangers to mankind in existence, and we are allowing our waters to become poisoned by it.

water pollution 2d

Atmospheric deposition, which is more commonly known as acid rain, is a danger to both land and sea.  Acid rain is created when certain chemicals, such as sulfur and nitrogen, mix with rain clouds.  Acid rain then falls upon both the land and the sea.  On land, it can cause damage to the environment, buildings, plant and animal life, and man.  In the seas it can kill off marine life, and raises the acidity of the water.[viii]  The main cause of these chemicals entering the atmosphere and mixing with rain clouds is industry.  As the acidity of oceans rises this can lead to many damaging effects.  The most obvious of these effects is the death of marine and plant life which cannot survive in acidic waters, but it also has the potential to lower the level of nutrients in the water.  Over time this will cause even more marine life deaths.[ix]  Acid rain’s effects on land are equally severe.  It can erode manmade structures, kill plant and animal life, and cause damage to humans as well.[x]  Just from the name, acid rain, you know it is not a good thing.  Atmospheric deposition has sources both natural and manmade.  Its natural sources are volcanoes and decaying vegetation.  Its manmade sources are mainly emissions of sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxide.[xi]  As it results naturally in nature it is difficult to combat acid rain.  However, as man has contributed to the frequency and intensity of acid rain, we have an imperative to minimize the damage that is caused to our land and waters.

water pollution 2b

Underground storage tanks are found in every community in the United States[xii].  They are used to store dangerous and toxic chemicals and gases.  Sadly, out of sight out of mind doesn’t mean they’re gone.  Storage tanks that were constructed before the year 1980 were made of steel.[xiii]  Steel, which is a metal that if exposed to the elements will rust.  Since 1989 in the state of Indiana over 4300 underground storage tanks have leaked.[xiv]  That is just one state in one country. Leaking tanks have the potential to contaminate not just the soil around them, but above ground drinking water sources, below ground drinking water sources, recreational water bodies, and they can also have an impact on property values.[xv]  Responsibility is not something that can be ignored.  As these tanks are manmade structures, then mankind is responsible for the damage that is caused by them.  While it is true that the sins of earlier generation should not be visited upon the living…they are.  It is time for us to take responsibility and find a way to resolve the problems that have arisen with these leaking tanks.

water pollution 2c

It is said that progress cannot be stopped, and it is true that mankind has progressed greatly throughout the centuries.  While progress cannot be stopped, still the problems that arise from progress’ continuing march must be met.  Acid rain, nuclear waste, and underground storage tanks are all either fully manmade, or greatly exacerbated by man.  This being the case, it is up to mankind as a whole to find a way to deal with the difficulties that arise from them.  No one wishes to live in a dying wasteland, but if we do not work together to protect our most valuable resources, namely water and the environment, then we will find ourselves living in a world that none of us will enjoy.


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About the Author

Dom resizeDominick Principe is a graduate of Rowan University with dual Bachelor Degrees in Elementary Education and Writing Arts.  He is a prolific reader who devours any book put before him, and feels that life is one great long book without an end.  He fills his hours constantly exploring new information, and seeking to educate himself in the ways of the world.  He puts all of that knowledge and his passion for learning to good use teaching English as a second language to students of all ages.  When his nose isn’t buried in a book, or in class teaching, then he can generally be found typing away at his computer working on some random piece of writing that he was inspired to do.


[i] “Ground Water Discharge-The Water Cycle.” USGS. United States Geological Survey. Web. 3 Nov. 2014.

[ii] “Radioactive Waste.” – Definition. American English Definition of with Pronunciation by Macmillan Dictionary. Macmillan Dictionary. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.macmillandictionary.com/us/dictionary/american/radioactive-waste&gt;.

[iii] “Radioactive Waste.” NRC:. US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Web. 10 Nov. 2014. <http://www.nrc.gov/waste.html&gt;.

[iv] “Radioactive Waste and Pollution.” Riverkeeper RSS. River Keeper. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.riverkeeper.org/campaigns/stop-polluters/indian-point/radioactive-waste/&gt;.

[v] “Radioactive Waste and Pollution.” Riverkeeper RSS. River Keeper. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.riverkeeper.org/campaigns/stop-polluters/indian-point/radioactive-waste/&gt;.

[vi] “Nuclear Waste – How It Is Produced « Water Pollution Guide.” Nuclear Waste – How It Is Produced « Water Pollution Guide. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.water-pollution.org.uk/nuclearwaste.html&gt;.

[vii] Loew, Tracy. “Scientists: Test West Coast for Fukushima Radiation.” Usatoday.com/. USA Today, 9 Mar. 2014. Web. 12 Nov. 2014. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/09/scientists-test-west-coast-for-fukushima-radiation/6213849/&gt;.

[viii] “The Oceans Feel Impacts from Acid Rain.” Oceanus Magazine. Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, 1 Apr. 2008. Web. 30 Oct. 2014. <http://www.whoi.edu/oceanus/feature/the-oceans-feel-impacts-from-acid-rain&gt;.

[ix] “Environmental Effects of Acid Rain.” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/region1/eco/acidrain/enveffects.html&gt;.

[x] “Your Cool Facts and Tips on Air Pollution.” ESchoolToday. Web. 29 Oct. 2014. <http://eschooltoday.com/pollution/air-pollution/effects-of-air-pollution.html&gt;.

[xi] “What Is Acid Rain?” EPA. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.epa.gov/acidrain/what/&gt;.

[xii] “Protecting The Nation’s Drinking Water From Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.”EPA.gov. Environmental Protection Agency. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <Protecting The Nation’s Drinking Water From Leaking Underground Storage Tanks>.

[xiii] “Underground Storage Leakages « Water Pollution Guide.” Underground Storage Leakages « Water Pollution Guide. The Guides Network. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.water-pollution.org.uk/undergroundstorage.html&gt;.

[xiv] “Indiana Department of Environmental Management.” IDEM: About Leaking Underground Storage Tanks. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.in.gov/idem/5067.htm&gt;.

[xv] “Indiana Department of Environmental Management.” IDEM: About Leaking Underground Storage Tanks. Web. 3 Nov. 2014. <http://www.in.gov/idem/5067.htm&gt;.