Fossil Fuels- The A-Z of Global Warming

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					This article is taken from The A-Z of Global Warming and discusses fossil fuels. The
generation of electricity through burning carbon rich coal has a greater impact on the
atmosphere than any other single human activity. In 2003 the power industry created
44.5% of all manmade carbon dioxide (CO2) according to the World Resources
Institute, Climate Analysis Indicators Tool (CAIT). If one looks at emissions of
carbon dioxide alone (ignoring all other greenhouse gases), then for the year 2000, the
figure is just under 33%, and the latest figure available from 2003, as mentioned
above shows an increase for this sector to 44.5%. The latest figure however excludes
CO2 from land use change. So what are fossil fuels, and how are they formed? Well
fossil fuels form deep in the earth's crust over millions of years from enormous
pressure and heat which converts dead plant and animal matter into hydrocarbons in
the form of coal, oil or natural gas, which can then be dug up and burnt as fuel.

As these fossil fuels have formed over millions of years they are no longer considered
to be part of the natural carbon cycle as they have effectively been "locked up" within
the earth's crust and rocks etc.

In 2005 alone some 28 billion tonnes of CO2 was released into the atmosphere, from
burning fossil fuels, which is equivalent to around 800 tonnes a second!

Out of all the fossil fuels the worst culprit is coal, which is used as the fuel in coal
fired electricity power stations for the production of electricity. Generating electricity
through carbon rich coal however has a greater impact on the atmosphere than any
other single human activity.

The power industry produces over twice the amount of CO2 as is produced by the
transport sector.

Basically electricity generation hasn't changed much from the 19th century with large
power plants burning fossil fuels for the creation of electricity, and this model looks
set to continue for some time to come.

Within the rapidly expanding economies of India and China, coal fired electricity
plants will dramatically increase. In fact China, the USA and India are the top three
producers in the world.

Apart from carbon dioxide, burning coal produces a host of other chemicals, like
sulphur dioxide, which causes acid rain, Nitrous oxide and other heavy metals.

What makes matters worse is that coal is the world's most widely available fossil fuel
and there is almost 200 years of coal left, if it is used at its current rate. This will be
pretty academic however as according to the latest report out by the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change, if the burning of fossil fuels continue
unchanged, the Earth could warm by as much as 6 degrees Celsius (10.8 F) by 2100.
This would mean almost certain extinction of most of life on the earth.

One only has to look at pictures from recent news stories showing industrial cities in
these developing countries to see the pollution and clouds of smog hanging over the
cities and blocking out the sunlight.

It is estimated that by 2030, 55% of all power stations built in the Asia pacific region
will be coal fired.

The transport sector in 2000 accounted for around 14% of greenhouse gas emissions,
or 20% of CO2 alone (ignoring other greenhouse gases), in 2003. The majority of
these emissions are from road transport, with aviation second, followed by shipping
and rail last. Emissions from the aviation sector are expected to grow the fastest

So whilst developed and especially developing nations continue to build power
stations to gobble up the Earth's supply of fossil fuels, serious harm is being done to
the atmosphere which will continue to elevate global temperatures as higher CO2
levels add to the greenhouse effect.

There are in fact enough fossil fuels left to take the world to levels of CO2
concentrations of around 750ppm and above, (around 330 ppm more than present)
which would elevate temperatures to such an extent that it would be catastrophic for
all of Earth's inhabitants. CO2 as a result of burning fossil fuels is only one of the
greenhouse gases, which is contributing to the warming of the atmosphere. The next
article we will look at Earth's greenhouse gases, which are essential to life on Earth,
but which are now warming the planet as their levels steadily increase.