Environmental Science Contribution That Fossil Fuels Essay

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¶ … Environmental science [...] contribution that fossil fuels have made to modern human society, and consider their environmental implications. Fossil fuels really allowed the expansion of the United States and the world, and they led to major breakthroughs in technologies that impact our lives to this day. From locomotives and automobiles to the Industrial Revolution and high-tech development, fossil fuels have been involved or directly related to all of these things, and they continue to influence the people and the world today.

Fossil fuels power the world, and they include what are often referred to as "non-renewable" fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas. These fuels have made a tremendous contribution to global society, from making it more mobile to creating hosts of new technologies, but these contributions come at a great cost. Fossil fuels and their overuse is helping to change the world as humans know it, and eventually they could result is such massive global changes that life as it is known today no longer exists.


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Oil, coal, and natural gas were all created millions of years ago when the Earth underwent massive changes and organisms died, eventually decomposing and falling to the bottom of ancient seabeds. Eventually, pressure and temperature combined to turn these many-layered remains into oil, coal, and natural gas deposits in different areas around the world. Coal was discovered in the 1700s, while oil was discovered in the mid-eighteenth century. Soon, it became clear that these discoveries could be used as fuel. Two students note, "In the late 1800's, coal and gas were used as heat and light sources, steam locomotives as well. There were early automobiles too, but these vehicles were more of a novelty than a way of life" (Chughtai & Shannon, 2003). Massive usage of these fuels did not really occur until the 1940s, when the world was at war and technologies developed to utilize fossil fuels at a much higher rate in factories, in war machines such as tanks and planes, and later in building and industry.


Essay on Environmental Science Contribution That Fossil Fuels Have Assignment

Fossil fuels have had an incredible impact on transportation around the world. The first trains were powered by steam created by burning coal (or sometimes wood), and later, oil and its derivative gasoline would power engines in cars, buses, trucks, ships, and just about every type of transportation vehicle invented. American society has developed into a very mobile and moving society as a result of the many transportation options available today, and almost all of them are powered by fossil fuels. For example, at the end of World War II, most Americans had never traveled on a plane, moved across country, or traveled on an Interstate highway. Today, people all around the world take those things for granted, and are much more mobile and willing to travel great distances.

Fossil fuels helped create the technologies to create these new technologies, too. Steam and gasoline engines initially were used in business and industry, but inventors and entrepreneurs realized their implications and turned their engines to other uses, such as powering trains and automobiles, and that really changed the face of the world.


Fossil fuels power most of the world's industries, as well. Industries are cooled and heated by electricity, and most of the world's electricity is generated in coal-fired generating plants. Industries also use vehicles to service their customers or ship their products, and these vehicles, from trains to trucks, are largely fossil fuel based. In addition, a large majority of industries use products or elements of products that are created from fossil fuels. For example, the computer industry relies heavily on plastics for packaging, computer cases, and much more, and plastics are created from fossil fuels. There are not many companies that produce items that do not use some kind of element or packaging that does not contain plastic or other items created from fossil fuels, so that has a huge influence on the way people live and the impact fossil fuels have in their lives.


One of the biggest uses of coal is generating electricity around the world. The two students continue, "Coal power plants account for at least 60% of our national energy and 52% of the world's demand. We, as a world, burn approximately 1.9 billion tons of coal a year to generate electricity" (Chughtai & Shannon, 2003). The chart below, from the Energy Information Administration, illustrates how much coal the U.S. used in 2007 and 2008, broken down by region of the country. Although usage dropped between the two years in this country, it was up in many areas, indicating a growing demand in some areas of the country.

Table 3. Electric Power Sector Net Generation, 2007-2008

(Million Kilowatthours)

Census Division





Census Division

New England









Middle Atlantic









East North Central









West North Central









South Atlantic









East South Central









West South Central



























U.S. Total









Source: Energy Information Administration, Form EIA-906, "Power Plant Report" and Form EIA-923, "Power Plant Operations Report."

Coal, like the other fossil fuels, is non-renewable, which means that in the future, all the coal deposits will disappear and people will have to find other sources of energy. The same is true of oil and natural gas. Since so much of the world runs on electricity, this could have drastic effects on the way of life as it is now. Without coal to run the plants, industries would shut down, homes would not have heat or electricity, and nothing would be able to operate except businesses and homes that rely on alternative forms of power. Clearly, that would drastically alter life as it is lived today, and it would affect just about everyone on the planet.


For decades, plastics, invented in the 1950s, were not tied to fossil fuels at all. However, they are created by "cracking" the hydrocarbon found in oil, and this is used to create plastics of all sorts. One scientist writes, "In particular, three main petrochemicals, ethylene, propylene, and butadiene, are the building blocks of modern society, providing everything from disinfectants to coolants to plastics" (Campbell, 2009). It is important to realize the implications of this, because plastics are used in just about everything from medical science to building and information technology, and losing them would create an incredible hardship on just about everyone in some form or another.


Fossil fuels and the resulting machinery that used them also changed the way people labor. As machinery developed, manual labor became unnecessary, and that meant that people could labor more efficiently and effectively. For example, a farmer no longer needed to hand plow fields, when a motorized plow could do the job quicker and more efficiently. Another writer notes, "In 1832 the former U.S. president and prominent abolitionist John Quincy Adams reported to Congress that 'the mechanical inventions in Great Britain were estimated [in 1815] as equivalent to the manual labor of two hundred millions of people'" (Mouhot, 2008). The Industrial Revolution also changed the face of labor, bringing thousands of agricultural workers from the country to the city to man the machinery that created products and used fossil fuels for their power. Thus, fossil fuels changed the way people work, how they live, and what they do to survive, and they changed those things around the world.

The Environmental Implications

While some people still stubbornly refuse to believe global warming exists, or that it is human caused, evidence points to the reality of global warming (also called climate change) every day. Another author notes, "Several of the major pollutants associated with oil are sulfur and nitrogen compounds and carbon dioxide. These and other materials are associated with greenhouse effects and environmental degradation" (Deal 2006). Burning fossil fuels creates pollution, and scientists have known that for a long time. Now, they recognize that they are contributing to global warming, because the gradual warming of the Earth's atmosphere can be directly tied to the advent of the Industrial Revolution, when fossil fuels first came into the picture in a big way. The ultimate environmental implications are that the Earth will warm too much, the polar ice caps will melt, erasing millions of miles of what is now coastline, and the Earth will warm so much that entire ecosystems disappear. Eventually life as it is known would cease to exist if enough ecosystems disappear or the Earth warms up too much. One author notes, "Global warming is considered by many scientists to be the major environmental problem confronting life on Earth" (Moffatt 2004, 6).… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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