2.4 Problems with Fossil Fuel Usage: Climate change



2.4 Problems with Fossil Fuel Usage: Climate change

The burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide (C02) traps the heat from the sun and causes global temperatures to rise, known as thegreenhouse effect. These rising temperatures affect the earth's ecosystems and biodiversity, the results of which are ever more present in the mediasea levels rising, droughts, and extreme weather.

Figure 2.4.1: C02 concentrations in the atmosphere. Note the date of the invention of the steam engine is marked, which began the industrial revolution and the beginning of the age of fossil fuels.

(Source Mackay [see reference 9])

Figure 2.4.1 sourced from Without Hot Air. Available free online from www.withouthotair.com

As with resource depletion there is a debate to the scale and timeframe of the problem. In this case the questions are about a) the amount of C02 in the atmosphere currently and b) what effect this is having on our climate. Some argue that the sun is causing the earth to heat up and C02 levels are increasing as a result. The reason for this debate is that climate science is an extremely complicated field, and with so many contributing factors it is impossible to get exact links between all the parameters to prove exactly what is going on.

One additional issue is the concept of positive feedback loopsan example of this is the warming of the atmosphere causes Arctic tundra to melt which contains methane, releasing further greenhouse gases which add to the warming of the atmosphere. Another is as the Arctic melts there is less ice to reflect the suns heat away from the earth, again adding to the warming in a positive loop. These problems introduce the concept of apoint of no returna level of greenhouse gases which if we meet we will have no way of avoiding catastrophic climate change.

The following web resource about climate change explains the problems very concisely