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Breaking Our Dependency on Fossil Fuels

Posted by Dakota Watson on August 29, 2014

Factories that burn fossil fuels help to cause global warming
Factories that burn fossil fuels help to cause global warming

Fossil fuels are the remains of prehistoric biological matter that have been subjected to millennia of geological processes (i.e. heat and pressure)[1]. They are composed of hydrocarbon molecules which emit carbon dioxide gas upon combustion and, depending on the physical structure of the fossil fuel, can be categorized as either coal, petroleum (oil) or natural gas.

Since the beginning of the industrial revolution, burning fossil fuels has provided a cheap, effective source of energy and modern civilization has largely been a result of harnessing the power of this energy source. Unfortunately, fossil fuels are non-renewable, burning them is extremely harmful to the environment and the majority of fossil fuel reserves are located in geopolitically unstable areas.

Today, the global economy is heavily invested in and dependent on fossil fuels. But as the world’s population continues to grow, our energy consumption will increase and as the supply of fossil fuel diminishes, the price will correspondingly rise. Eventually, harvesting fossil fuels will become economically impracticable. However, instead of investing in more efficient ways of extracting fossil fuels, eventually we’ll need to break away from our reliance on fossil fuels and begin relying on alternative clean energy sources.

Since supply and demand dictate the price of any commodity on earth, we need to make the use of fossil fuels less profitable and to do that, we need to stop providing subsidies to the producers of this energy source. A fossil fuel subsidy is any government action that lowers the cost of fossil fuel energy production, raises the price received by energy producers or lowers the price paid by energy consumers. In the United States alone, the estimated annual value of fossil fuel subsidies range from $14 billion to $52 billion[2].

The next step towards reducing fossil fuel reliance is for countries to issue federal carbon taxes on biofuels, fossil fuels and other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as industrial processes. A carbon tax puts a monetary price on the real costs imposed on our economy, our communities and our planet by greenhouse gas emissions and the global warming they cause[3]. A shift to cleaner technologies increases the demand for energy-efficient products and helps spur innovation and investment in green solutions3.

Our reliance on fossil fuels needs to be eliminated as soon as possible. Renewable, energy sources need to be continuously developed, improved upon and implemented. Technological advances also need to be made in the area of energy storage. In order to achieve a more sustainable future, we need to start investing in alternative energy sources.

[1] J. W. Tester, Sustainable Energy Choosing Among Options, London: MIT Press, 2005.

[2] Oil Change International, "Fossil Fuel Subsidies in the U.S.," Oil Change International, 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 20 11 2013].

[3] David Suzuki Foundation, "What is a carbon tax or carbon fee?" David suzuki Foundation, 2013. [Online]. Available: [Accessed 24 11 2013].

Edited from original submission.

Filed under: Students on Sustainability

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