Fossil Fuels Cause Global Warming: Renewables are Crucial

Global Warming is not cool. In fact it’s the very opposite of cool. The impacts and challenges of global warming are unprecedented.

So far temperatures have risen by more than one degree and sea levels are increasing by 3mm a year. Given the amount of death and destruction global warming causes, there really is nothing good about it at all.

That said the majority of global warming is due to burning fossil fuels and we have a viable alternative to them. Therefore, how much worse this situation becomes is determined by each of us. We literally have our fate in our own hands because climate change impacts everything, everyone and everywhere.

Why Global Warming is the Defining Issue of Our Generation?

Global warming is predominantly caused by using coal, oil and gas to provide heat, power and transport. However, the alternative is clean, affordable renewable energy. To stop global warming we have to stop using fossil fuels, fast.

Businesses, politicians, scientists and particularly citizens who feel the brunt of the extreme weather events all agree. The only people who disagree are a tiny minority with a personal self-interest in continuing to destroy our planet.

Unfortunately, the amount of fossil fuels burnt around the world continues to increase and therefore so does the amount of carbon dioxide produced. The invisible carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and the main reason for the changing climate. Thus, the temperatures in the atmosphere and oceans continue to increase.

The changes we are witnessing to our planet are irreversible so, time is running out to stop runaway global warming. Therefore, unless we want our generation's legacy to be the worst ever in human history, now is the time for prioritising climate action. It is up to all of us to make sustainable choices that cherish our One Home.

Global warming Spiral 1850–2017

Global Warming Spiral by Ed Hawkins

The Impacts of Climate Change

As the world warms, the ice in the poles and mountain tops melts, and the extra energy in the atmosphere creates more and more unstable and unpredictable weather conditions.

We are seeing more frequent and more intense floods, famines and superstorms as a result of global warming. The warmer the planet becomes the more extreme these weather events become. There are a continuous flow of images highlighting weird weather including disastrous droughts and downpours around the world but increasingly in the UK. For more information on the consequences of global warming see the blog on the impacts of climate change in the UK.

How do we Stop Global Warming?

Block Island off shore wind farmThe good news is we already have the solutions to reduce the rate of global warming.  For over 100 years we have burnt fossil fuels but new, clean technology has arrived. Transitioning to cleaner, cheaper and low carbon technology is good for the planet and good for us.

Each of us individually can help to fix the problem by choosing clean energy over dirty. Hence, it is time for a mass deployment of Climate Action to ensure that fossil fuels stay in the ground, where they belong. The vital question is; how fast will we switch to sustainable energy sources and stop clinging onto the disastrous and destructive habit of burning fossil fuels?

The One Home’s Guide to the top five recommended climate actions is a great starting place, especially if you can pledge to do at least one this month.

The Solution is to Stop Pollution

The solution is to stop pollution and limit further global warming. Very simply, fossil fuels are replaced with energy efficiency, clean sources of energy, such as renewable solar and wind power and clean technology such as electric cars. This is a realistic and proven pathway because clean energy is affordable, reliable and produces virtually no net carbon dioxide. Opinion polls show that overwhelmingly people support renewable energy and support more action to tackle climate change.

Being the Change A New Kind of Climate Documentary

 
 
 

Renewable Energy: Free Fuel Forever

Renewable energy is wonderful. Clean energy projects produce low-carbon heat and power but they also use fuel that is free such as rain, waves, wind and sunshine. As a result, clean energy is generally cheaper than burning fossil fuels, so renewable energy makes great economic, as well as environmental sense.  The energy and materials used to make clean technology, such as solar panels or wind turbines, are tiny in comparison to the life-cycle environmental impact of burning fossil fuels.

What Causes Global Warming?

Quite simply, climate change is caused by pollution in the atmosphere primarily caused by cars, power stations and heating our homes and buildings. So, the main culprit of global warming is carbon-intensive fossil fuels.

Fossil Fuels: Coal, Oil and Gas

When coal, oil and gas are burnt they produce carbon dioxide (CO2), which is a greenhouse gas. The CO2 traps the sun’s radiation and so the more carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, the warmer the atmosphere becomes. The gases last for around a hundred years so there is no option to reverse the greenhouse effect. The only action is preventative. The energy sector is the largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions.  However, there are other sources that contribute to climate change, which also need urgent redress. 

Graph:  The energy sector is the biggest contributor of greenhouse emissions
Click image to enlarge.
Data source: Resource Watch. 2018 Washington, DC: World Resources Institute.

Deforestation

Deforestation is cutting down trees and not replacing them, which is the very opposite of sustainable forestry, where trees are always replanted after harvesting. Deforestation is a change of land use and a large source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Beautiful trees are either logged or burnt to make way for food crops such as palm oil plantations or soya beans for cattle feed. These forests are often tropical rainforests that are home to many unique animal and plant species. As well as loosing wonderful habitats, the trees, which used to absorb CO2, are now a source of carbon dioxide so it is a double hit for nature and biodiversity.

Agriculture

Methane is also a greenhouse gas and it is more harmful than carbon dioxide as it traps more of the sun’s energy. Methane is produced primarily, by ruminant animals such as cows and sheep burping, which is why reducing red meat consumption is increasing in popularity as a way to reduce carbon emissions and have a healthier diet.

Positive Feedback Loops

But worse still, as the world warms greenhouse gas emissions increase further as feedback loops occur. For example, methane that was stored in permafrost is released when temperatures increase or wildfires release carbon dioxide stored in forests that are exacerbated by hot and dry conditions. Therefore, we have entered a cycle of increasing rates of warming, which at some point will be unstoppable referred to as run-away global warming.

Sources of Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the UK

The chart below shows greenhouse gas emissions in the UK by sector in 2016. The transport sector is the biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions. These emissions are primarily from passenger cars and keep rising due to people buying bigger cars, such as SUVs, and driving more miles each year. Every time you fill up with petrol or diesel you are contributing to climate change. This is why switching to an electric vehicle is so important!

Worryingly, the transport figure excludes international aviation and shipping as these sectors negotiated an exemption from international agreements on climate change. Therefore, greenhouse gases from the transport sector in reality are even higher.

Graphic showing CO2 emissions
https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/final-uk-greenhouse-gas-emissions-national-statistics-1990-2016

Energy supply is another big source of carbon emissions therefore saving energy and using renewables such as solar power is so important. To find out your own personal carbon footprint visit WWF’s website and see how your lifestyle compares to an ideal one for limiting pollution.

Net Zero Carbon Emissions

In order to keep the global temperature increase to below two degrees C, and preferably 1.5 degrees C, requires us to reach net zero carbon emissions as soon as possible.   Currently there is no universal cap and trade system or tax on carbon emissions so these urgent, life-saving changes need to happen on a voluntary basis!  Which is why One Home was set up to promote the uptake of electric cars, solar panels, insulation, LEDs and wind farms to name but a few excellent ideas for green healthy living.

The Many Advantages of Clean Technology

The faster we switch to clean energy and reduce our carbon emissions, the more we avoid the worst of global warming. The longer we delay and cling to dirty fossil fuels, the greater the impacts will be.

Besides protecting our way of life, clean energy is actually better for us in so many ways. Renewable energy is home grown so it doesn’t rely on volatile fuel imports. The low-carbon industry creates good, skilled jobs and reduces energy bills. Clean energy also drastically cut air pollution so sustainable energy is better for our health, our economy and our homes.

Global Warming: Time for Change

The world is warming due to burning fossil fuels. But we do know how to fix global warming: What we can do, and what we are already doing, is reducing the pollution that causes this problem. Using renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind power, electric cars, energy efficiency and reducing waste are all vital to emission reduction. For the sake of all of us, we must keep warming below two degrees and therefore we need to reach net zero carbon emissions as soon as humanely possible. Because at the end of the day, we only have One Home.

How serious do you feel climate change is to you and what do think should be done to fix the problem? Do you have many conversations with your friends and family about fixing Global Warming and if so what was the result? Please share your views #OneHome.

We would love to hear your comments and stories about the issues raised in this article:

 

 

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Cara Naden works for Zero Carbon World. An environmentalist with a passion for “clean air...

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