The harmful effects of burning fossil fuels

Using coal, oil, and natural gas to develop new technologies has been a key element of humanity’s advancement, but it hasn’t come without consequences.

When we burn fossil fuels to start our cars, power our appliances, and heat our homes, we release harmful pollutants into the atmosphere. These pollutants have a number of negative effects on the environment, threatening people, plants, and animals throughout California.

As more people learn about the true costs of fossil fuels, they’ll increasingly turn to clean energy sources like solar. Consider some of the following:

  • Extraction and transportation problems
    • Oil spills and pipeline ruptures have lead to major disasters that harm the environment and take years to clean up
  • Fossil fuels worsen climate change
    • Coal, oil, and natural gas are major sources of greenhouse gas emissions that cause global temperatures to rise
  • Climate change threatens California
    • Higher temperatures increase risks of deadly droughts and wildfires
  • Solar panels reduce reliance on fossil fuels
    • Installing rooftop solar lets you replace dirty energy with clean energy

Extraction and transportation problems

Particularly in the cases of oil and natural gas, extraction and transportation difficulties can lead to widespread environmental disasters that are felt for years to come.

If a pipeline carrying natural gas or oil ruptures, it can sometimes take months for regulators to locate the source of pollution. During that time, tens of thousands of gallons of fossil fuel liquids could spill into the ecosystem.

Such liquids greatly harm plant and animal life by poisoning water and food supplies. One only need recall the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to realize the inherent danger that fossil fuel extraction poses.

Over the course of 87 days, officials estimate nearly 210 million gallons of oil leaked into the ocean, harming marine life. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also noted that in 2011, dolphins and wales in the area were dying at twice the normal rate.

California still has over 32 offshore oil drilling and production platforms located near state waters. Such operations will continue to pose environmental risks as long as fossil fuel demand remains high.

Fossil fuels worsen climate change

While some scientists believe our warming climate is a natural cycle the Earth is undertaking, few disagree that humans are accelerating the process.

Extracting energy from fossil fuels, a process called combustion, releases different greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases from fossil fuels include:

  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Methane

While greenhouse gases gather above the earth, the sun releases solar radiation toward the planet. The earth absorbs some of that radiation, warming and creating a hospitable climate for life.

Normally, much of the heat from the earth’s surface would rise back toward the atmosphere, where it would escape into space. However, an excess of greenhouse gases prevents some of that heat from escaping, raising average temperatures across the planet.

While earth has gone through heating phases in the past, the level of change taking place today is unprecedented. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, burning fossil fuels has caused a 25% increase in the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere over the last 150 years, greatly strengthening the greenhouse effect.

Climate change threatens California

If rises in greenhouse gas emissions continue on their projected path, California will face major challenges down the road.

Over the last hundred years, average temperatures have already increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, impacting coastal weather patterns and important resources like water. The Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that by the end of this century, temperatures could rise by an additional 8-to-10 degrees Fahrenheit.

Those temperature increases will mean major changes for our way of life in California.

California’s water supplies rely on heavy winter snows that don’t melt until the spring. If temperatures continue to rise, precipitation could fall as rain instead of snow, decreasing spring snowpack. Already, between 1906 and 2006 snowmelt levels in the Sierra Nevada have decreased by about 9%.

Lower water supplies and hotter temperatures increase the risk of drought, causing plants and crops to whither and die. That not only destroys important food sources for humans and animals, but also creates dangerous conditions for wildfires.

The California Climate Change Center predicts that if temperatures rise by another 5.5-to-8 degrees Fahrenheit, the risk of large, deadly wildfires in California is expected to rise by 20% mid-century, and 50% by the end of the century.

The effects of changing temperatures are already being reflected in rising wildfire risk. Between 2000 and 2012, the annual average acreage burned in California wildfires was more than double the acreage burned between 1950 and 2000.

Solar panels reduce reliance on fossil fuels

Despite the dangers climate change poses, Californians still need electricity to live normal lives.

By installing solar panels on your home or business, you’ll be able to generate electricity that doesn’t worsen climate change. If more people go solar, we’ll reduce our collective reliance on fossil fuels and lower the statewide carbon footprint.

There’s little doubt that we can completely stop the climate from changing, but we can slow that change and make it more manageable. Contact local solar installers today to learn more about how solar helps the environment.

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