Explaining fossil fuels and their timetable

8 months 1 week 5 days ago Tuesday, September 17 2019 Sep 17, 2019 Tuesday, September 17, 2019 6:15:00 PM CDT September 17, 2019 in Climate
By: Kenton Gewecke, KOMU 8 Chief Meteorologist
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Carbon dioxide (CO2). You’ve probably heard about it a lot. It’s a fossil fuel, commonly released into the atmosphere by humans from the burning of oil and coal. The top 3 fossil fuels include petroleum (crude oil), coal, and natural gas (which is mostly methane, although it also contains ethane, propane and butane).

Now, these are called fossil fuels because they, well, are from the remains of prehistoric plants and animals. Seriously. We’re talking about carbon remains that, over millions of years, were converted by heat and pressure in the Earth's crust into carbon-containing fuels. While drilling for fossil fuels it isn’t uncommon to drill through actual fossils.

All of this is to say that it took a LOOOOONG time for this energy source to be created. We cannot replace these energy sources as simple as we would plant a new tree after cutting one down. Only if it took that tree millions of years to be big enough to cut back down would that be comparable.

This also means there is a finite amount of this energy that can be extracted from within our Earth. It is estimated that with what we’ve found so far, we have around 132 years left of coal, 51 years left of natural gas, and 50 years left of oil. Remember, these numbers are based on what reserves has been found by the end of 2018, and will change if more is found by energy companies. 

However, while there is an “end” to the amount of energy we can take from within the deep Earth, we must realize that if we were to release ALL of these fossil fuels into the atmosphere…we’d be beyond ourselves. In fact, it is expected that we will have to leave between 65 to 80 percent of current known reserves untouched if we are to even stand a chance of keeping average global temperature rise below our two-degrees Celsius global target.

This means we’d have to actively choose to leave these resources in the Earth, though we may have access to them. Do you think we can do that? Of course, now we are getting into that gray area. Because this isn’t a black and white situation. Fossil fuels are good for the economy. However, that specific economy comes at the cost to our planet and harming and at times killing the life on it. There are pros and there are cons and it is up to you to decide for yourself which you believe is more important. That’s all I’m going to say about that because I’m just here to explain the science.

Regardless, it is clear that we need new sources of energy, and we can’t simply shut off all fossil energy overnight. We need an energy replacement that is renewable, readily available, abundant and doesn’t continue to pollute our atmosphere with chemicals that take hundreds to thousands of years to be mixed out of our air.

We’ll go over these renewable resources on the next Show Me Climate report. 

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This story is part of SHOW ME CLIMATE, an ongoing KOMU 8 series devoted to ethically explaining climate change without politics using fact-based data to deliver important information about our world and the Show-Me State.

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