By Robyn McAvoy
When discussing the climate and the future of the planet, fossil fuels are a hot topic as plans to drill for oil and gas in the North Sea are being looked at for approval by the UK Government.
Most people know or have some sort of awareness that fossil fuels are ‘bad’ for the climate. Those who think the domestic drilling for fossil fuels is a good thing only do so because they have been led to believe it will reduce the costly bills people are currently facing in their homes and the skyrocketing prices of petrol. So what actually are fossil fuels, and why are they bad?
Fossil fuels are natural sources of fuel that can be found and extracted from the earth in order to be used for energy. The three main fossil fuels are coal, oil and natural gasses such as carbon dioxide and methane, all of which are used by humans as the biggest providers for energy for their homes and to run their cars. These fossil fuels developed as a result of decomposing animals and plants millions of years ago (think back to dinosaur times). The compounds they produced as they decomposed are then extracted from the Earth millions of years later and burned for energy in houses and vehicles.
Despite relying on fossil fuels for this energy, they are not a renewable source. This means that once we have used up all the coal and oil we can extract from current reserves in addition to the new sites being discovered in the North Sea, there is no more.
The only option would be to wait the millions of years it takes for the new coal, oil and gas to form. Or wait for the return of dinosaurs. Of which neither options are plausible for an energy hungry human race. Meaning it is a form of non-renewable energy which supplies roughly 80% of the worlds developed countries energy.
It was at the time of the Industrial Revolution in Britain that fossil fuels began to be consumed at such an alarming rate. The Industrial Revolution occurred from around 1760 to 1840, and even now we continue to consume fossil fuels at a rapid rate. The reasons behind this are the efficiency of these fuels and how readily available they are to us. Fossil fuels are known to be energy dense which means not much is needed in order to produce a large amount of energy, making them efficient at what they do. They are also readily available sources of energy, with countries in the Middle East, Russia and now here in the UK having oil and gas reserves they can use to supply the energy demand.
The burning of fossil fuels for energy release things called greenhouse gasses like carbon dioxide and methane into the Earth’s atmosphere which has heavily contributed toward global warming and the climate crisis. Greenhouse gasses are one of the leading causes of climate change due to the fact they absorb and trap heat in the Earth, causing it to warm substantially.
Fossil fuels are having a devastating impact on our environment. They are responsible for almost three-fourths of the emissions from human activities in the last 20 years. With this in mind, the Earths temperature has increased by 1°C since 1880.
The Earth is at serious risk if it continues to heat at the rate it currently is due to the continued burning of fossil fuels. Experts have said that if the Earth heats by even 1.5°C more there is a greater risk of extreme weather conditions (some of which is already being seen in Scotland with wildfires burning in part due to the dry weather). Compound this further with rising sea levels and a loss of flora and fauna it creates food shortages which are having a devastating effect on millions of people globally.
Due to the harm fossil fuels and the release of these gasses are causing and the looming climate crisis, many countries have begun to seek alternative methods to fossil fuels, the main alternative being renewable energy.
Despite this search for fossil fuel alternatives, the fossil fuel industry still remain big polluters to the Earth, and the reason for this is greed. Big oil companies such as Shell, BP and now Ithaca Energy who have the largest stake in the North Sea’s Cambo oil field, will continue to extract and sell fossil fuels for as long as they can make massive profits from it. In fact last year, Shell, BP, Chevron and ExxonMobil made more than $75 billion in profits.
Scientists and experts have been warning for years the damage fossil fuels are causing to the Earth and how much of a risk they pose to humanity, yet no one has been listening or taking them seriously. Just last month a video featuring NASA scientist Peter Kalmus protesting fossil fuels went viral. An exasperated Kalmus could be heard saying: “We’re going to lose everything”. He went on to give an emotional speech about climate change, saying: “I’m here because scientists are not being listened to. I’m willing to take a risk for this gorgeous planet.”
A clear example of these oil giants ignoring the extensive warnings from scientists to chase profits is the planned extraction of fossil fuels from newly discovered sites in the North Sea, such as Cambo and Jackdaw oil and gas fields. This greed extends as far as 2050, as plans to drill Cambo oil field for 800 million barrels of oil will produce significant amounts of profit for those involved.
As these sites can be found just off the coast of Scotland, what does this mean for our country? Well, despite being located off the coast of Scotland, as energy is not a devolved power it is Westminster that will have the power to approve or refuse the go ahead of these sites, even against First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s urges to reassess the license of Cambo oil field. The development and approval of these oil fields could cause local pollution for nearby Scottish towns, and have a devastating effect on marine life and Scotland’s coast if an oil spill occurs. BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010 is an example of what could happen if a major oil spill were to occur as a result of digging Cambo oil field.
It has become increasingly clear that something needs to be done about the rate at which we are consuming fossil fuels to provide energy. It is obvious that there is little care for the possible implications the Earth will face if we do not start this shift away from fossil fuels to more renewable forms of energy as soon as possible, as the Westminster Government continues to entertain the proposal of these new oil and gas fields in the North Sea while ignoring scientists warnings, with the excuse of domesticating our energy supply in order to make living more cost effective. When the reality is these oil giants are greedy, only care for profit and are likely to sell to the highest bidder, which will do nothing to affect skyrocketing costs for Scotland and the UK.