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Fossil Energy and Economy Essay

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Updated: Apr 11th, 2022

Introduction

Since the discovery of fossil energy, the world has witnessed great progress. Energy harnessed from fossil fuel has helped man to make great strides in developing the economy but quite unfortunately the environment has been greatly degraded in the process. Various influential persons and scientists have put forth concerted efforts to ensure that environment degradation is reversed.

Images at different times captured through the use of satellite technology have helped to show the vast degradation that energy production has already caused. In this essay, I try to show the controversy that energy production has brought to man.

In as much as there is a general agreement that clean energy needs to be used, the economic viability of using of clean energy technologies in large scale is still in doubt. Furthermore, our requirement for energy is so huge that replacing the current sources will definitely take some time.

Economy and Environment

There is an urgent need for the world to adopt Clean Coal Technology. The question on how far fossil energy has degraded the environment has been well answered by scientists. One of the documentaries on environmental degradation, Home, covers precisely how fossil energy has transformed the world for the better.

The documentary also shows how fossil energy has degraded the environment. By juxtaposing the benefits and the harms of fossil energy, it helps to show the tension associated with international global warming talks aimed at reducing global warming by cutting down on industrial emissions (Guggenheim, 2006).

Al Gore has also talked passionately about the predicament of fossil energy. In an award winning documentary, The Inconvenient Truth, the trouble that the world has plunged itself in is revealed (Guggenheim, 2006). It is quite ironical that fossil energy has helped to bring forth so much progress and yet it has done so much harm to the environment.

In the documentary Home, Dubai is viewed as the city built purely by the power of fossil energy. The city is beautiful and elegant, and the whole world agrees that it is the city of the future (Arthus-Bertrand, 2009). It is not only Dubai, but many cities around the world have been built by the power fossil energy.

The need to change to a clean source of energy is clear. The struggle however lies in the identification of the substitute that will serve well as the energy we rely on. The world already relies so much on fossil fuel that it will take some time to change the trend.

Some of the most industrialized nations still significantly depend on fossil energy. For instance, despite the US being a nuclear power country, it uses coal to produce 42 percent of its electricity, while nuclear energy only produces 19 percent (eia, 2012).

According to the World Nuclear Association (2013), coal is the most available and accessible fossil fuel and as a result “23 percent of primary energy needs are met by coal, 39 percent of electricity is generated from coal, and 70 percent of world steel production depend on coal feedstock” (World Nuclear Association, 2013, p. 1).

This is bad news to the environment because of the negative effects of coal mining and consumption on the environment.

According to BIORAY (2012), surface coal mining pollutes streams and rivers. According to Union of Concerned Scientists – UCS (2011), the single biggest air polluter in the US is burning of coal in the generation of electricity. This process is also ranked the top emitter of carbon dioxide which is significantly known to contribute to global warming.

Apart from emission of carbon dioxide, coal when burned also “causes smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution” (UCS, 2011, p. 1). Toxic air pollution has a far reaching effect on public health.

Toxic rains also adversely affect crops. Unfortunately, coal is still cheap and provides the cheapest means of producing electricity in the US (eia, 2012). This means that attempting to get an alternative which is less pollutant but more expensive will become unpopular.

The Way Forward

Coal is one of the dirtiest fossil energy that is still in use. Its negative effects have been briefly outlined above. There are other sources of energy which equally contribute to degrading the environment in the manner that coal does.

These include the mining and distillation of oil and its consumption as well. The biggest obstacle in adopting better methods of harnessing these sources of energy such that they have minimal negative effects on the environment is economics.

Basic economic concepts dictate that the cost of production should be minimized as much as possible so as to maximize the profits. But as we have already watched from various documentaries (Arthus-Bertrand, 2009; Guggenheim, 2006) and read research articles by various professional bodies (eia, 2012; UCS, 2011; BIORAY, 2012), the long term effect is a big loss than the profits obtained in the short run.

Something not amusing about the long term losses is that a lot of players get involved in the long term effects; the effects are no longer confined to the industrialists but to the whole public.

Still going back to the basic economic concepts, it is better to sacrifice the short term profits for long term gains. In this context, the short term gains significantly imply bearing with slightly higher electricity bills and higher costs of gas. The long term gains will include clean air, no acid rains, unpolluted water, preservation of aquatic life, and reversing of global warming.

Is it not worth to pay one more dollar to lower the sea level instead of letting our cities succumb to floods? Studies carried out at the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory have suggested a likelihood of a connection between global warming and hurricanes in the future (Knutson, 2013).

Taking into consideration the volume of destruction that hurricanes are capable of, conventional wisdom dictates that care should be taken as soon as possible. So how do we take care to safeguard the future? Clean coal Technology is a significant part of the answer.

Clean Coal Technology

Clean Coal Technology is an ongoing research on how coal combustion can be carried out in a manner that will have less negative effects on the environment (NMA, 2013). As already hinted above, the biggest challenge with the implementation of Clean Coal Technology is reducing its cost to make it commercially competitive.

According to World Nuclear Association (2013), the Clean Coal Technology is punitive, “there is typically about a 20% energy penalty involved in ‘clean coal’ processes” (p. 1). Despite this challenge, there are fruits which have already been reaped.

Benefits of Clean Coal Technology

Since the 1970s the consumption of coal has tripled but fortunately the emission of gases associated with electricity generation from coal has been reduced by more than 40 percent. Some of the technologies that are in use and that continue to be improved are discussed below.

Fluidized-bed combustion: This is the addition of limestone and dolomite when burning coal. This reduces the amount of sulfur dioxide formed. 170 fluidized-bed combustion units are used in the US (NMA, 2013).

Integrated Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC): In this process coal is converted into gas or liquid. In this new form, it becomes easy to refine and use in a cleaner manner. Studies have shown that this process is likely “to improve coal’s fuel efficiency rate to 50 percent” (NMA, 2013, p. 1).

Flue Gas Desulfurization: This is a process used to remove sulfur and other impurities thus preventing them from being released to the atmosphere.

Low Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) Burners: This process limits the volume of nitrogen oxide formed by limiting oxygen in the combustion chamber. This is done through a series of manipulation of the combustion process.

Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR): This process also reduces the volume of nitrogen oxide by a range of 80 to 90 percent.

Electrostatic Precipitators: In this process particulates are charged and then captured.

Use of Natural Gas

Natural gas provides a great choice which will ensure that the environment is not degraded. According to GRACE (2013), the US has the largest reservoir of natural gases in the world. The gases are in the form of shale gas reserves and can be easily exploited by means of natural gas fracking. The popularity of natural gas has been growing steadily as shown in the diagram below.

The popularity of natural gas

Ranking Our Priorities

With the availability of natural gas in abundance as well as coal, it is only logical that these resources are used in manner that will result to minimal negative effect to mankind and the environment in general. Coal when used irresponsibly has a huge potential of harming the environment, increasing global warming and affecting our own health. The effects of global warming are evident and do not need to be discussed.

Clean Coal Technology provides a choice that will be beneficial in the short run as well as in the long run. Some of the processes developed through the Clean Coal Technology initiative have been shown to increase the efficiency of coal combustion.

While some are already in application others still require further development to make them commercially viable. With further development and research, the Clean Coal Technology initiative provides a bright future for coal consumption in manner that is environment friendly. Due to the abundance of coal, making coal clean should be a top priority. It is the right thing to do in order to harness this cheap source of energy.

Conclusion

Fossil energy has enabled man to make great progress. In particular, coal has been influential in the generation of electricity in the US and all over the world in general. Coal is abundant in US and this has greatly influenced its continued use in the production of electricity.

However, the pollution caused by coal combustion is a major challenge. The environmental degradation that results from the combustion has far reaching effects. The Clean Coal Technology initiative however offers a solution. This initiative has led to a series of inventions which have helped in mitigating the amount of pollution that coal combustion causes.

It is hoped that with more research, coal will finally be turned into clean energy. This will be a great achievement because of its abundance in nature especially in the US. Natural gas is a clean source of energy and one of the best clean sources of energy. To save the environment from further degradation, there is need to embrace and support research on Clean Coal Technology.

References

Arthus-Bertrand, Y. (2009). Home. Documentary Film.

BIORAY. (2012). Pollution from coal mines may degrade water quality in West Virginia. BIORAY.

Eia. (2013). What is the role of coal in the United States? US Energy Information Administration. Web.

GRACE. (2013). Natural Gas Fracking – Introduction. GRACE. Web.

Guggenheim, D. (2006). An Inconvenient Truth. Participant Media. Documentary Film.

Knutson, T. (2013). . Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory. Web.

NMA. (2013). . National Mining Association. Web.

UCS. (2013). Environmental Impacts of Coal Power: air pollution. Union of Concerned Scientists. Web.

World Nuclear Association. (2013). . World Nuclear Association. Web.

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