Fossil Fuels - An Exploration essay

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By studying this history, one can quickly understand fossil fuels are in such short supply. Although they have been around for millions of years, they have been in use for thousands.

Fossil Fuels' Uses

While it is common knowledge that fossil fuels are used as energy sources and in a variety of material productions, the degree to which fossil fuels are used on a daily basis is monumental. Both oil and natural gas are used widely as agents to heat homes and businesses worldwide. Refined oil can be turned into gasoline and diesel, the fuels that power automobiles and are responsible for the functioning of the transportation industry. Furthermore, fuels for larger commercial vehicles -- like jet fuel -- are also produced from refined oil. The cessation of fossil fuel refining, therefore, would be a blow of extreme proportions to the entire world. Economies would be devastated and individual lives adversely impacted. It is for this reason, that the scope of the problems involving fossil fuels must be fully understood and a series of alternative fuels be developed.

Controversy and Concern: Peak Oil and Greenhouse Gasses

After thousands of years of use, what some considered the never-empty reservoir of fossil fuels is now running dry. This problem is called peak oil, or the peak oil theory, and it suggests that the crucial fact, which scientists do not know, is when the last barrel of oil will be drawn. Discovered by Dr. M. King Hubbert, the concept of Peak Oil maintains that, because oil is a non-renewable resource, it will reach a peak, "which can never be surpassed," after which "production declines until the resource is depleted" ("The Hubbert Peak for World Oil" 2003). While this theory can be applied to any non-renewable resource, it has significant implications for the world's oil supply. As most believe the peak has already been reached, the theory suggests that oil production will follow a principal of diminishing returns, resulting in smaller and smaller amounts of oil produced until none remains. Thus, the Hubbert Peak, or peak oil problem, is not only a problem, but also a problem with rather immediate time considerations.

While the peak oil problem is of concern to the world's population, fossil fuels also create a problem for the world itself -- global warming. In fact, scientists have concluded that it is the use of fossil fuels that is responsible for global warming. Burning fossil fuels release dangerous carbon monoxide into the atmosphere, a gas that has been blamed for the global warming crisis. By using fossil fuels, therefore, the world's population is sealing its fate (O'Driscoll and Vergano 2007).

In light of both the peak oil problem and global warming, therefore, one can conclude that the use of fossil fuels must be abandoned. If they are not, humans will be left without power and few alternatives, and the world will eventually face the dire consequences of global warming.

Fossil Fuel Alternatives and Conservation Programs: Worldwide

While industrialized countries like the United States are vocal in attempting to find a solution to the fossil fuel problems, it is developing countries that are causing most of the problem. In fact, the Wall Street Journal suggests that 90% of the "demand growth" of crude oil will come from developing countries in the next five years (Johnson 2008). Regardless of these less than inspiring numbers that might suggest that richer countries, which have the power to do something about the fossil fuel crises, will be unable to do so, the problem is worldwide and many countries are advancing programs to deal with the issue. In light of peak oil and global warming, most countries have recognized the importance of finding fossil-fuel replacements. For this reason, scientists and governments worldwide are collaborating on the research and development needed to produce alternative sources of energy. For instance Canada's ecoEnergy Efficiency initiative contains programs that attempt to limit Canadians energy use in vehicles, homes, and businesses ("About OEE"). In the same vein, many countries signed the Kyoto Protocol, which aimed to significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.

On the side of alternative fuel research, the United States and Japan have teamed up to undertake research and development regarding alternative fuels ("United States" 2004). And although research and development into alternative fuels is limited, worldwide study into the issue has produced several viable fuels. For instance, Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from vegetable oils and animal fat. The fuel is already working in certain blends with fossil fuel components. Ethanol, Hydrogen, natural gas, and propane are all alternative fuels meant to reduce the world's reliance on oil, especially when it comes to transportation ("Alterative Fuels and Advanced Vehicle Data" 2008). Thus, while the issue of fossil fuel replacement may be a worldwide problem, the world is teaming up to solve it. Even though developing countries demand far more oil than industrialized countries, the world has united together in order to decrease energy usage and research alternative fuels.

VII: Fossil Fuel Alternative and Conservation Programs: The United States

Regardless of its status as a worldwide problem, the United States has launched impressive programs in order to increase awareness about the concerns with fossil fuels, and encourage those living within its borders to use alternative fuels. For instance, the Environmental Protection Agency has launched a program that allows states access to renowned tools in launching their own environmental acts. These tools include "benefits models, State implementation Plan Credits, and the Clean Fuels Fleet Program" ("Alternative Fuels" 2008). These state programs are aimed at encouraging alternative fuel use and responsible fossil fuel use. For example, Texas's state energy office issued a Clean City program that operates four "technology elements:" "Fuel blends, fuel economy, hybrids, and idle reduction" ("Alternative Fuel Program 2008). Thus, This transportation-aimed state program combines alternative fuel use with responsible fossil fuel use to target both private and public vehicles. Similar programs exist throughout the fifty states. Based on the popularity and success of the state-wide energy reduction and alternative fuel use initiatives, most would expect the government to continue launching programs to reduce the United States' dependence on fossil fuels as research provides more sustainable methods of doing so. In addition, the research being conducted at United States' universities and in government labs is not likely to cease any time soon. Thus, while it is all subject to opinion, the future of the United States' energy reduction and alternative fuels programs seems rather solid, expanding as research and development expands.

Conclusion

As the price of gasoline and diesel continues to rise, so to does the price of food, household items, and almost every other item that most need to get by. With the 2008 United States presidential election just months away, some would like to believe that this is just artificial inflation for political gain. The price of gasoline and these other products is directly related to the availability of oil -- a fossil fuel. Made millions of years ago by high amounts of pressure and heat compressing organic matter for long stretches of time, fossil fuels are non-renewable resources that compose most of the world's power sources; they are coal, oil, and natural gas. A history of each of these fuels has shown their extensive use throughout time as both power-producing agents and for other purposes, such as medicine. Because of the length and voracity of their use, it makes sense that the fuels are now running dry, although societies tend to rely on the fuels worldwide to power their vehicles, heath their homes, and produce necessary materials -- such as plastic. Continued use of fossil fuels, however, has dire implications for both the world's population and the world itself. Peak oil suggests that oil production will reach a peak, after which it will steadily decline until the last barrel is drawn. Many believe that peak has already been passed and oil reservoirs are nearly dry. Global warming theories suggest that the burning of fossil fuels create the greenhouse gasses that tear a hole in the ozone layer, creating the climate change that threatens to devastate our environment in just a few years. For this reason, alternative fuel research and production, in cooperation with fossil fuel reliance reduction programs have begun to replace the way most use fossil fuels. Worldwide, these programs take the shape of government initiatives, partnered alternative fuel research, and international agreements -- such as the Kyoto Protocol. Domestically, the United States has made many efforts to increase and expand its alternative fuel research and fossil fuel reduction programs by making incentives available to states that practice fossil fuel responsibility. These programs and precautions argue one thing: fossil fuels, especially oil, will not be around forever. In fact, they will not be around for much longer and even if they were, their use would be harmful for the environment. For this reason, the future is…[continue]

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