Fossil fuels and climate change

Burning any carbon based fuel converts carbon to carbon dioxide. Unless it is captured and stored, this carbon dioxide is usually released to the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon that was removed from the amosphere millions of years ago by animal and plant life. This leads to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Why is Carbon dioxide a problem?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of a number of gases that are transparent to the visible light falling on the Earth from the Sun, but absorb the infra-red radiation (heat) emitted by the warm surface of the Earth, preventing its loss into space. During the geological history of the Earth the level of atmospheric CO2 has varied considerably and this has had an impact on the global temperature. A significant amount of this atmospheric carbon was sequestered or (removed from the atmosphere) and turned into inert material (coal, and oil) typically 300-360 Million years ago. All of the global ecosystems and species have adapted to a lower level of atmospheric CO2 and critically, human civilisation has also grown since that period.

Since the industrial revolution humans have been burning sequestered CO2 in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas which has the result of releasing energy but also releases CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Other greenhouse gases

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Water vapour (H2O)

How can burning biomass be sustainable?