5 Effects of Fossil Fuels on the Environment

The burning of fossil fuels entails, the use of oil, coal, natural gas, or any other mineral resources that release nitrogen oxide when burnt to release energy.  This has brought some adverse effects of fossil fuels on the environment.

Humans use these fossil fuels as often as possible to generate energy for electricity and to power transportation (for example, motor vehicles and motorcycles), and industrial processes.

Ever since the inception of the first coal-fired steam engines in the 1770s, our burning of fossil fuels has immensely increased.

All over the world, humans burn over 4000, times the number of fossil fuels burnt during the 1970s. There is no doubt that the effect of burning fossil fuels is having significant effects on our climate and ecosystem.

The burning of fossil fuels is the main reason for climate change, altering ecosystems and causing human and environmental problems.

Effects of Fossil fuels on the Environment

What are Fossil Fuels?

Fossil fuels can be defined as the material containing hydrocarbons that are generated from the remains of dead and decayed plants and animals that are buried for many years, which are collected and burnt by humans to release energy for numerous uses.

The three main fossil fuels, coal, natural gas, and petroleum are been extracted by humans through mining and drilling and also burnt to generate energy used for electricity, power motor engines and combustion engines, and also for cooking purposes.

Other chemical substances are derived from fossil fuels when they are refined into chemicals through numerous processes.

Refined fossil fuels that are majorly used are gasoline, propane, and kerosene while some of the chemically derived products include plastics and agricultural products such as pesticides and fertilizers.

Irrespective of the global use of fossil fuels, it is marked as being harmful and disastrous to the environment as they cause a direct effect on the climate and the environment at every level of their use starting from extraction and transportation to their consumption.

Types of Fossil Fuels

There are three major types of fossil fuels, which are:

  • Petroleum
  • Natural gas
  • Coal

1. Petroleum

Petroleum also known as oil, is the most widely used and discussed form of fossil fuel around the world today.

Today, many people use petroleum to power and drive a motor vehicle, to generate electricity through generators, and for other Industrial purposes.

Crude oil which is a major source of petroleum products that serve humans for different uses is extracted, refined, and processed into gasoline,  diesel, and fuel.

There are five known grades of crude oil based on specific gravity based on heavy to light, the latter being the most desirable.

2. Natural gas

This resource is made up of methane and is incredibly lightweight, while petroleum is generated primarily inside the oil window.

Natural gas migrates up from deep below the earth’s surface and accumulates in traps, along with petroleum.

Natural gas has three main properties which are: odor, color, and flammability. Methane is colorless, odorless, and highly flammable.

3. Coal

In the description, coal looks like a chunk of midnight black rock, which is harvested from the earth by workers in mining operations.

During underground or surface mining, coal tend to be recovered. For surface mining the process is straightforward.

Coal is composed of five different elements which are: hydrogen, sulfur, oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen with their distribution varying depending on the piece of coal.

In reality, coal today is used for everything from producing cement and steel to keeping the lights at home, offices, industries, etc.

5 Effects of Fossil Fuels on the Environment

There are no doubts that fossil fuels and global warming are associated with each other. Burning Fossil fuels affects the environment, air quality, climatic conditions, and human health entirely.

According to a study by scientists, the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and gas, for energy is the main contributor to the massive rising level of carbon dioxide that is driving climate change.

As the burning of fossil fuels increases, the climatic condition changes automatically and increases the temperature, thereby leading to negative health effects on humans and species.

Without delving further, here are the effects of fossil fuels on the environment:

1. Increase in Global Warming

According to research by the Intergovernmental panel on climate change ( IPCC), emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming. In 2018, it was reported that 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and industry.

Amongst these fuels, coal is the dirtiest of them all, responsible for over 0.3C of the 1C increase in the global average temperatures. This no doubt, makes the single largest global temperature rise.

Oil releases a large amount of carbon when burnt, which in the approximation is a third of the world’s total carbon emissions. There have also been a reported number of oil Spills that have had a disastrous impact on our ocean’s ecosystem.

Natural gas, on the other hand, is often rated higher as a cleaner energy source than coal and oil, however, natural gas still remains a fossil fuel and contributes to a fifth of the world’s total carbon emissions.

2. Air Pollution

When humans buy goods and services that derived energy in their manufacture and delivery, they indirectly result in air pollution.

Most of the air pollution humans perpetuate results from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, gasoline, and diesel to produce electricity and power for our motor vehicles and generators.

Fossil Fuels emit a huge quantity of carbon dioxide when burnt. As a result of this, many harmful pollutants are formed such as nitrogen oxide (NOx), carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs), particulate matter, Mercury, lead, and sulfur dioxide ( SO2).

Coal-fired power plants single-handedly generate approximately 42 percent of dangerous mercury emissions and the vast majority of the particulate matter in our air.

Presently, it is accurate and affirmative to note that Fossil fuel-powered trucks, cars, and boats are the primary suppliers of toxic carbon monoxide gas, and nitrogen oxide which produces smog, and metabolism illnesses on hot days.

Fuels such as petroleum, coal, diesel, etc., release unburnt particles into the environment which results in air pollution and cause respiratory diseases like lung damage, whooping cough, smog, etc.

3. Acid Rain

The burning of fossil fuels gives out harmful compounds like sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide.

These substances rise terribly high into the deepest atmosphere, wherever they combine and react with water, oxygen, and other chemicals to form a lot of acidic pollutants called air pollution.

Nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxides dissolve very easily with water and are carried too far distances by the wind.

As a result, both compounds can travel long distances where they become part of the rain, fog, snow, and sleet we commonly experience in certain seasons.

Human activities over the years till now have remained the primary reason for acidic rain. Humans have continuously released so many various chemicals into the air that have changed the mix of gases in the atmosphere.

Huge power plants release the majority of nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide when they burn fossil fuels such as coal, to generate electricity.

Also, the gases, fuels, and diesel from trucks, cars, and buses release sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides into the air. These pollutants, hence, cause acid rain by the wind.

4.  Oil Spills

Crude oil or petroleum is often transported from one location to another by tankers, and ships. Any leakage in these tankers or ships can cause an oil spill which can lead to water pollution and pose a problem to Marine life (species in the water).

Also,  the manufacturing industries contribute to oil spillage in water (especially those located in river line areas) especially when they are using fuels such as gas, diesel, and petroleum to generate power and electricity during processing and manufacturing.

5. Ocean Acidification

When we, humans burn coal, crude oil, and gas, we tend to change the ocean’s basic chemistry, making it further acidic. Our seas no doubt absorb so much of all carbon emitted.

Since the inception of the Industrial Revolution and our fossil fuel-burning ways, our oceans have become 30 Percent more acidic.

As the acidity in our waters heightens, the amount of calcium carbonate which is a substance used by lobsters, oysters, starfishes, and other numerous Marine species to form shells automatically reduces.

The growth rate of these animals when impeded weakens the shells and imperils the entire food chain.


Burning of fossil fuels no doubt has led to bizarre and devastating effects on our environment, which has led to negative impacts on our climate, oceans, air, etc.

It has also led to the death of Marine species and truncated the health of humans.

All hands must be on deck to ensure that the use of fossil fuels by humans and industries especially production industries is minimized to the barest in order to secure a sustainable and healthy environment free of pollution.


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