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Many environment related problems currently faced in the world- including acid rain, oil spill, air pollution, and climate change majorly results from the increased human dependency on fossil fuels. The burning of fossil fuels produces gases which are capable of trapping heat resulting into the current rise in the global temperatures. Despite experiencing indicators of global warming, little action has been taken as opportunistic oil companies desire to continuously exploit the human need of energy consumption which is ever increasing and hence these companies are always in a constant look for gases and oil sources. In the current world, most countries rely heavily on the use of fossil fuels especially industries in the developed world that heavily relies on fossil fuels to produce energy needed in the production of goods and services. Heat products obtained from burning fossil fuels are also used for heating and are converted to electrical power generation and vehicle’s mechanical energy. Burning of fossil fuel however results into numerous adverse effects ranging from air pollution, global warming, destruction of forest, emergence of new illnesses and deaths, greenhouse effect among others. Based on critical analysis of numerous literature evidences, this dissertation presents the wide range of impact of fossil fuel on the environment.

Table of Contents

Abstract ii

List of Figures. v


1.1        Background. 1

1.2        Problem Statement 3

1.3        Purpose of Study. 3

1.4        Research Questions. 4

1.5        Limitations of the Study. 4


2.1        Fossil Fuels. 6

2.2        Types of Fossil Fuels. 8

2.3        Impact of Fossil Fuels on the Environment 9

2.3.1        Global Warming. 9

2.3.2        The Greenhouse Effect 14

2.3.3        Air Pollution. 25

2.4        Research Gap. 29


3.1        Research Philosophy. 30

3.2        Research Design. 30

3.3        Sampling. 30

3.3.1        Sample frames and Sample Types. 31

3.4        Instrumentation. 32

3.5        Data Analysis. 32

3.6        Ethical Considerations. 33




6.1        Summary. 42

6.2        Recommendations. 43

References. 44

List of Figures

Figure 1:  Showing variations of Carbon dioxide for the last 400,000 years, it shows a rise from the beginning of industrial revolution. Sources. 17

Figure 2: A large coal powered plant causing emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from fossil fuels burning. 17

Figure 3: Curve showing how Pacala and Socolow’s theories, can be applied to bend the curve of emission of global warming by the use of efficient and renewable sources of energy as well as applying other solutions. 25

Figure 4: Pollution from a power plant using coal to generate electricity. 28

Figure 5; Fossil fuel consumption among select nations. 34

Figure 6: Various pollutants resulting from burning of fossil fuels. 35


1.1                  Background

Scientific research has shown consistent evidence that burning fossil fuels is the main contributor of carbon dioxide emission in the atmosphere. Sadly enough, the same researches shows that there has been an increase in the rate of usage of fossil fuel and their use is expected to continue increasing steadily. Just as an example from the many problems the world faces today, the dilemma faced in the world is that China, in her quest to become industrialized and modern, is continuously building power plants which are coal-fired, a factor that has led to continuous emission of Carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Since fossil fuels are mainly composed of carbon, they always release this carbon they are composed of in the form of CO2when they are burned inform of gasoline or in a coal fired plant(Ou et al., 2010).

The most common fossil fuels used in the world today are oil, natural gas and coal. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is another form of fossil fuel which is mainly derived from natural gas production.  Pulverized coal is always blown into the furnace as coal is burned in power plants(Casper, 2010). Water flowing through the tubes found in this furnace is always heated under pressure to boiling point; they blast through a turbine turning a generator to produce electricity. Once the steam has gone through the turbine, it is cooled and condensed and finally returned into the furnace once again, completing what scientist’s referrers to as ranking cycle (Ou et al., 2010). As coal is being burned, greenhouse gases such as Carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and sulphur dioxide are emitted into the atmosphere. Sulphur particles are partially removed by filters and scrubbers and while close to 90 percent of emission of sulphur are usually caught, the remaining 10 percent always find their ways into the atmosphere. By virtue of its high content of carbon, Coal emits the highest amount of carbon dioxide compared to other fossil fuels. It makes the biggest source of fuel used to produce electricity worldwide (National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). A cording to Centre for Biological Diversity in the United States ( an organization which works through media, law and science to protect earth’s climate, water and land  in ensuring that endangered species are prevented from extinction), coal contributes 83 percent of the greenhouse gas emission from the sector of electric power (National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). Coal combustion is the main contributor of greenhouse gas effect globally. In addition to CO2, methane is another by-product of coal with more side effect on the environment than CO2 since it has global warming potential (GWP) 25 times higher than that of CO2 when compared over a lifespan of more than 100 years.

With regards to the survey conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), one of the largest coal plants is 500-megawatt and it produces 3.5 billion kilowatt per hour in each year. This is approximated to be able to provide power to a city of 140,000. The plant burns 1,430,000 tons of coal, uses 146, 00 tons of limestone and 2.2 billion gallons. This plant releases into the atmosphere of the earth the following: 10,000 tons of sulphur oxides; the main cause of acid rain which in turn damages buildings, lakes and forests. 10,200 tons of nitrogen oxide- the major cause of smog and also causes acid rain. 3.4 million Metric tons of Carbon dioxide, known for its primary cause of greenhouse effect leading to the current global warming problem experienced in the world (Casper, 2010). And lastly are the small particulates that are hazardous to health causing damage of the lung. When fossil fuels are not completely burnt, their hydrocarbon elements are released into the environment causing smog. Improperly burned carbon is also released into the atmosphere in the form of Carbon monoxide which is both poisonous and also contributes to global warming (Casper, 2010). Ash from these fuels commonly known as sludge consist of many pollutants including heavy metals like mercury and lead, arsenic, uranium and cadmium. These heavy metals are not only poisonous to the health of human beings but also to marine like(Alexiander & Reno, 2014).  Furthermore, these heavy metals accumulate along the food chain causing major human health problems like cancer. This dissertation analyse into details the impact of burning fossil fuels on the environment.

1.2                  Problem Statement

A proliferation in the emission of greenhouse gases has led to the greenhouse effect which has in turn resulted in global warming. Findings from studies carried out reveal that the increase in greenhouse gases is a result of human activities such as burning of fossil fuels, changes in land use and so on. Since global warming refers to the gradual increase in temperatures, one of the impacts has been melting of glaciers. Global warming has also led to climate change, which is being experienced through erratic weather patterns. Unpredictability in weather patterns has affected food production leading to a reduction in food supply.

As highlighted in the background, burning of fossil fuels has been one of the human activities contributing to the largest proportion of greenhouse gases emitted. This implies that any strategy aimed at reducing global warming must have reduction of burning of fossil fuels at the core. Such strategies should be based on concrete information concerning the exact impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

1.3                  Purpose of Study

This study aimed at conducting secondary research on the impact that burning of fossil fuels has on the environment. The objectives for the study included:

  • To determine the forms and products of fossil fuels available
  • To ascertain how fossil fuels contribute to environmental pollution, greenhouse effect and global warming
  • To determine ways in which the impact that fossil fuels has on the environment can be reduced

1.4                  Research Questions

This study sought to answer three research questions. The questions include:

  • What are fossil fuels and how have they evolved within the context of human activities?
  • How do fossil fuels contribute to environmental pollution, greenhouse effect and global warming?
  • How can the international community reduce the impact that fossil fuels have on the environment?

1.5                  Limitations of the Study

This study was based on secondary data and this resulted in several limitations that included:

  • The data was not exactly as per the needs of the study. The study will was relying on published data and some of the data was not reliable or exactly as per the needs of the study being undertaken. This implied that further scrutiny was required before actual use of the data. Such scrutiny was time consuming and at times its relevance was questioned considering it was beyond the objectives of the study.
  • Extensive modification was necessary before the data collected was used. The use of secondary data required suitable modification before use for research purposes and arriving at concrete conclusions. This was a requisite condition for ensuring that the data fitted within the requirements of the study.
  • For concrete conclusions to be arrived at, testing of the data collected was necessary. The fact that the study relied on secondary data implied that testing through field investigation for the purposes of verification of reliability and validity was necessary. However, due to time constraints, such testing was not done meaning that some of the data relied on may lack validity and reliability.
  • Reliance on secondary data meant that the study faced a lack of practical-orientation. A practical orientation would have been preferred to ensure that theoretical aspects about the study were linked to actual practice regarding fossil fuels and their impacts on the environment.


2.1                  Fossil Fuels

Among the gases emitted when fossil fuels are burned is carbon dioxide. These gases trap heat from the atmosphere. Within the last 150 years, there has been an increase in the amount of carbon dioxide by 25 percent resulting from burning of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels have also increased the amount of nitrous oxide and methane though they are not main sources of these gases. If the global concentration of carbon dioxide will continue to increase as has been predicted by many environmental scientists, the planet is expected to be warmer and warmer within the next century (Heede, 2014). This projected increase in temperature is expected to result into major adverse impacts including rise in sea-level due to glaciers melting and warming of the oceans leading to accumulation of river deltas, wetlands and even areas which are polluted. Weather patterns are also likely to be impacted on negatively as the inland zones of agriculture suffer frequent increase in droughts problems.

One of the essential elements of good health is clean air. However, fossil fuel combustion emits some of the dangerous and harmful gases including hydrocarbons, sulphur oxides, nitrogen oxides and carbon monoxide (de Paula et al., 2013). While nitrogen oxide combines with hydrocarbons and suspended particulates to form tropospheric ozone, the most harmful outcome is carbon monoxide which is mainly a by-product of incomplete combustion of fossil fuel and the exposure to it might result into headaches, respiratory illness and additional stress among individuals with heart diseases. Cars and trucks are considered as the primary sources of emissions of carbon monoxide. Other products formed during the combustion of fossil fuels are nitrogen oxide and nitrogen dioxide. Nitrogen oxides have appeared over skylines of many cities in the form of yellowish brown clouds (Zhang & Bauer, 2013).  They have the potential of causing pneumonia, irritate the lung resulting to bronchitis as well as reducing an individual’s ability to resist infection in their respiratory systems. These gases also contribute to the formation of smog in the atmosphere(Zhang et al., 2014). Transportation sector is believed to be responsible for more than half of nitrogen oxides emissions.

Sulphur oxides are always formed during the oxidization of the available sulphur in the fossil fuels. They are especially produced by utilities that utilises coal in electricity generation. Sulphur oxides together with nitrogen oxides are the main cause of acid rain. The two gases combine with water vapour found in the atmosphere to form sulphuric acid and nitric acid respectively (Zhang & Choi, 2013).  These products later are brought into the earth surface in the form of rain and snow. The gases are responsible for damage of buildings especially metallic ones since their acidic nature increases the rate of metal corrosion. Accumulation of this acid rain both in the terrestrial, aquatic and atmosphere have great impact on plants, the soil, human health and animal health, both aquatic and terrestrial (Conconi & Crnkovic, 2013). These acids accumulates on the leaf surface of green plants, blocking the plant stomata hence reduced rate of photosynthesis. On the same note, they make soil and water become more acidic hence not suitable for growth and developments of crops(Maina, 2014).  The overall effect of acid rains on plants is poor yield of crops due to lack of photosynthesis and uptake of water and mineral salts from the soil. Microorganism and other living things found in the soil are not spared either as they find soil too acidic. As a result of this, the soil loses its fertility since nitrogenous compounds dies up. Excess accumulation of acid rain in oceans and water bodies is also responsible for the death of many aquatic lives

Other than the gases discussed above, fossil fuels have the potential of producing particulates especially smoke, soot, dust and other suspended matters(Arbuthnott & Dolter, 2013).  These particulates are associated with numerous environmental problems including formation of smog, irritation of the eye and lung, problem with vision leading to accidents in the roads, blockage of stomata of plants resulting to poor agricultural yields, pollution of air and water bodies among others.

2.2                  Types of Fossil Fuels

Coal, one of the forms of fossil fuel causes numerous health problems including respiratory diseases such as asthma. On the same note, combustion of coal releases toxic mercury into the communities as well as destroying the physical environment. Since it has a high content of carbon, coal, when burned releases more carbon dioxide into the environment more than any other form of fossil fuel when burned. Coal is the main source of electricity fuel worldwide and at the same time the leading human caused emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Coal fire plants are numerous all over the world and are the largest source of greenhouse gases. Several large coal plants exist in most developing countries and much is still planned for countries such as South Africa and India (Alvarenga & Dewulf, 2013).   These are mainly financed by multimillion dollars arising from the investment of US government agencies for example the Export-Import Bank of US.

Oil & Gas mainly from gas and oil related industries are mainly known for releasing greenhouse gases and smog into the environment resulting into global warming(Boeters & Bollen, 2012).  The act of drilling and exploration also pose great threats to the existing fragile ecosystem in the world. Recent years have witness oil spill destroying beaches, communities and killing of countless number of marine animals, fish, birds and other wildlife. Though it was experienced long time ago, the spill of Exxon has its impact still experienced to date in Alaska. Worst to mention, nobody knows the extent of damage from Deepwater Horizon oil spillage in 2010 in Gulf of Mexico (Casper, 2010).  Despite all these great disaster experiences, the energy demand in the world continues to grow and the population continue to seek for gas offshore and oil, placing ecosystems, wildlife and coastal communities at great risks. Onshore, drilling facilities, building of roads and pipelines which are used to support recovery of oil are most likely to have severe impacts on the local ecosystem by shattering land belonging to the public, destroying habitat, as well as displacing wildlife (Bordoloi et al., 2014).  Oil pollutants, spills and fire are known for their potential to contaminate groundwater and the surface. Oil pipelines are responsible for severe erosion that damages tributaries and rivers and also threatens the life of fish species. Offshore drilling also has severe risk to the environment including disturbance to marine ecosystems, oil tanker and oil spillage accidents(Gurney et al., 2012). Any case of oil spillage near drilling platforms always result into killing of birds and marine organisms as well as leading to coastal contamination. Seismic testing at the time and place where gas and oil exploration is being done has also been reported to be having harmful effects on fisheries and whales. The overall environmental impact of fossil fuel includes acid rain, oil spills, air quality deterioration and global warming.

2.3                  Impact of Fossil Fuels on the Environment

2.3.1        Global Warming

Coal and oil are always referred to using common name fossil fuels. Scientists have found that the burning of fossil fuels is the main contributor of global warming. Though fossil fuels are majorly made up of carbon, there are other toxic substances in the case of oil which when inhaled are believed to having a potential of causing cancer in human beings. As coal is burned to generate electricity or oil undergoes burning in the form of diesel fuel and gasoline to be used in transportation, carbon gets released into the atmosphere in the form of Carbon dioxide (CO2).  Most developed countries such as the United States relies primarily on fossil fuels as the main sources of energy that are used for air conditioning, heat, electricity and fuel(Apergis & Payne, 2014). In fact, over 86 percent of energy used globally traces their origins from the combustion of fossil fuel. The existence of fossil fuel and their high rate of usage globally has played major role in global warming and current world crisis of climate change. The findings of Centre for Biological Diversity indicates that fossil fuel usage in United States accounts for over 80 percent greenhouse gas emissions and at least 98 percent of emission of CO2 only. This is approximated to be adding approximately 4.5 billion tons of Carbon dioxide and the figure is expected to increase if the earth does not adopt sequestration process of carbon(Fontalvo et al., 2014). The amount of carbon in the atmosphere is expected to exceed the capacity of carbon sinks or sponges such as animals, oceans, soil and trees which has been helping in soaking up the excess carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere.       Global warming as an emerging issue

Global warming is an emerging issue that poses great threats to environmental sustainability and is expected is expected to continue further for the next many centuries due to all the process which has been involved in it. The main cause of global warming is greenhouse gases, products which mainly originate from burning of fossil fuels (Du et al., 2013). The crisis can only be reduced if man changes her way of lifestyle including less use of energy, cutting down the usage on agribusiness, deforestation, combustion engines, electricity and other energy wasteful lifestyles(DiPeso, 2011).The adoption of other forms of energy that are non-fossil fuels such as fuel cells, hydrogen engines, solar power, and hydroelectric power can reduce the emission of greenhouse gases by half. According to the former US vice president Al Gore, the recipient of Nobel Peace Price of 2007 and the critical creator of An Inconvenient Truth in 2006, climate change is no longer just a small crisis but the most important crisis that has ever been faced in the world (Corbin et al., 2010). According to the scientific reports released by Global Issues, an organization which is concerned with the analysis of current political, cultural, and scientific needs, fossil fuel burning causes two separate problems in the world currently: the greenhouse that causes global warming and by products pollutants that causes global dimming(Elliston et al., 2014).

Fossil fuels by-products such as sulphur dioxide, ash and soot are pollutants. Once these pollutants are released into the atmosphere, they make changes in the physical properties of the clouds. These pollutants become in cooperated inside the clouds making the clouds have numerous numbers of droplets as compared to the unpolluted ones(Ishida, 2012). As a result of high number of droplets, polluted clouds become more reflective causing more energy and heat of the sun to be reflected back to space. The long term consequences of this are that the amount of heat reaching the earth is reduced, a phenomenon referred to as global dimming (Festel, et al., 2014). Other than massive environmental problems associated with global dimming such as acid rain and smog, the dimming has received numerous blame from the deaths of millions of people in the world. Since the polluted clouds prevent heat from the sun from reaching the surface of the earth, water in the Northern Hemisphere has been made cooler resulting into fewer rains experienced in key areas in the world(Harrestrup & Sevendsen, 2014).  A good example to illustrate this is Sahel in Northern Africa which is yet to receive adequate amount of rain it need. 1970s and 1980s saw North Africa experiencing prolonged drought resulting to famine and hunger.

According to the 2005 documentary of BBC on global dimming, Beate reported that the data from the 1970s and 1980s when run on what he referred to as global dimming models, the famine experience in Sahel is duplicated by the computers. The conclusion he reports from this is that what came out from power stations and exhaust pipes from North America and Europe resulted into deaths of more than one million Africans and exposed more than 50 million to hunger and starvation(National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). The impacts of global warming are not actually in terms of millions, but billions. Scientist already accuses the Asian monsoon system for being responsible for reduction of the annual rainfall to half of the population of the world(Indrawati et al., 2009). More than 3 billion people are expected to be affected in case global dimming affects the Asian monsoons.

Another contributor to global dimming apart from the polluted clouds is vapour trails that originate from the airplanes. This had not been understood until the US 2001 September 11 terrorist attack(Harrestrup & Sevendsen, 2014). Since commercial flights were not flying for the three days which were following, climate scientists were able to document the effect on the climate when there are no heat reflections or contrails(Festel et al., 2014). Their finding was that there was an increase of temperature by one degree Celsius during that period of three days. Since global dimming manifests by making the temperature of the earth slightly cooler, there are scientific concerns that global dimming maybe hiding the actual power of global warming(Golosov et al., 2014). Different models of climate currently predict that the earth is going to experience a three degrees Celsius increase in the global temperature within the next century and they argue that with the increase in global dimming, the warming might be greater than 3 degree Celsius (Heede, 2014). Global dimming can easily be alleviated by cleaning up the emissions.

However, if global dimming is addressed without addressing global warming issues, the effects of global warming might be amplified. Addressing global dimming will rapidly increase the negative effects of global warming. In such a case, irreversible damage to the universe is approximated to be only thirty years away from now (Gurney et al., 2012). The global impacts likely to be witnessed in such cases include melting of ice in Greenland, resulting into the rise of sea levels, drying of tropical rain forests, worldwide interruption of coastal locations and increased cases of wildfires which would further release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Instead of the temperature increasing by three degree Celsius as expected, there could be potential increase by at least six degree Celsius(Kohler et al., 2013). In case this occurs, there will be more rapid global warming than in any other history of the earth and it would obviously results into several negative impacts including massive die-off of vegetation, great decrease in the level of food production, increased soil erosion, increased desertification resulting to the release of methane hydrate from the oceans(Yang et al., 2014).  BBC documentary indicates that this is no longer a prediction but a warning of what will happen if pollution is cleaned up without doing something on greenhouse gases (Pereira & Pereira, 2014).  On the same note, leaving pollutants in the atmosphere will cause health related problems such as respiratory illnesses from smog and soot. It is also likely to lead to increased cases of environmental problems such as abnormal rainfall patterns, and acid rain that can result to death of million people dying as a result of a failed agricultural systems and drought.

There is need to deal with both global warming and global dimming at the same time if a long lasting environmental protection solution is to be found.  Humankind reliance on fossil fuels-natural gas, oil and coal, is to blame for the effect of global warming. This was reported by 2007 IPCC census report(Hook & Tang, 2013). These sentiments have been echoed by an American climatologist who affirmed that IPCC report is a true convergence that global warming has been mainly caused by I don’t care attitude of the human brain. The report blames fossil fuels as the main (99%) cause of global warming. In fact, this report indicated a significant increase from their earlier report in 2001 which said that fossil fuels were only responsible for 66 percent of global warming (Clay, 2014).  Even if people were to stop the burning of fossil fuels which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the gas that is mainly blamed of trapping heat in the atmosphere, the effects of high temperature especially heat waves, high energy bills, worse wildfires, longer droughts , and coastal floods would not easily go away during our lifetime. Further scientific reports indicate that even if we stop the emission from every tailpipe and smokestack, the already available heat on the atmosphere makes consequences of global warming inevitable(Boeters & Bollen, 2012). The scientist argues that carbon dioxide will just be sitting there for the next century to come. There is therefore need for immediate action to curb the problem of global warming once and for all.

2.3.2        The Greenhouse Effect

Fossil fuels consist mainly of hydrogen and carbon. The process of burning is a chemical reaction which involves oxygen in the air. In most part of the process, carbon combines with oxygen to form carbon dioxide while the hydrogen combines with oxygen to form water vapour (Casper, 2010). Within this two chemical process, there is a substantial release of energy in the form of heat. Given the fact that it only heat which is needed in order to instigate the chemical reactions, a chain of reaction which causes heat, which causes reaction, which causes heat and so on and so forth (Kim & Urpelainen, 2013). The process once started continues until all the fuels get finished or something is done which can stop the burning. The main reason for arranging for all these is to generate heat(Khare et al., 2014). Carbon dioxide released in the process is the main cause of greenhouse effect discussed in this section.

Electromagnetic radiation found in the atmosphere is a very important phenomenon which absorbs various forms of wavelength. Every object found in the universe produces electromagnetic radiation which absorbs anything which is impinges on it (McKee, 2006). The surface of the sun which is assumed to be 11,000 degrees and emits light which can allow humans to openly see, and the surface of the earth which is at around 520 degrees and emits infrared since we all know that it is not visible on a dark night (Casper, 2010). The rate at which radiation energy is emitted by an object increases with increase of temperature. That is why hands placed near a light bulb is heated very fast when it is placed on a hot bulb than when it is placed on a cool one. Considering the moon, it absorbs radiation from the sun which at in the end increases its temperature and this increase in temperature causes it to emit radiation(National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). Though this process ultimately comes to an equilibrium whereby the amount of radiation emitted is equal to the amount of absorbed from the sun, it determines the average temperature of the moon. If this was to be the case, then the earth would be currently 54 degrees cooler that its current temperature and nearly all the lands in the universe would be covered by ice.

The reason for the existence of the observed difference is the fact that the atmosphere of the earth contains molecules which participate in absorbing infrared radiation. The difference is that they don’t absorb the infrared radiation from the sun making the earth to get its entire share for that(Harrestrup & Sevendsen, 2014). However, a fraction of these infrared radiations by the earth are absorbed by these molecules which in turn emits them back onto the earth surface. That is what scientists have revealed that provides the extra heating on the earth surface. This is also one of the processes which participate in warming the plants in greenhouse; the glass do not absorbed the sun’s visible lights but instead absorbs radiation emitted by the plants and then reflect them back to the plants(Zhang et al., 2014). This is how the whole process became to be named greenhouse effect. It is responsible for automobiles becoming hot when parked outside the sun. The incoming radiation which is visible passes through the window while the infrared emitted from inside the car is absorbed by the glass and most fraction of it refracted back into the car(Ding et al., 2013). Molecules which are found in the atmosphere that absorbs infrared hence ending up increasing the temperature of the earth are commonly known as greenhouse gases (Casper, 2010). A good example of carbon dioxide which considered as the most notorious along other gases such as carbon monoxide, sulphur oxides, nitrous oxides, methane among others. A vast quantity of carbon dioxide exists in the atmosphere raising its temperature by more than 500 degrees over what is considered would be without the atmosphere (Festel et al., 2014). Our main problem today is the burning of gas, oil and coal all of which produces more carbon dioxide adding to the amount which is already in the atmosphere(Corbin et al., 2010). As a result of this, there is an increase in greenhouse effect resulting to abnormal increase of the temperature of the earth.

Figure 1:  Showing variations of Carbon dioxide for the last 400,000 years, it shows a rise from the beginning of industrial revolution. Sources: (Gurney et al., 2012).

Before the industrial age era, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere was somehow less than 280 parts per million. By 1958, the concentration of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere had risen to 315 parts per million and 350 parts per million by 1986(Ng, 2011). Climatic scientist has reported that the temperature of the earth has been at least one degree Celsius warmer in 20th century than how it was in the 19th century (Ibarguengoytia et al., 2013)).  However, as the rate of burning gases, oil and coal escalates, so is the rate at which carbon dioxide accumulates on the earth surface resulting to continue rise in temperature.

Figure 2: A large coal powered plant causing emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere from fossil fuels burning (Casper, 2010).

Predicting what should be expected from the high rate increase of temperature is very complicated but since it is very essential, great deals have been undertaken by scientists to establish probable consequential estimates. The results of these has shown that the concentration of carbon dioxide is most likely to double from 350 parts per million to 700 parts per million by 2030 in case the current trend continues. The effect of such increase in the concentration of carbon dioxide will be the rise of the earth average temperature by 2.2F. Two major side effects will rise from this temperature increase. The first one is that increase in temperature will cause water to evaporate from oceans leading to an increased in the number of water molecules in the atmosphere. Increased amount of water vapour also have negative environmental consequences since it is also a greenhouse gas (Casper, 2010). The second effect will be melting of ice and snow hence less snow and ice. Ice and snow always play very important roles in reflecting away the visible light from the sun which could be absorbed by the surface of the earth. Their absence will mean that much light will reach the earth surface leading to great environmental damage.

There are however other factors which though are of little significance, are worth mentioning because most of them have the potential of reducing the warming effect. Oceans always absorbed both heat and carbon dioxide interfering with the temperature of water bodies as well as acidity hence resulting to deaths of aquatic plants and animals. Plankton, a tiny organism most found in marine environment has its growth accelerated by high temperature and high concentration of carbon dioxide; they absorbed the extra temperature and carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere hence reducing their concentration in the space. Yet other factors also complicate the process and consequences that are likely to arise from the warming. Sulphur dioxide, one of the great pollutants also arising from fossil fuels tends to cool the earth and in the effort of human population to prevent pollution, the cooling effect of sulphur dioxide is reduced. Bacteria found in the soil actively converts all dead organic matter found in the spill to carbon dioxide as rise of temperature is witnessed thus increasing the amount of carbon dioxide found in the atmosphere. Soil that has undergone thousands of years freezing, also known as thawing of permafrost, release methane which is a natural gas and also a greenhouse gas having potential of causing greenhouse effect (Casper, 2010). Taking all these factors into consideration, the best scientific estimates is that doubling the concentration of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase the average temperature of the earth by more than 7F.

The potential effect of greenhouse effect has become an issue of concern all over the world because of the recent witnessed abnormal hot summers which were accompanied by the droughts resulting into severe reduction of agricultural output globally. When averaged over the whole earth, the most five warmest years over the past century was in 1980s, this happened despite the fact that the energy from the sun has been slightly below normal and also the world has experienced major volcanic activities which would otherwise be expected to reduce the earth’s temperature as has always been argued by scientists(Hong et al., 2013).  Whether the recent abnormal warm weather are manifestation of increased greenhouse effect expected to come or not, the consequences of greenhouse effect are going to be experienced sooner than later if people will continue with their high rate of fossil fuels usage (Casper, 2010). There is therefore a strong consensus, both by the environmental and scientific communities that the greenhouse effects need to be given special attention before everything run out of hands.       Predicted consequences of the greenhouse effect      Crop yield

The US congress In December 1987 requested   Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to submit a report on environmental and health consequences expected to originate from greenhouse effects (Hong et al., 2013).  Several environmental impacts were discussed in the report. Agriculture was reported to be very sensitive to change in climate. For example, there was 40 percent reduction of corn yield in Midwest by the 1988 dry and hot summer(Guzman-Morales et al., 2014). However, application of long term planning can still compensate for the climatic change. moreover, increasing the level of carbon dioxide is more beneficial to the plants since carbon dioxide found in the air id an essential element required by plants for them to manufacture their own food through photosynthesis process(Komariah et al., 2013). The assessment of Environmental Protection Agency is that the southern parts of the world will be hit hard as the temperature will become too hot for the crops, especially corn and soybeans. Florida in US will be exception as the growing of citrus can be helped and the fruit might become one of the major new products (Le et al., 2013). Another area with advantages is the great regions which are likely to be helped by their longer growing season.

Several plants such as corn, wheat, and other food crops which require more rain and average temperature will have to be abandoned (Casper, 2010).  The greenhouse effect is not restricted to plants alone. The problems with livestock are likely to increase. Stress from heat is expected to reduce breeding and rare animals are more likely to be extinct by harsh weather patterns. It is expected that most livestock diseases that are experienced in the southern part of US will soon shift to northern parts and new tropic diseases will soon invade the south(National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). Pest problems is expected to multiply and the control might become a great challenge human cannot afford. With increase in global climate, pest will comfortably survive in warm winters and will breed for more generation during the long cold summer(Steiner et al., 2013). Though EPA does not report major impact likely to be experienced in US in the form of food shortages, more problems related to food shortage are mostly likely to be experienced all over the world.

Forest is also expected to undergo some hard times since each type of forest requires specific type of climate. The growing areas of each tree species is expected to shift while a lot of trees are expected to die off(Linden et al., 2013). This has been evidence with the current situation which has witnessed the forest constantly being under threat from diseases, stress, competition from other types of plants, wind, drought, fires and so on(Legget et al., 2012). Addition of another stress by changing the climatic patterns is expected to create more troubles as many plant species risk dying off.      Effect on water bodies

Most cities of US are locate at the sea coasts and are therefore close to the sea level. Cities like Seattle, Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Houston, New Orleans, Miami, Washington, Baltimore, New York and many others are majorly found in the sea cost of the country(Palander & Vesa, 2012).  If ice and snow are going to melt due to change of climate and increased atmospheric temperature, ice will melt raising the sea level by around 270 feet(National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009).  This is feared to have the ability to flood all the US cities and spread to other areas of the nation including the neighbouring nations. In case the current trend of increase in temperature continues, the world should expect a 20-foot rise by the period of 200-500 years(Gurney et al., 2012).  Already scientists have established a reasonable estimate of 1.5 to 3 feet within the next century. Only a rise by 3-foot has the capability of flooding major areas in Boston, Miami, and New York. Other cities all over the world are also likely to be affected. As a result, the fraction of water bodies on the surface of the earth will increase as the world experience reduction of available land for use (Parajuli, 2014).  The barrier islands in major coast of the world including the American’s Miami Beach will be in great trouble. The flooding that is currently caused by storms once after every 100 years will be expected in US after every 15 years

As discussed above, melting of ice will lead to increased number of flooding cases. However, penetration of salty water to the land will create great difficulties for the aquatic lives (Oliver et al., 2014).   The situation has already been experienced throughout the world including the reduction of the harvest of oyster in Chesapeake Bay. Contamination of ground water is more likely to be experienced and the problem is expected to spread worldwide with major part most likely to be affected in United State being Florida(Le et al., 2013). World leaders will be required to take effective measures towards protecting valuable lands such as cities from flooding crisis which is likely to arise from the rising of the sea level. Governments can use the scenario in Holland to build dikes with large capacity pump-out system to hold overflow which might be experienced from flooding(McKittrick, 2014). It is also feared that wetlands, a habitat for waterfowl and some other types of aquatic life would soon be cut off to half since it takes only a small rise in sea level for that to happen. Persistence rise in sea level would mean no zero wetlands in most parts of the world.

Rise of the level of ocean does not mean that the world is likely to experience the rise in the levels of streams and rivers. Already the level of Great Lakes have been predicted to fall by 2-5 feet due to the greenhouse effect that has reduced the amount of rainfalls throughout the world and at the same time increased the rate of evaporation from these water bodies(Magne et al., 2014). Numerous countries have witness some of their rivers and streams dry up during the prolonged drought seasons (National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). This has in most cases created problems with shipping and water supplies in major parts of the world. The amount of fish and other aquatic food products have greatly reduced as most fish species have faced extinction due to harsh environmental condition brought about by the greenhouse effect (McCollum et al., 2014). Wild animals and plants will have to adapt to the climate change of risk being eliminated from the ecosystem. Already major plant species have been lost in most parts of the world as a result of change in climate (National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). Though countries have been in the forefront to rectify this by coming up with different policies ad convention treaties concerning the protection of endangered species, there are potential difficulties in protecting lives of these plants and animal since the environment has become too harsh for them. Soon the grizzly bears in the park of Yellowstone will have nowhere to go and will probably die out(Markusson & Haszeldine, 2010). Other casualties of greenhouse effects which are soon being eliminated are spotted owls, bald eagles, and panthers. Insects plague is soon expected to be disastrous to trees just the same way drought and floods are expected to bring down most of the world’s most important trees. Wild forest fire is expected to continue occurring on frequent basis. The problem associated with acid rains which has also been discussed into details will pose the worst problem in the world especially with infrastructure and the rate of food production(Levitan et al., 2014). Both the forest and animals which inhabit them are soon not going to find it easy.

Though most of these impacts have been discussed in relation to what will majorly happen in the US, the rest of the world will not be spared either. When one talks of the sea level rising, what comes in mind is Holland whose two third of her land has now been rendered below the sea level (Liu et al., 2014).  The country is even now only protected by dikes against the sea level rising to 16 foot during the periods of storm. For Holland to be protected for a further 3-foot rise in sea level, at least $ 5-10 billion will be required. Another country to mention as an example is Bangladesh, with her low technology is highly expected to undergo terrible suffering from floods as the sea level continues to rise (Palander & Vesa, 2012). Some few scientists have been thinking that Canada will benefit from the warm climate to come without focusing on the possible complications to come with it. With the rise of levels of oceans and great lakes having their water levels falling, there will be great trouble with the St. Lawrence seaway. Southern Ontario, which is widely known for having the most productive land for farming in Canada, will soon suffer from prolonged draught as the storm continue striking and the rain they always bring moves to the north (National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). The warmer temperature will increase the rate of evaporation from the water hence resulting into more water loss.

Drought is also threatening the western wheat belt. With the local problems put aside, greenhouse effect has made agriculture to move majorly to the northward region and Canada is believed to be having the potential to accommodate much of northward movement. The tree line is approximated to be moving north by around 35 miles per Fahrenheit rise in global temperature(Indrawati et al., 2009).Most of these explanations are on what is expected to happen by the middle of the next century but that does not mean the end of everything. So long as fossil fuels are still being used, people should be prepared for a warmer climate in the near future. The only possible solution in this case is reducing the consumption of fossil fuels (gas, oil and coal) by over 90 percent something which is equal to impossible especially by the developed countries like United States who have been arguing that the negative impacts arising from the release of greenhouse gases to the environment is far much below the positive impacts it carries with itself(Rahmadi et al., 2013). This was the main reason why the US declined signing the Kyoto protocol agreement which required countries to regulate the amount of carbon dioxide they release into the environment. Countries had been encouraged by the International Framework Convention on Climate Change (IFCCC) to adopt carbon trading technique so as to limit the amount of carbon released into the environment (Quentin et al., 2012). Substituting coal burning with nuclear energy for the generation of electricity and utilization of this electricity in replacement of gases and oil for transportation and heating of buildings can help reduce this problem in the future.

Figure 3: Curve showing how Pacala and Socolow’s theories, can be applied to bend the curve of emission of global warming by the use of efficient and renewable sources of energy as well as applying other solutions (Casper, 2010).

2.3.3        Air Pollution

Acid rain and greenhouse effect arising from fossil fuels have received great attention from the media driving more public concern than the general air pollution caused by the products of burning fossil fuels. Greenhouse effects only cause economic disruption such as destruction of buildings while acid rain kills trees and fish(Alvarenga & Dewulf, 2013). Air pollution on the other hand results to loss of the lives of human beings together with human suffering from illnesses. The process that results into the formation of sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide has already been described into details together with how they originate from fossil fuels. However, many other processes are also involved in burning the fossil fuels (Guzman-Morales et al., 2014). When carbon from oil and coal burns in a limited supply of oxygen, carbon monoxide is formed instead of the notorious greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Hundreds of thousands of other compounds of oxygen, hydrogen and carbon all classified as volatile organic compounds or hydrocarbons are produced too during the burning of fossil fuels (Oliver et al., 2014). During the combustion process, some carbon particles remain unburned together with other materials in oil and coal which are not combustible. These substances come off inform of small solid particles commonly referred to as particulates (Quentin et al., 2012).  Particulates are typically very small in density and easily float in the air for quite some times. Particulates which are large enough to be seen are given common name known as smoke(Sathre, 2014). Some harmful organic compounds formed during the process of combustion always get attached to these particulates including those which have the potential of causing cancer.

Coal is believed to be containing trace amounts of almost every element including dangerous and toxic ones such as lead, selenium, cadmium, arsenic, and beryllium. All these toxic substances are released into the atmosphere as coal burns. All of these pollutants are always formed and released to the environment directly from the combustion process. Sometimes after these substances have been released, hydrocarbon combine with nitrogen oxides in the presence of sunlight to form what is referred to as ozone(Ronnback, 2014). This is again one of the most harmful pollutants that have ever existed on the earth. Other compounds such as PAN known for causing watering of eyes in the smog of Los Angeles can also be formed.

The possible health effects of these pollutants when summarized include: Firstly, sulphur dioxide is highly associated with many types of respiratory diseases including emphysema, bronchitis, asthma, colds and coughs (Shoaib & Bhran, 2013). Clinical studies have shown increased death rate from exposure to high level of sulphur dioxide among individuals with lung and heart diseases. Nitrogen oxides, another pollutant in this case, cause pneumonia, bronchitis as well as irritating the lungs. It also lowers resistance to diseases of upper respiratory system such as influenza and at higher level can cause pulmonary edema(Shahir et al., 2014). Carbon monoxide, the serial killer combines with haemoglobin hence reducing the amount of oxygen found in blood which is transported throughout the body. This gas also weakens the rate of contraction of the heart hence furthering the reduction of amount of oxygen supplied within the body tissues (Sadeghinezhad et al., 2014). Several death cases have been reported throughout the world which is highly associated with carbon monoxide poisoning. The gas is so lethal that even at its low concentration; it can affect individual’s mental functioning, alertness and visual acuity. Particulates when inhaled can cause damage to the respiratory system resulting to chronic or acute illnesses in the upper respiratory system (Sangeeta et al., 2014). They can also contribute to other severe health effects depending on their chemical composition. A good example is benzopyrene which is a cancer causing agent and it enters the body through inhalation(Vogel et al., 2010).

Hydrocarbon found in fossil fuels also causes smog and play important role in the formation of ozone. Ozone on the other hand causes irritation to the respiratory tract mucous membrane and the eyes(Zhang & Bauer, 2013).  It affects the functioning of the lung, damages the immune system, causes pulmonary congestion, coughing, pain in the chest, and reduced ability to exercises. Volatile organic compounds consist of many substances that are suspected to be causing cancer. Most common in this group are polycyclic aromatic which also include the above mentioned benzo-a-pyrene (Sueyoshi & Goto, 2013).   Toxic metals are released from fossil fuels too and they pose with themselves a variety of harmful effects. Chromium, nickel, arsenic, cadmium and beryllium have the potential of causing cancer (Varela-Margolles & Onsted, 2014).   However, each of these heavy metals has additional harmful effects. Lead can result into disorders in the neurological system such as seizures, behavioural disorders, mental retardation, heart diseases and high blood pressure. Epidemiological studies have indicated that most drivers and touts suffer mental retardation and hence madness due to long term exposure to fossil fuel containing lead as a preservative.

Tellurium and selenium are also known for their harmful effects to the respiratory system resulting to too many deaths when exposed to at a high concentration(National Science Foundation (U.S.), 2009). However, these toxic metals have major harmful effects when they are consumed jointly than when consumed separately, though there are little details which has been put down to support this(Suranovic, 2013). There can be no doubt however, that air pollution is a serious killer both to human, plants, aquatic animals as well as terrestrial animals and plants.

Figure 4: Pollution from a power plant using coal to generate electricity

 Source: Casper (2010).

Several evidence which link air pollution to increased rate of mortality have been found from numerous catastrophic episodes in which so many people died during the period of high pollution. In all of those cases, the main cause of pollution was burning of coal in combination with bad weather conditions. In the 1930th episode in the valley of Meuse in Belgium, there were over 60 deaths and 6000 air pollution related illnesses. In the 1948th episode in Donora, there were over 20 deaths within a period of four days. The same period witnessed 6,000 out of 14,000 people who were in the valley falling sick. At least eight episodes related to air pollutions occurred in London between 1948 and 1962 in which many deaths were reported. The largest case was in 1952 when 3,500 deaths were reported(Sathre, 2014). New York City also experienced hundreds of deaths over the same, one occurring in November 1953 and caused more than 360 deaths while the second one occurred in February 1963 causing at least 500 deaths and the last and third one occurring in 1966 and was responsible for more than 160 deaths(Ishida, 2012).  In all these mentioned cases, there was a sharp rise in the mortality rate whenever the level of air pollution reached its high values and went down when air pollution rate declined.

2.4                  Research Gap

A review of literature reveals that there exists a research gap with regard to fossil fuels and their impact on the environment. Key studies on the subject have focused on the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment. However, such studies have not been exhaustive in quantifying the impacts of fossil fuels on the environment and recommending ways on which the situation can be remedied. There is need to look into sustainable courses of action, and this can only happen once adequate documenting of impacts is done.


3.1                  Research Philosophy

The study carried out was underpinned by the positivist paradigm. The basic beliefs of this philosophy is that the world is external and objective, science is value-free and that the observer is independent(Cochran & Dolan, 2004). When researching, the focus was on various facts on fossil fuels and their impact on the environment. Attention was paid on causality and fundamental laws, with phenomenon being reduced to simplest elements. The philosophy employed is justified on the basis of the fact that, in order to arrive at concrete conclusions regarding how fossil fuels affect the environment, previously established facts needed to be looked into and analysed.

3.2                  Research Design

During the study, quantitative research design was employed. A quantitative research design refers to a research that follows either, experimental, descriptive, quasi-experimental and relation-based research design(Venkatesh et al., 2013). In this case, the goal was to establish the relationship that exists between burning of fossil fuels and the environment.

3.3                  Sampling

For one to reduce the cost of undertaking a study, they have to consider sampling. A sample refers to the portion of the population that is being considered for the study (Frels & Onwuegbuzie, 2013). The population, on the other hand, refers to all the elements or units of interest for a given study when put together. When coming up with a sample, the researcher may opt for either non-probability or probability sampling. By definition, probability sampling may be viewed as referring to the selection where each member of the population has an equal chance of being selected to be included in the sample. Contrary to probability sampling, non-probability sampling refers to where members of the population do not have an equal chance of getting selected. For the study, secondary research was being conducted and samples were selected using the non-probability sampling method.

3.3.1        Sample frames and Sample Types

When undertaking sampling, one begins with coming up with a sample frame. This is then followed by the selection of a sampling design. The sampling frame refers to the list of the units or the members in the population from which a sample is to be drawn. For probability sampling, sample types include systematic samples, simple random samples, cluster samples and stratified samples, while for non-probability sampling the sample types comprise of snowball samples and purposive samples. In performing the research, simple random sample types were considered. In this case, part of the population was selected based on random chance, that is, each member in the population had an equal chance of getting selected(Stafford, 2011)       Quantitative Sampling

In coming up with samples for quantitative research, researchers make several assumptions: the aim is to generalize to the population, the random events in the study are predictable, random events can be compared to the results. From these three assumptions, the assumption that probability sampling is the best approach to be followed is derived. To come up with samples through probability sampling, the methods that one may use include simple random sampling, stratified sampling, multi-stage sampling, cluster sampling and systematic sampling(Reale, 2014)       Qualitative Sampling

When following the qualitative approach, the research will have several assumptions in mind. These include: social actors predictable like objectives, randomized events are normally irrelevant to social life and probability sampling is both expensive and inefficient. From these assumptions, a fourth assumption is derived and it concludes that non-probability sampling is the best approach to be adopted. The researchers then have the option of using convenience, snowball, theoretical or quota sample types(Stafford, 2011).

3.4                  Instrumentation

In the study, the form of instrumentation followed was secondary review. The study entailed reviewing facts presented in academic journals, books, reports, reliable websites and so on. When performing a review, attention was paid on reliable data that could contribute in establishing facts regarding impact of fossil fuels on the environment.

3.5                  Data Analysis

The analysis of data collected serves five key purposes: making the raw data meaningful, testing null hypothesis, obtaining the significant results, drawing of inferences in order to make generalizations and estimation of parameters(Cochran & Dolan, 2004).  Descriptive statistical analysis will be considered for the study. The methods considered included calculation of frequency distribution, testing of the data for normality and skewness distribution, calculation of percentiles and the associated ranks and calculation of  central tendency mean, mode and median and establishing norms. Other methods considered included calculation of the measures of relationship-coefficient, validity and reliability by the product moment and rank-difference methods(Reale, 2014).

3.6                  Ethical Considerations

The study was based on secondary research. This implies that the major ethical consideration regarded acknowledgement of the sources from which data and information was obtained. The study relied on findings by other researchers and upholding of high ethical standards required academic honesty through acknowledging the sources of information.


Today, there is widespread use of fossil fuel. A review of data by previous researchers revealed rampant use of fossil fuels. A 2007 estimate revealed that primary sources of energy consisted of 36.0% coal, 23.0% natural gas, 27.4% coal and this amounted to 86.4% share of energy consumption in world(Boeters & Bollen, 2012). A look at per capita consumption of fossil fuels points to a cause for worry, with the US leading the way in terms of per capital fossil fuels consumption.

Figure 5; Fossil fuel consumption among select nations(Arbuthnott & Dolter, 2013)

A review of various data and information sources revealed that fossil fuels have major impact on the environment. Quantitatively, the effects of fossil fuel on the environment are typified by a 500-megawatt coal plant cited by Casper (2010). While this plant contributes at least 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours of power each year, the effect damage it does on the environment in the process is overwhelming. The plant releases to the atmosphere at least 10000tons of sulphur dioxide which results in acid rain.  The plant is also believed to contribute 10200 tons of nitrogen oxide, 3.7 million tons of carbon dioxide, 500 tons of hazardous small particles, 220 tons of hydrocarbons, 720 tons of carbon monoxide, 125 000 tons of ash and 225 tons of arsenic. All these pollutants come from a single plant and it is not hard to imagine the combined effect of the many coal plants available across the world.

The study revealed major impacts of fossil fuels as being global warming, greenhouse effect and pollution of both air and water bodies. A summary of how the pollutants affect the environment is as shown in figure six.

Figure 6: Various pollutants resulting from burning of fossil fuels (Kohler et al., 2013).


Energy office of environmental research and health in US sponsored a research group of Harvard University to carry out a multiyear study in evaluation of the impacts of air pollution from fossil fuels on the health of human population(Sadeghinezhad et al., 2014). The conclusion of this study was that air pollution, which mainly arise from fossil fuels combustion are responsible for at least 100, 000 annual deaths in United States. These deaths are predominantly from lung and heart diseases. Further research has also estimated that air pollution from burning of fossil fuels and other sources causes 1,000 deaths from cancer annually (Sangeeta et al., 2014). The above estimate of 100, 000 annual deaths mean that in every thirty Americans, one will die as a result of air pollution. Several environmental agents that have recently attracted attention of the media and hence the public such as banned pesticides, PCBs, Alar in apples, and formaldehyde gives those who have been exposed not even a single chance out of the 100, 000 that dies from the effects. It is therefore important to note that air pollution caused by burning of fossil fuels is more harmful than the previously discussed impacts (Steiner et al., 2013). While there are more than enough evidence showing how air pollution from fossil combustion affects the human health, reaching and understanding how to control air pollution from these sources have been very difficult for a long period of time. Initially, air pollution was associated with suspended particulate matter and sulphur dioxide thus all the studies related to air pollution were only concentrating on the two (Arbuthnott & Dolter, 2013). Until 1970s, scientists assumed that particulate matters and sulphur dioxide were ultimately responsible for health damages related to air pollution(Harrestrup & Sevendsen, 2014). Though animals which were exposed to very high levels of these substances showed no harmful effects on their health

Extraction, transportation and usage of fossil fuels especially oil causes water and land pollution. The world has experienced numerous cases of accidents involving oil spillage, leaving waterways together with their surrounding shores not habitable for quite a long period of time. Such spills when occurs in the water bodies have always been responsible for huge loss of aquatic plants and animals lives(Heede, 2014).  Other than oil, mining of coal also causes water pollution since they contain sulphur compounds. As water washes through the coal itself, sulphur compounds reacts with water to form dilute acid which is then distributed into the nearby lakes and rivers.

Oil spills is one of the most publicized impact on environment which is as a result of using petroleum as fuel. An example of such publications is the spill of 40,000 tons of oil Exxon Valdez tanker which occurred in 1989 at the coast of Alaska (Sadeghinezhad et al., 2014).  Though billions of dollars were spent in the process of cleaning up the spills, many beaches were totally ruined as well as numerous aquatic animal species which suffered great damage and will never be healed for many decades to come. According the world standards, this was not yet a large oil spill, 1979 witnessed Atlantic Empress involved in a collision from Tobago coast found in the Caribbean (Quentin et al., 2012).   This resulted into spillage of more than 305, 000 tons of oil leading to great damage to lakes, rivers, and the surrounding land. In 1978, great miles of beaches in French were ruined by Amoco Cadiz with 237,000 tons spills. The world has experienced a lot of oil spills with US alone reporting spills of 215, 000 tons on annual basis during the period of 1970 to 1974(McCollum et al., 2014).   It later experienced spill of 380,000 tons per year during the period of 1975 to 1979.  Over one million tons of oil is at any given time being transported by ships so it is absolutely evidence that most of this spillage ended up in water bodies resulting to loss of lives of aquatic plants and animals. Numerous land accidents have also resulted to spilling of oil into water bodies (Suranovic, 2013).  One of the greatest cases experienced in this category was the 1979 in Campeche Bay in Mexico in which no one could cape a well for a period of 280 days. During this period, 700, 000 tons of oil spilled into Mexico Gulf(Lin & Ouyang, 2014).  It resulted to great damage to the aquatic life.

Another important threat that always results from the combustion of fossil fuels is the heat energy which is always released into the atmosphere or to water bodies as coolant (Komariah et al., 2013). The hot air is not the problem in this case, but the heated water is the greatest concern since when it is returned to the lakes or rivers, it can kill the aquatic ecosystem.

More than sixty percent of coal used on the earth today is strip-mined. This means that the machine which is capable of moving through the earth strip off soil covering the earth  before reaching the coal then scope it up and finally load it into trucks for transportation to destination of use. Most of these machines pick 300 tons for a single bucket load(Magne et al., 2014). At times, these machines remove more than 200 feet covering soil before reaching the coal itself. This is what is termed as moving the earth on a large scale and during the process, the earth end up badly scraped. Several countries have responded to this by establishing laws and policies that requires land contour to be re-vegetated and restored. Though the laws have done much in improving the situation, restoration process has left much worth desiring (de Paula et al., 2013). The world largest reserve for coal is in the region of Wyoming-Montana where restoration has particularly proved to be very difficult because of the sparse rainfall witnessed there. Operators of strip mines provide a bond that act as evidence that they would be restoring the land after mining, but there has been no coal company reported to have achieved its performance in reclamation and got her bond returned in Montana (Zhang & Choi, 2013). In fact, there are over one million strip-mined lands which are awaiting for reclamation and more new land is being strip-mined at 65,000 acres rate per year.

The remaining 40 percent of coal used originates from underground mine. This percentage is expected to increase as the location of strip mining areas declines. One of the major environmental impacts of this is acid drainage which will arise from the mines which have been abandoned. Water in these areas seeps-in to react with sulphur compounds forming sulphuric acid, which is eventually taken back to streams hence making them more acidic (Yang, et al., 2014). In the long run, it kills fish and makes the water not suitable for swimming, drinking and other individual applications. Several methods can be applied to prevent this drainage arising from acid mine, the challenge is that they are very expensive and are not being implemented generally.

Another environmental impact related to underground mining of coal is subsidence of land (earth on the surface moves inwards as caving in of the abandoned mine is being experienced). This in most cases causes building found near that surface to crack or/and in most cases get completely brought down (Varela-Margolles & Onsted, 2014).  At least a quarter of 8 million acres that are found above coal mines have collapsed. Seven percent of this collapse has been witnessed in cities where damage is tragic to owners of homes as well as being very high. Subsidence, in rural areas in most cases changes the drainage patterns making land unfit for farming. To some extent, it also scares the land (Vogel et al., 2010). Unfortunately laws that govern the rights of minerals always relieve coal mining companies from any responsibility related to damage experienced as a result of subsidence.

Other environmental impacts that arise from underground mining are the current fires that accidentally start and become very difficult to put out. Some have been experienced smouldering for many decades which have passed. These fires releases smoke which are heavily loaded with air pollutants (Alexiander & Reno, 2014). Heat arising from these smokes also kills the surrounding vegetation apart from destroying a lot of coal of course.  261 uncontrolled Smouldering mine fires were witnessed in the United States in 1983. Coal is in most cases just washed outside the mines as a way of removing foreign materials. Wastes from this washing are unsightly piled up forming heaps of waste. United States experienced 177,000 acres of these banks of wastes in 1983, the majority being experienced in Appalachia. Most of these banks of waste always catch fire and burn acting as source of air pollution again. At the same time, coal mining is one of the most unpleasant occupations. Coal miners are ever in contact with dirt, often lacking room to stand up and therefore engulfed in dust. Ideologists have termed coal mining as a job which is totally unfit for the health of humans (Kohler et al., 2013). Though recent years have recorded some improvements, coal mining remains one of the most dangerous occupations. Several coal mining related reports have been received from all corners of the world and in US alone, 100 men are killed per year in coal mining process.

The worst health impact which is associated with coal mining is black lung disease. This name is derived from the fact that autopsy of almost all coal miners always find their lungs to be black. This disease though not fatal, causes a lot of discomfort among the miners (Hong et al., 2013). Moreover, it leaves miners susceptible to emphysema and other lung infections. Health reports indicate that underground coal miners are twenty times more likely to suffer from pneumoconiosis or silicosis those non-coal miners(Heede, 2014). They are also 2.5 times likely to die from tuberculosis, pneumonia, or bronchitis than those who do not do coal mining work. Interesting to note is that coal miners are always the healthiest than any other person during their younger age but as they age up, the situation becomes reversed and they are most likely to die three years younger than their fellow cohorts experiencing similar socioeconomic status.


6.1                  Summary

So the big question is, how much of the air pollution can be reduced through the use of nuclear power? Nuclear reactors do not produce any of the pollutants discussed above. From the evidence, burning of coal which is currently the earth’s main sources of electricity is the greatest pollutant of air. According to the estimates by Environmental Protection Agency, burning of fossil fuels in electric power plants produces at least 64 percent of all sulphur dioxide released in into the atmosphere in US, 27 percent of all the particulates, 31 percent of all nitrogen oxides released and only less than one percent of hydrocarbons or carbon monoxide (Casper, 2010). It is therefore easy to estimate that sulphur dioxide released from the combustion of fossil fuels contribute to at least 30 percent of all the deaths that arises from air pollution. Combustion of industrial fuel which is currently being replaced by electricity at a rapid rate produces 12 percent of sulphur dioxide, 5 percent of the volatile organic compounds, 22 percent of nitrogen oxides, and  10 percent of particulates (Casper, 2010). Preventing these emissions may provide a potential contribution in solving air pollution problems. If only that the world could adopt buses and railroads which are electrically powered and electric cars, great gain will obviously be witnessed since transportation alone is responsible for more than almost 85 percent of carbon monoxide, 40 percent of nitrogen oxides and 41 percent of volatile organic compounds. The world is spending more than $30 billion annually in the reduction of air pollution out of which a larger percentage is due to coal burning power plants. Replacing these coal burning power plants with more environmental friendly nuclear plants would save the world billions of her dollars per year in only this area.

6.2                  Recommendations

In order to control global warming, greenhouse effects, acid rain, and pollution that comes from combustion of fossil fuels and result into great damage into the environment including aquatic life, plant, human being and animals, appropriate action must be taken. Everybody on earth should be involved in finding solutions to environmental problems caused by combustion of fossil fuels.  One way of doing that can be introduction of green energy hence stopping influx of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Application of green energy will result into a healthy air quality together with decline in global warming. It is however important to acknowledge there it is already too late to completely stop global warming. All actions taken should therefore aim at reducing the consequences. Government, industries and other private investors need to adopt technologies which are energy efficient, that is, clean sources of energy as well as adopting electronic vehicles. Various government policies can also help limit the use of coal and oil hence minimizing the negative impacts they might have on the environment. Unless this is done immediately, the situation might run out of hand very soon.


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