Fossil Fuels: A Double Edged Sword

Development Essential

Fossil fuels are natural fuels formed over millions of years from the decomposition of plant and animal remains buried deep inside the earth. At these depths, enormous temperature and pressure cause the remains to decompose in the absence of air. The word ‘fossil’ is used to describe them because they are derived from the fossils or remains of plants and animals.


Mineral oil, coal, and natural gas are the chief fossil fuels. Energy as electricity and fuel is required for all economic and survival activities – industries, transport, agriculture, household activities and the like. Together, fossil fuels supply around 85% of the total global energy requirements. About 36% comes from oil, 27% from coal, and 22% from natural gas.


Endangered and Endangering Resource

Growing population, increasing high-consumption lifestyles, expanding industries and spread of energy-intensive agriculture cause energy needs to expand by just over 2% every year exerting enormous pressure on these non-renewable resources. At present rates of extraction we will lose available sources of coal by 2112, crude oil by 2065, and natural gas by 2068.

Another, greater problem with burning of coal and oil is the emission of polluting gases. Carbon dioxide is the chief culprit in global warming, a problem that can flood half the world and suck dry the remaining half. Then again, air pollution is the primary cause of many grave disorders such as respiratory diseases, heart defects, and lung cancer.

Addicted as we are all to this fuel, there is a serious need to re-examine our habits. Sooner or later, the world will run out of this source of fuel. If we haven’t mended our ways by then, development and even daily survival will be virtually impossible.

Not letting old habits die will make us face the irreversibly catastrophic consequences of global warming namely coastal flooding, increased droughts and cyclones, aridity, forest fires, eroding agricultural productivity, proliferation of tropical diseases, species extinction, and ecosystem destruction that will threaten the very existence of life on this planet.


Alternative Trajectories

Transformation from the fossil-fuel-intensive development model will be a long and tardy process, not a sudden event. The focus has to be on cutting down on use of fossil fuels coupled with increasing efficiency of production and development of non-renewable energy technologies. Some of the alternatives are:

  • Population control
  • Low consumption lifestyles with:

+      judicious use of electricity and cooking gas

+      pooling cars, use of public transport, and switching off automobiles when waiting at signals cut down fuel use

+      consuming only the required amount of commodities lowers the energy and other resources needed for their production

  • Improvement of production technologies to minimise wastage
  • Greater use of renewable energy from wind, solar, small hydro, and biomass. Large hydro projects on mega dams are known to destroy the ecosystems in downstream areas
  • Policy support for research, development, and extension of renewable energy technologies is essential to improve their productivity to commercially viable levels



A stitch in time saves nine. If we act today, we can save ourselves and posterity from a cataclysm. Environment is common to all entities on this planet. Therefore, measures to conserve it require cooperation between people across the world. Otherwise, we will all face the wrath of nature on the soon-to-arrive doomsday.

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