01.24.2023

Are You Really Against Fossil Fuels? Read this Before You Answer

Copyright free pic: Photo by Callum Shaw on Unsplash

By Vijay Jayaraj

It is easy for anyone to say that they are against fossil fuels. Opposition to coal, oil and natural gas is fashionable and will prompt heads to nod and even hands to applaud in most places.

But are people aware of the extent to which their lives are dependent on fossil fuels? Do they know that more than 90 percent of things used in their everyday lives are derived from fossil fuels?

From your toothbrush to your car tire, a majority of the things you use today has been made possible because of fossil fuels. Shoes, refrigerators, washing machines, coffee makers, furniture, pens, eating utensils, eyeglasses, commodes, medical gear, camping equipment, and the list goes on and on.

Consider the computer or the phone from which you are reading this article. They are made of glass, metal, plastic, lithium and silicon – all of which require fossil fuels to mine, process or manufacture. While some are chemical derivatives of fossil fuels, all depend one way or another on their combustion for electricity generation, process heat or transportation.

You wouldn’t have the iPhone, Android or MacBook without fossil fuels. Imagine the irony of typing out “end oil” from a phone that is made from fossil fuels! Or supporting climate activism by relaying video that was recorded with a camera made from fossil fuels! Of course, this sort of irony is displayed regularly and missed constantly.

In short, the most fundamental necessities – and the most cherished conveniences – of daily life are products dependent on the use of fossil fuels.

Electricity and Transportation

The industrial era was a time of great change, and the use of fossil fuels played a big part in that. From the early 1800s to the mid-1900s, coal was the primary fuel source for industry and transportation. Oil and natural gas became much more prominent in the latter half of the 20th century.

Cars, trucks, planes, ships, and trains use oil. If you go electric, the electricity for the vehicle is again predominantly generated from coal or gas. Even wind, solar, nuclear and hydro power are dependent on manufacturing and mining processes reliant on fossil fuels. If you intend to start a new life on the planet Mars or the moon, the rockets you use need fossil fuels.

While the use of fossil fuels as a source for electricity generation and transportation fuel has been discussed widely, their role in the manufacturing and farming sectors is seldom highlighted.

Cement, Steel, and Plastic

Cement, steel, and plastic are essential materials that are used in the construction, transportation and manufacturing industries, playing a key role in the development of modern civilization.

Being the primary ingredient of concrete, cement is the most frequently used construction material in the 21st century. It is used in the construction of homes, roads, bridges, commercial buildings and other infrastructure. The manufacture of cement is one of the most energy intensive processes, requiring the mining of limestone and other minerals that are eventually heated in kilns at temperatures of 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.

Another common construction material is steel, which is preferred for its immense strength compared to its volume and weight – a quality desirable for the structural frameworks of tall buildings, industrial facilities and bridges. Steel is also used in the reinforced concrete of roads and in the manufacture of vehicles, machinery, tools and appliances.

Paints, resins, fiberglass, coatings, varnishes, adhesives, and thousands of other materials are all made from fossil fuels. It is likely the clothing that you are wearing now was made using fossil fuels. In fact, most carpets, fabrics, coatings, cushions, upholstery, drapes, spandex and other textiles are made with the help of fossil fuels.

Fossil fuels are used as raw materials in the production of many chemicals and plastics. Lightweight, durable and versatile, plastics are used in a wide range of products, from packaging and consumer goods to automotive parts and medical devices.

Food Production

Fertilizers – produced with the help of fossil fuels – replenish the soil with essential nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, improving soil structure and fertility. Fertilizers have played a crucial role in meeting the global food demand by increasing crop yields by as much as 50 percent.

According to OurWorldInData, which compiles information from the United Nations and World Bank, “From 1961 to 2014, global cereal production has increased by 280 percent. If we compare this increase to that of total population (which increased by only 136 percent over the same period), we see that global cereal production has grown at a much faster rate than the population.

Not only do fossil fuels enable us to meet the bare necessities our everyday lives, but they are also the reason for the worldwide improvement in the quality of life since the 1950s.

The campaign against fossil fuels focuses on their use in the generation of electricity. However, every part of our material life is made better by fossil fuel derivates. They help us live more efficiently, safely and in an environmentally friendly way, reducing poverty and helping billions enjoy decent and safe lives.

This commentary was first published at Real Clear Energy, January 24, 2023, and can be accessed here.

Vijay Jayaraj is a Research Associate at the CO2 Coalition, Arlington, Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in environmental sciences from the University of East Anglia, UK and resides in India.

 

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