By Trapper Dickson, PhD
If you think carbon emissions are the only thing to worry about when it comes to fossil fuels, think again. From extraction to consumption, these dirty energy sources make our world a little more dangerous every day.
We pollute our environment to unknowable degrees when we mine fossil fuels; we put our lives at risk by transporting these substances through our communities (remember Lac-Megantic); even though much of this energy is consumed in China, air knows no boundaries, and we all pay the consequences via global climate change. We are what we eat, drink and breath. Thus, we are polluting ourselves as we pollute our environment. And rest assured, we will pay the true cost of this with our quality of life and through our health care systems.
The topics of pollution and environmental destruction from fossil fuel industries (including fracking) have been well-documented yet rigorously debated as to the overall affect to climate change and human health. I constantly wonder though, what is the debate? If we take fossil fuels from the ground and put them into the atmosphere (understanding that they become greenhouse gases) it’s not a debate; we are contributing to climate change and the related human health issues. I also wonder why this subtle self-destruction is acceptable.
One only needs to research a coal mine, or fracking site to learn about the sorts of pollution and destruction incurred by mining fossil fuels. One also only needs an elementary understanding of hydrology and other environmental sciences to comprehend that pollution knows no boundaries; polluting waterways upstream from drinking water sources condemn those who consume it down-river. Same is the case for burning coal in China, emitting CO2 into the atmosphere for the whole planet to deal with. Furthermore, coal dust blowing off uncovered coal trains has the potential to foul our air and water. Train derailments (which is a matter of when, not if, they occur) could dump coal or oil directly into our drinking sources, onto environmentally sensitive areas, or directly into populated areas. These points bring into light the health and safety dangers of our fossil fuel industry and transport methods.
Because of human’s incessant fossil fuel burning, climate change has become maybe the biggest issue of our time and time to come. What’s scary is how quick and drastic climate change has been while many of Earth’s buffering systems are still in place (i.e. the planets air-conditioner, Antarctica). However, as the planets’ ice continues to melt, we continue to loose our buffering capacity to greenhouse gases. What’s even more scary are the positive feedbacks of climate change. For example, as warming occurs the permafrost sectors of the planet are thawing, emitting more noxious gases (i.e. methane) with even greater climate change impacts. Also, lets not forget all the millions of tons of carbon sequestered in our forests, which will be released into the atmosphere as warm-dry conditions persist resulting in sever wildfires. These feedbacks will insure even more, drastic climate change.
Of note, NASA and NOAA have independently confirmed that the last six months have been the warmest ever recorded (1880-2015). What this means for conventional food production, overall ocean health, or the expansion of infectious diseases, one can only wait and see.
I’m not naïve, and I realize that we can’t quit fossil fuels cold turkey. This needs to be a phase-out process, but the process needs to be on steroids in order for us to stave off the most detrimental consequences of greenhouse gasses (i.e. severe fresh-water shortages, ocean degradation, crop failures and the expansion of infectious diseases). This process starts with us—you and me. No matter if you’re a Democrat, Republican, American, Canadian, Chinese or Russian, we’re all in this together, and we must take it upon ourselves to be the change. After all, it’s obvious that the worlds’ governments (most anyway) are not going to lead the way to curb fossil fuels. We must kill the market for fossil fuels and invest in research and development of renewable energy sources. This can be achieved by consuming less, being “sustainably conscious,” and purchasing goods produced by renewable energy sources (vote with your dollar). The more we do this, the more of a sustainable market we will create. This will result in a positive feedback.
We don’t need more development for fossil fuel industries. No new pipelines or rail lines need to be constructed. We don’t need to be drilling for oil in the Arctic. And we damn well don’t need to go to war to take foreign supplies. What we need is to take action, to wean ourselves from fossil fuels and invest in sustainable solutions.
No doubt, phasing out fossil fuels and implementing renewable energy sources will be costly, and many sacrifices need to be made. But the alternative—business as usual—is far more costly to our way of life and health care systems across the globe.
Please, let’s make an environmentally conscious constitution to ourselves, for ourselves, for family, community, country and humanity. Take action and phase-out fossil fuels now.
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