Past, Present and Future of Fossil Fuels

We use fossil fuels because they are available and easy to use. We would not have the technology to look for renewable energy resources had we not had fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas that allowed our civilizations to grow and flourish.

Millions of Years Ago

The fossil fuels are made of long dead and buried organisms and plant matter. Fossil fuels have been found that date back more than 650 million years - long before dinosaurs walked the earth. The carbon common to fossil fuels is the basis of our concerns about pollution found when burning fossil fuels.

Natural gas has low carbon to hydrogen ratios while anthracite coal is almost pure carbon. The theory of how fossil fuels were formed is referred to as the biogenic theory first introduced in 1556 and later verified in the 18th century.

This theory tells us fossil fuels were formed from the remains of dead plants and organisms that were exposed to high heat and pressure beneath the crust of the earth. Over millions of years, the decaying matter was process into fossil fuels.

Of the energy produced around the world from fossil fuels today, oil is about 36% of the total, coal supplies 27.4% and natural gas is estimated to be at 23%.

Other energy sources include hydroelectric power, nuclear energy, geothermal fields, solar, tidal, and biomass such as wood and waste. Clearly fossil fuels are the major source of power and world energy use is growing about 2.5% per year.

Fossil fuels are non-renewable. It takes millions of years for the earth to fossilize organic matter and we are using fossil fuels at an ever increasing pace.

Fossil Fuels Will Be Gone

At some point, the stores of oil, coal and natural gas in the earth's crust will be gone. That is why there is such a powerful push today to identify renewable energy resources and develop new sources of power to feed our need for electricity.

Carbon dioxide is a leading contributor to the problems of global warming and climate change. Fossils burned around the world produce 21.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

This is causing the temperature of the earth to rise and we now know the dangers of greenhouse gases. CO2 is the major contributor to global warming according to leading experts.

Why can't we just stop using fossil fuels? Well, are you willing to live without heat and air conditioning?

Are you willing to walk or ride a bike everywhere you car and leave the car parked in the garage? What about watching television or a movie, turning on the lights, keeping food cool?

We depend on the energy form fossil fuels even as we realize we must find a better way to provide power. Without the use of oil, coal and gas, we would not have developed manufacturing and many of the products we now rely on would not have been invented.

Living in Caves

Without fossil fuels we might still be living in caves. From the time it was discovered that coal would burn for hours and provide heat for comfort and for cooking, fossil fuels have been our best friend.

Today we understand the dangers of burning fossil fuels and we know these are finite resources and we are rapidly consuming them completely.

Carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned must end up somewhere. Much of it adds to the greenhouse effect in our atmosphere bur a large portion of the CO2 has been found in the oceans.

This is concerning as it threatens the existence of complex ecosystems present in our oceans. Destruction of species in the oceans could lead to worldwide famine in the future.

Because so much CO2 has been incorporated into sea it has helped keep us from polluting our air even more. However, there are concerns about how much CO2 the oceans can absorb before upsetting the balance of life under the waters.


Fossil fuels are necessary for our life as we live it today. We can no longer survive without heat and fuel, without transportation or electricity. Without fossil fuels we would have no transportation systems and life as we know it would cease to exist.

Today we understand the risk of burning fossil fuels and we are looking for alternative energy sources. However, the reality is fossil fuels have done much for mankind. For generations, fuels from the earth's crust formed millions of years ago have enriched the lives of everyone on the planet.