The real cost
of fossil fuels
Our continued reliance on fossil fuels is already having a devastating effect on the environment. From rising global temperatures to melting ice caps and the increasing prevalence of extreme weather events, climate change is not only a scientifically established fact, it’s now something we can see in the world around us.
But if the environmental effects of fossil fuels are clear to see, what about the less obvious impact? The toll it is taking on public health, on social equality, on global security? Looking further ahead, how can we reduce these costs and create a sustainable future?
These are the questions this report will attempt to answer.
Even if the story of fossil fuels and their impact on the world is, by now, well known, some truths are always worth revisiting.
In 2014, the United States Environment Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that a quarter of all global greenhouse gas emissions came directly from burning fossil fuels. A further 10% was attributed to emissions from the energy supply chain, such as extraction, refining, processing and transporting fuel.
Source: IPCC (2014)
A report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) showed that in 2015 more than four-fifths of the world’s primary energy – the energy that goes directly into the energy supply system - was still supplied by fossil fuel with coal usage increasing as a proportion of total supply since 1973.
The whole energy and consumption system is super wasteful as we have never put a value on a resource with our throw away society and consumption models. Really smart economies need to start to understand that the loss of value – never mind the damage of the wasted carbon - is criminal.
This level of emissions is not sustainable, desirable, or necessary. The good news is, progress has already been made.
The IEA shows that an incredible 94% of primary energy came from fossil fuels in 1973. In 2017, the UK achieved its first coal-free day of energy consumption since the industrial revolution. And data from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (NEAA) released in September 2017 showed that global emissions of carbon dioxide – one of the main contributors to global warming – remained static in 2016, despite a rapidly growing global economy. All of the world’s biggest economies, with the exception of India, had falling or static carbon emissions, largely due to increased use of renewable energy.
The opportunity of renewable energy is that it will reduce inequality, both between nations and within them. It is much harder to have concentrated control of renewable energy sources by individuals; if energy is more democratically owned, both within and across countries, that reduces a huge source of inequality and poverty.
Switching to more renewable forms of energy will not only mitigate against the environmental impact of climate change, it will also address some of the social and financial inequalities that come in its wake.
Climate change itself has inequality at its heart. The world’s poorest are the ones affected most by the impacts... Miami is going to suffer in the same way that low-lying Bangladesh is going to suffer, but the people of Miami, the government of the USA and the corporations there have more resources available to protect those people. So the world’s poorest suffer most from climate change.