Why are fossil fuels bad for the climate?

In the global warming debate it is not always clear what the main cause of the global warming is. The result of that is that it is not always obvious what actions and measures are effective and really contributes to stop the global warming.

To be able to understand that better one need to be aware of two different cycles that are active on planet Earth. A geological cycle and a biological cycle. These two cycles have completely different time scales. The geological cycle has a time scale counted in millions or billions of years, whereas the biological cycle is counted in years or decades.

The biological cycle is the cycle of all living organisms – plants, trees, animals and humans. The biological cycle starts with the seedling that captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, energy from the sun, plus water and minerals, and from that produces organic material plus oxygen. This biological cycle is well known by most people. Animals and humans cannot capture carbon dioxide and energy from the sun, but they belong to the biological cycle anyhow, since they decompose into minerals and nutrients when they die. By that they become input for a restart of the biological cycle.

The perhaps less well known geological cycle is what creates mountains and very slowly erodes them down to sand again. The geological cycle includes the sedimentation of organic material from living organisms such as plankton and plants at the bottom of seas and in the subsoil of perma-frozen tundras. It is this sedimentation process that has created our fossil fuels (oil, carbon, natural gas, shale gas etc).

These two cycles, the biological and the geological, are beside the radiation from sun the main factors that decides the composition and balance of the atmosphere, the oceans and the whole biosphere where life exists. By that the two cycles also decides earth’s climate.

Now what happens when we burn fossil fuels? Well, we take carbon from the geological cycle (buried in the ground as sediments) and move it to the biological cycle. Once moved to the biological cycle, it will stay there circulating between the atmosphere, plants, trees and the ocean. And there is no way to move the carbon back to the geological cycle, at least no large scale economical way. Eventually the carbon may move back to the geological cycle by natural processes, but that will take millions or billions of years. Long after the human being have ceased to live on planet Earth.

Conclusion, the only way to stop the global warming is to leave the fossil fuels in the ground. It is as simple as that!

The good news is that there are ways to replace the fossil fuels. Since fossil fuels are deeply integrated in most activities of our modern society today, it is a bit complex to stop using fossil fuels, but it is doable. That’s why this website have actions in so very different areas such as food, cars, living, shopping etc. We can also quite easy make it happen more quickly simply by setting a higher price on fossil fuels and a lower price on renewable fuels. Investments and usage will then shift from fossil to the almost infinite renewable energy. Companies will compete in giving us new products using the new energy e.g. nice electrical cars and a fossil free aviation. And we can make this happen as quickly as necessary by sharing this webpage with friends and colleagues. Everyone need to understand and push in the same direction. We are all in this together. The future of our children and of coming generations depends on us.

Some further reading for learning more about this can be found here.

Some frequently asked questions can be found here.

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