Fossil fuels | We use it as we wish
Fossil fuels

Fossil fuels

But they are not. Oil, coal and natural gas are very old forms of energy. We use them at a rate that does not match the time it took to create them.

Oil, coal and natural gas share the common trait that they all store solar energy that is millions of years old. We refer to these as fossil fuels.

The fossil fuels are created from plankton, plants and animals that lived in the sea and on land over 50 million years ago.

They grew thanks to energy from the sun. The energy was used to make new cells by binding carbon from the atmosphere’s CO2.

When prehistoric animals and plants died, they took their carbon with them. Year after year, more and more dead remains accumulated and slowly turned into oil, coal or natural gas.

When we burn these today we reuse the solar energy bound within them. At the same time, large amounts of CO2 are released from the carbon which nature had bound for millions of years.

And we can forget about the dream of developing new stocks of oil, coal and gas. We would be prehistoric ourselves by the time we have done so.

Carbon

Carbon is always being exchanged between plants, animals and the air, where it is found as carbon dioxide (CO2).

Plants use carbon from CO2 in the atmosphere to grow.
Animals eat plants. They use the carbon in plants to grow and as a source of energy for their muscular work. Animals exhale part of their carbon as CO2.
When animals and plants die, part of their carbon is converted into nutrients in the soil. Other carbon becomes CO2 when fungi, for example, cause a fallen tree to decompose.

Carbon is not just exchanged between the atmosphere and living organisms, but also between seas, lakes, rivers and underground. The journey of carbon is called the ‘carbon cycle’.

There has always been a good balance between CO2 from animals and people and the amount of CO2 used by plants. However, this balance has broken down since people started using fossil fuels such as oil, coal and natural gas.

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