The Costs of Fossil Fuel Use

This week I have a guest post up on the Science Borealis blog, examining the combined environmental, economic, and public health impacts of fossil fuel exploration and development.

I’m not anti-fossil fuels – I completely understand how tied up our society and our economy is in the stuff. I’m also well aware that renewables have a ways to go before they can reliably substitute for a large proportion of the fossil fuel energy we use. But I think we need to be more honest with ourselves about the costs of using fossil fuels: costs that include oil spills, train derailments, gas leaks, induced earthquakes, and – the elephant in the room – climate change.

My post notes that we generally hear about fossil fuel disasters if they happen locally, or are on a big enough scale to be reported on (inter)nationally. But there are many incidents that the public never hears about, either because they don’t live in the area where it happened, or because it’s considered too small for the news.

Four datasets came out in 2015 that collated some of the impacts of oil and gas development: two on oil spills (US and Canada), one on induced earthquakes in the US, and one on global gas flaring. By collecting all related incidents in one map, these datasets are game changers for how we perceive the impacts of fossil fuel use. It’s not just a spill here or a gas leak there – it’s an (inter)national web of incidents that impact the environment, economy, and health of local communities, and collectively affect the global atmosphere.

I don’t expect the world to stop using fossil fuels immediately, but I think it’s a good step forward that the G7 nations committed to phasing out fossil fuel use by the end of the century, and that the recent COP21 Paris climate agreement also commits to a fossil fuel phaseout. It’s time to recognize the impacts, and find ways around our fossil fuel dependency.

You can read the whole post here.

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