fossil fuels


Fossil fuels are hydrocarbons, compounds of hydrogen and carbon, which are the main components of coal, oil and natural gas. They are formed over millions and billions of years from the decayed organic remains of prehistoric organisms.



Coal typically forms from vegetation on land, in low, swampy environments. When ancient plants and the animals that fed on them die, they become buried in sediments over time. Stagnant, waterlogged soil prevents this accumulated debris from breaking down, and so over time this plant material is initially converted to peat—a loose, brown, organically rich soil. As more rock layers press down on the buried deposits, geothermal energy heats the peat and reduces its oxygen and hydrogen content. Over hundreds of millions of years this converts the peat to coal, a geological processes known as coalification.


Oil and gas formation begins with the accumulation of organics on the sea-floor. The dead remains of organisms living in the water, such as microscopic plankton, rain down on the sea floor below. In areas of stagnancy, there is no oxygen or ground-dwelling organisms present that might feed on the organics. As aqautic sediment slabs on over hundreds of millions of years, the organics are subjected to heat and pressure which leads to formation of oil and then gas.


Because of this extremely lengthy process, fossil fuels are a non-renewable energy source. The geological processes which create them take millions of years, so they cannot be replaced within human timescales once they have gone. It is impossible to estimate when fossil fuels will disappear, but within the next 100 years it is widely believed that the cost of finding and extracting new deposits will render them too expensive for everyday use.






Coal, the first fossil fuel exploited by humans for energy on a large scale. The industrial revolution ushered in an economic system that involves huge and rapidly expanding consumption of energy and the use of coal as a key source of that energy.  It is classed into several grades depending on how much pressure and heat it has undergone, known as its thermal maturity and energy content:​

types of coal


  • Brown coal (lignite), the first type of coal to form when plant matter is compacted, has the lowest energy value. And so larger volumes are needed relative to higher-grade coals in order to generate the same amount of power.


  • Sub-bituminous coal and bituminous coal are characteristically dark black and represent the most important coal grade for energy production (both direct heating and electricity generation) throughout the world.


  • Anthracite coals are metallic gray and have a very high energy content, typically 22 to 28 million Btu per ton. Most readily accessible anthracite reserves in the eastern United States have been exhausted, and the remaining deposits are generally reserved for use in processing metals because of anthracite's high energy output and low volatile content.

extraction methods


Underground mining has relatively low immediate impact at the surface, but can cause ground subsidence when mineshafts collapse. Coal dust and methane gas (which is commonly found along with coal) raise significant risks of explosions. Worldwide, several thousand miners on average die each year in coal mining-related accidents.

--Underground mining for deeper coal deposits is just as destructive. Waste tailings flow out of coal mines, especially abandoned facilities, and can leach into surrounding ground soil and water bodies. In addition to the carbon dioxide produced from the burning of coal, underground working and abandoned coal mines directly release methane


Surface mining—removing soils and overburden to extract shallow coal deposits—are highly visible at the surface. Strip mining operations generally leave permanent scars on the landscape. In its most extreme form, mountaintop removal, land is clear-cut and leveled with explosives to expose coal seams, with most of the removed overburden dumped into neighboring valleys.

-- By literally tearing up the earth, surface coal mining (strip mining, open pit and mountain top removal) causes widespread deforestation, dispossession of community lands, soil erosion and landslides, water shortages, pollution and other problems. Coal dust can cover entire communities and pollute water bodies and poison humans and aquatic life. People who inhale or come in to contact with dust, soot, chemicals and other pollutants from coal mining suffer allergies, asthma attacks, bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses. Toxins enter the water and air, creating acid rain and poisoning water sources.



global USE


The largest producers of coal around the world in intensity order are, China, Russia, USA, South Africa,

India, Germany, Australia, Poland, Indonesia and Kazakhstan. Globally, coal combustion provides 30%

of global primary energy needs and 42% of the world's electricity. Coal accounts for 40% of UK electrical

energy (2012). We produced 16.8 million tonnes but import 44.8 million tonnes. 


In the UK there are 9 coal plants which together generate 36% of the electricity we use. However, as the dirtiest form of energy, twice as dirty as natural gas, these plants are impossible obstacles in achieing the UK's climate commitments to the UN Climate Talks. They must be shut down and energy sought from huge and unrelenting investment in renewable sources such as wind and tidal.


Coal is extracted in both surface 'strip' and below-ground mining operations. These processes have significant but different environmental impacts:




health The health impacts of coal mining and coal-fired power plants are severe. Nitrogen oxides whih cause smog can burn lung tissue, exacerbate asthma, and make people more susceptible to chronic respiratory diseases. Exposure to coal related pollution in 2011-12 caused between 80,000 - 115,000 premature deaths and more than 20 million asthma attacks in India alone. A recent assessment of the health costs of coal in the United States points to estimates of almost $200 billion a year. Chinese and international experts found that coal use in northern China has reduced life expectancies by 5.5 years.


Environment Coal often contains a significant amount of sulfur, and when rain or groundwater comes in contact with coal, it produces sulfuric acid. A typical uncontrolled coal plant emits 14,100 tons of sulfur dioxide per year, which creates small acidic particulates that can penetrate into human lungs and be absorbed by the bloodstream. Sulfur dioxide also causes acid rain, which damages crops, forests, and soils, and acidifies lakes and streams. This industry was the cause of acid rain throughout the 1970's. Plus many underground mines are dug to levels below the water table, so they flood easily after they are abandoned also causes acid drainage from coal mines which pollutes surrounding areas causing changes to the plants. It also produces mercury, which accumulates in the fatty tissues of animals and fish which carnivorous humans then ingest - just 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury deposited on a 100,000 square metre lake can make the fish unsafe to eat.


climate Coal is the dirtiest, most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels. It creates a disproportionate share of total greenhouse gas emissions from the energy it offers. Coal produces an average of 30% more damaging carbon per unit of energy than crude oil, and 75% more than natural gas. It produces significant amounts of atmospheric pollution and greenhouse gas emissions when it is burned whilst generating sulfate and nitrogen emissions that contribute to acid deposition, regional haze, and smog.


People Indigenous peoples the world over suffer the impacts of the over-consumption of resources by the world’s industrialized countries. All over the world from Australia to the Amazon they are being uprooted from their lands and territories as a consequence of discriminatory government policies and armed conflicts acting in the interests of private economic corporations. 


No coal, nor burning of any fossil fuel, is clean. Although some are less dirty. There are a variety of technologies that exist to make coal less bad to burn, but is generally very costly to retrofit older power plants with these capabilities and so not economically viable.


Oil and Gas 


Oil and natural gas are formed primarily when marine organisms die and settle to the seafloor in anaerobic environments where they cannot rapidly decompose, then are buried by sediments and heated as they are compacted. This process breaks down complex organic molecules into a viscous gel called kerogen, which evolves with further heating into hydrocarbons. Petroleum and natural gas, and the products that we derive from them, such as gasoline and diesel fuel, are composed of hydrocarbon molecules of various sizes and shapes.


Oil and gas forms in rocks depending on their depth below the surface. Oil generally coming from between 1 and 6 kilometers deep. Gas being produced and retained at greater depths, as deep as 10 km. Over time, these substances seep out of source rocks into permeable and porus rocks in their surroundings, trapped in the Earth's faults or folded rocks.







Developers tap these deposits by drilling wells into pockets of oil and gas. In some cases, natural pressures can drive oil and gas to the surface. But where pressure has been depleted by production, oil must be pumped to the surface or driven from below by injecting fluid like water or natural gas, CO2, and steam into the reservoir at extremely high pressure to fracture rock and release the fossil fuels. In many parts of the world, oil and gas exploration is pushing the frontiers of technology, with developers drilling wells more than seven miles below the surface, in deep water, or horizontally through reservoir rocks.




Global Use


For the last ten years the majority of UK gas supply has come from imports. This means that the country’s gas prices, and consumer energy bills, are vulnerable to fluctuations in the international price, hence why fracking is currently being pushed so hard. Add to this international politics has been influenced by European fears about dependence on Russian gas for some time.  The majority ofour gas comes from Norway. But we also source it from the general European network via pipelines from Belgium and the Netherlands. 





Health Oil and gas drilling can have adverse environmental impacts, from surface disturbance for construction of drilling pads and access roads to contamination of aquifers with drilling muds and fluids. Offshore drilling can cause spills and leaks that pollute ocean waters, either as a result of industrial accidents or through storm damage to drilling rigs. Transporting oil and gas from wells to processors to users also requires large infrastructures and creates environmental risks. Oil is shipped worldwide by pipelines and tankers, both of which are subject to spills. Most natural gas is currently transported via pipeline, but tanker shipment of liquefied natural gas (LNG) that has been chilled to -260°F represents a growing segment of the world market. LNG is re-gasified at receiving terminals and delivered by pipelines to end users.


Environment Oil and gas release lower levels of CO2, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury emissions than coal when burned. However, there are other evils that are repeatedly removed from this public discourse, until distaster strikes. Like the gargantuan and devestating oil spills that occur globally, with the Gulf Spill in 2010 releasing 206 million gallons into the ocean. Or like the enromous amount of 'flaring' that has been going on int he gas boom of the UK, conduscted to relieve the pressure of gas coming from the wells. This process litters the landscape with flames which burns up to 1/3 of useable gas and releases methane which is 24 times more potently damaging than CO2. Th US is moving to ban flaring and prompt the capture of this gas whcih is a costly process, but in the UK - no such legislation exists. So we must prevent fracking as a more sustainable avenue, and ramp up renewables. Oil and gas extraction also contribute significantly to acid rain and photochemical smog.


Climate Modern practices of drilling for and producing oil and gas attempt to minimize adverse environmental impacts. For example, co-produced waters are now generally re-injected or cleaned before disposal, and enhanced safety systems and procedures have made drilling and production accidents rare. Oil spills from tankers still pose a serious environmental hazard, but national governments have agreed on steps such as eliminating old tankers in favor of double-hulled designs by 2015 in an effort to further reduce these risks.

Nevertheless, because the United States has exploited many of its prime oil and gas reserves, exploration on land is now moving into environmentally sensitive regions, such as public lands that hold fossil fuel deposits but also are home to rare and endangered species. As a result, the environmental impacts of oil and gas exploration have become highly controversial in many parts of the western United States.


People Indigenous peoples have disproportionately suffered impacts due to the production and use of energy resources – coal mining, uranium mining, oil and gas extraction, coal bed methane, nuclear power and hydropower development – yet are among those who benefit least from these energy developments. Indigenous peoples face inequity over the control of, and access to, sustainable energy and energy services. Territories where native people live are often natural havens of resources, from which foreign governments and corporations extract wealth, yet they are areas where most severe forms of poverty exist.







It's not all doom and gloom 


  • In 2014, our UK energy use fell to its lowest level for at least half a century.


  • The level of coal use fell to levels not seen since the 19th century.


  • And in quarter one of 2015, renewables provided a record high 25% of our electricity.


So besides another record wet, warm year, the combined impact of these changes was a 10% reduction in UK carbon emissions, while the low carbon economy grew by up to 3%.



what can we do?


There are lots of things we can do to help create a safer climate for our future. But the mantra of mitigating climate change is that:



So the best we can do as individuals is to learn about the problems, and understand the impact we have. As policy begins to shift in favour of a more financially lucrative and environmentally friendly low carbon economy, we must continue to create the demand for reform of the systems. As ever, money talks and the money in our hands is our vote for the future, and our lifestyle decisions reverberate across the entire globe. So spend our money wisely is more important than ever.



there is no silver bullet, no one action we can take. Our heavily globalised existence is far too complex.


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If we stay on the current emissions path, the 2006 study predicted that the value at risk in global portfolios could range from about $2 trillion to $25 trillion. In a bit of understatement, Simon Dietz of the London School of Economics, the lead author of the report, told The Guardian, “long-term investors…would be better off in a low-carbon world.”


Nowadaws, Citi report suggests more like $72 trillion.


However, · Shifting the world onto a low-carbon path could eventually benefit the economy by $2.5 trillion a year.


  • Where is your pension? 

  • Do you, or your suppliers, have significant coastal assets? And what is the risk of devaluation? In other words, does it really make sense for a hospitality or real estate company to build a new hotel, apartment, or office complex right on the coast in Miami? Or should any company build a factory with significant water needs in a water-stressed area? Will that asset be operational or retain its value over the normal depreciation period?

  • Where are your financial assets invested and in what classes? Do you have significant exposure to coal or fossil fuels in your holdings? What about your employees’ 401Ks or pensions? If you ignored warnings a few years ago about the imminent demise of the coal industry, you may be losing your shirt now.

  • On the upside, what opportunities might arise from a popping carbon bubble? There will be winners and losers, so where will those winners be?









    ist is heavily skewed toward fossil fuel development and exploitation. Of Fortune’s ten largest global companies, half are integrated oil and gas companies. Two, Volkswagen and Toyota, are totally dependent upon petroleum for their success. Coming in at No. 7, State Grid Corp. is China’s state-owned electric utility, creating electrical energy from fossil fuels to power the planet’s most populous nation.


fracking fracking


Climate Tar sands oil extraction and production emits three times more carbon dioxide than conventional oil.



water The process costs 3 barrels of water for one barrel of oil. 90% of this water is dumped as carcinogenic toxic waste.



Ecosystem  Extraction means total destruction. Forests are cut, wetlands drained, and 4 tonnes of soil moved for 1 barrel of oil.



Native People Mining is disaster for people downstream of toxic tailing ponds, who suffer rare cancer and disease.

Tar Sands

Tar sands are found in around 70 countries, but the largest reserves are in Canada and Venezuela. The vasts fields of sands that are found under great boreal forests are a combination of clay, sand, water, and bitumen - a heavy, black viscous oil. Tar sands can be mined and processed to extract the oil-rich bitumen, which is then refined into oil.


Because of its heavy viscosity, the bitumen compound in tar sands cannot be utilised for energy in its natural state; instead tar sand deposits are mined, usually using strip mining or open pit techniques, before the oil is seperated through extremely energy and water intense operations, it also requires dilution with lighter hydrocarbons to make it transportable by pipelines.


Climate Tar sands oil extraction and production emits three times more carbon dioxide than conventional oil.



water The process costs 3 barrels of water for one barrel of oil. 90% of this water is dumped as carcinogenic toxic waste.



Ecosystem  Extraction means total destruction. Forests are cut, wetlands drained, and 4 tonnes of soil moved for 1 barrel of oil.



Native People Mining is disaster for people downstream of toxic tailing ponds, who suffer rare cancer and disease.



One alternative to traditional fuel burning stations is nuclear power. This, however, is far from being a solution to global pollution. Although British Nuclear Fuels Limited (BNFL) has been pushing nuclear power as the non-polluting solution to climate change, this is certainly not the case. During its lifetime (around 30-40 years) a nuclear reactor can produce radioactive waste that has a ‘lifespan’ of thousands of years. This waste needs to be disposed of safely, as it is highly dangerous. Although no CO2 is produced there are other by-products to the nuclear process that could potentially do serious harm to the environment.

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