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The Problem With Fossil Fuels and Climate Change
Burning any carbon based fuel converts carbon to carbon dioxide. Unless it is captured and stored, this carbon dioxide is usually released to the atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels releases carbon that was removed from the amosphere millions of years ago by animal and plant life. This leads to increased concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
The problem with burning fossil fuels

Why is Carbon Dioxide a problem?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is one of a number of gases that are transparent to the visible light falling on the Earth from the Sun, but absorb the infra-red radiation (heat) emitted by the warm surface of the Earth, preventing its loss into space. During the geological history of the Earth the level of atmospheric CO2 has varied considerably and this has had an impact on the global temperature. A significant amount of this atmospheric carbon was sequestered or (removed from the atmosphere) and turned into inert material (coal, and oil) typically 300-360 Million years ago. All of the global ecosystems and species have adapted to a lower level of atmospheric CO2 and critically, human civilisation has also grown since that period.

Since the industrial revolution humans have been burning sequestered CO2 in the form of coal, oil, and natural gas which has the result of releasing energy but also releases CO2 back into the atmosphere.

Other “greenhouse” gasses include

  • Carbon dioxide (CO2)
  • Methane (CH4)
  • Nitrous oxide (N2O)
  • Water vapour (H2O).


This increase of atmospheric CO2 and other gasses has the effect of changing the global climate back towards the point when they were originally sequestered. This climate was characterised by higher average global temperatures and higher sea levels. Furthermore, the rapidity of the change (about 200 years) is having additional impacts. This period of time is extremely short in context of the global climate and is not much more than a single generation for some long lived species leaving them very little time to adapt.

The changing climate is expected to have extremely grave consequences, leading to an increased number of “extreme” weather events, potential rises in sea level, and possible extinction of plant and animal species due to habitat loss.

But burning biomass releases carbon. How can that be sustainable?
Click here for information on how using biomass can help to address the problems of climate change.


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Forestry and Climate Change
Forestry Commission webpages on climate change.
Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research
An organisation researching sustainable responses to climate change.