Tag Archives: global warming

Fossil Fuels and Global Warming

fossil fuel
n.   A hydrocarbon deposit, such as petroleum, coal, or natural gas, derived from living matter of a previous geologic time and used for fuel.

So states the American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.  wikipedia goes on to state:

The burning of fossil fuels produces around 21.3 billion tonnes (= 21.3 gigatons) of carbon dioxide per year, but it is estimated that natural processes can only absorb about half of that amount, so there is a net increase of 10.65 billion tonnes of atmospheric carbon dioxide per year (one tonne of atmospheric carbon is equivalent to 44/12 or 3.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide). Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that enhances radiative forcing and contributes to global warming, causing the average surface temperature of the Earth to rise in response, which climate scientists agree will cause major adverse effects, including reduced biodiversity and, over time, cause sea level rise.

So here’s my question: If fossil fuels (coal, oil, etc.) are “derived from living matter of a previous geologic time,” where did they get the carbon dioxide released by their combustion?  They are hydrocarbons, ostensibly produced by biological processes involving–you guessed it–carbon dioxide.  Since the earth is a relatively closed system, there are really only three potential sources of the hydrocarbons in fossil fuels.

1. Natural processes involving carbon dioxide previously in the atmosphere.  Or at least carbon and oxygen.

2. Meteorites and other small objects from space.  This contribution is bound to be minimal.

3. Introduction during creation ex nihilo.  Since the overwhelming majority of proponents of global warming discount this option out of hand, I do not feel pressed to explore its consequences with regards to global warming, at least at this time.

Unless the meteorites floating in lifeless space contain a higher percentage of carbon dioxide than is normally extant in our atmosphere which supports billions of carbon-dioxide-spewing animals, the second option cannot have increased (as a proportion of the earth system) the carbon-dioxide available to be turned into hydrocarbons.  Therefore, the carbon dioxide that is released by the combustion of hydrocarbons must have been processed by previous lifeforms, meaning…

THE CARBON DIOXIDE WAS PREVIOUSLY IN THE ATMOSPHERE, which means, of course, that any environmental impact that it could have in the future it must already have had in the past.  As a result, any environmental impact that it could have in the future is not going to be some kind of world-destroying apocalyptic impact.  At worst, even if we burn all of the hydrocarbons existent in all of the fossil fuels the world over, we end up with the kind of concentration of carbon dioxide that existed prior to the existence of carbon-dioxide-respirating lifeforms such as plants.