Unlike renewable energy, non-renewable energy is produced using finite fuel sources, the vast majority of which are fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, and oil.
Fossil fuels that we use today were actually created millions of years ago. Fossil fuels are formed when microorganisms and organic matter, such as peat moss decay, get buried under sediment and undergo high levels of pressure and heat over a long period of time -- thousands or millions of years -- until they eventually become a fossil fuel.
One of the primary reasons fossil fuels are so useful is that their formation compresses large amounts of organic matter and its energy into a small space. The result is an extremely energy-dense fuel source. While this process has not stopped and is even happening right now, the organic material currently being turned into fossil fuels won't be ready for millions of years.
There are four major sources of non-renewable energy. The first three are fossil fuels -- coal, oil, and natural gas -- and the fourth is nuclear energy, which is a non-fossil fuel.
A cube that size makes the Golden Gate Bridge look small!
Peak oil is a point in time where the historical maximum rate of oil production will be reached before it begins to decline. Peak oil looks something like the graph below. Currently, world oil supplies are peaking, yet global demand for oil is still increasing.
If not managed properly, oil can have widespread negative impacts.
|Negative Impacts of Oil|
Water and land pollution from oil spills and leaks, which can damage flora and fauna.
Air pollution from burning, which can lead to climate change.
Respiratory diseases from fumes
Cancer from exposure to benzene compounds
Natural gas has both environmental and human health concerns.
|Negative Impacts of Natural Gas|
Distribution lines can damage habitat
It can contaminate water supplies.
Burning it produces CO2 and other air pollutants that can contribute to climate change.
|Respiratory illnesses like asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, which can be exacerbated by the gases and air pollution it produces.|
Coal can have impacts on the environment and human health.
|Negative Impacts of Coal|
Acid rain from sulfur dioxide
Respiratory problems in animals, which can result from inhaling particulate matter
Mining operations, which generate water pollution if not properly managed
Carbon dioxide production, which can contribute to climate change
Heavy metal toxicity
Nuclear energy also has negative impacts on the environment and human health.
|Negative Impacts of Nuclear Energy|
Damage flora and fauna if its reactor or storage tanks leak
Hazardous far beyond its immediate vicinity because radioactive material can travel long distances and affect locations thousands of miles away
|Linked to causing cancer|
Fossil fuels' popularity worldwide as an energy source has resulted from their abundance globally and their energy-dense nature. However, at their current rate of use and the fact that they take millions of years to form, they are eventually going to be depleted. This means that renewable energies, or some other energy form, are going to have to take up the fossil fuels' part of the energy mix, or energy demand will need to drastically decrease.
Source: Adapted from Sophia instructor Jensen Morgan, PEAT MOSS CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1FTFW47 OIL PD HTTP://BIT.LY/17GPXG0 OIL BARREL CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1A6BTRB CUBE PD HTTP://BIT.LY/1CJ4L1F GOLDEN GATE CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1ALVYCH HUBBERT CURVE PD HTTP://BIT.LY/1DR4B3I NATURAL GAS PLANT CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1VC8G98 COAL PLANT CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1B2XUJ5 NUCLEAR PLANT CC HTTP://BIT.LY/1ZNUBEV