Fossil fuels are a carbon or hydrocarbon fuel formed by the decomposition and sedimentation of prehistoric organisms. Fossil fuels include coal, oil, gas, peat and shales. They are non-renewable resources, whose supply is being rapidly depleted. Fossil fuels account for the majority of the world's commercial energy generation, and their use is one of the world's major sources of pollution. Their environmental impact includes mining wastes; oil spills from on-shore and off-shore installations and from ships; and air pollution by sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) when coal, oil and gas are burned. Of particular concern is the increasing consumption of fossil fuels in developing countries, where sustained growth in energy use of 5-7%/year for the next 30 years is possible and significant improvements in energy efficiency may not materialize. Fossil fuels finite supply, environmental impact and major commercial use has led to wide agreement that their reliance should be reduced in favour of environmentally friendly and sustainable energy resources.
Since 1900, when oil was first used commercially, oil consumption has increased exponentially at about 7% per annum until the 1973 oil crises broke the trend. Oil consumption is still rising, however. The Earth's estimated entire oil depository (used, discovered and non-discovered), of 200,000 million barrels will necessarily run out at current rates of extraction (2,100 million barrels per year), towards the end of the next century. Since the global industrial economy is foremost based around oil-based commercial energy, reducing oil consumption (by improving energy efficiency) will buy potentially invaluable time to allow for a necessary and smooth transition of the industrial economy to other (sustainable) energy sources. The fact that alternative energy sources cannot efficiently produce the fluid fuels on which all industrial economies now depend, and the development of the South modelled on the North will not be able to rely upon and be provided by remaining oil resources, strongly adds further incentives to reduce oil consumption and switch to other energy resources. Besides economic considerations, activities involving oil are contributing to unsustainable environmental degradation, and above all global warming.
In 1998, Greenpeace announced a campaign to phase out fossil fuels entirely by mid-century.
An EU directive prepared in 1998 will require national authorities to ensure that buyers of motor vehicles have access to four sources of information on fuel consumption: (1) car-dealers and garages selling new cars would display on each car its fuel consumption and CO2 emissions; (2) posters would provide this same information for all cars on sale at the showroom; (3) manufacturers and dealers would include information on fuel consumption in their advertising; and (4) a guide to car fuel consumption would be prepared and distributed free to the public.
The reality is that until we have confronted the root cause of the problem – global fossil fuel addiction – there will continue to be attacks on pristine ecosystems and indigenous homelands around the world. We must work to reassert democratic control over the entire energy sector and shift investments away from fossil fuel extraction and into renewable energy.
According to the forecasting unit of the US Energy Department, energy prices would be steeply rising if the country countered global warming by clamping down on emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Gasoline prices would rise to between US$1.39 and 1.91 a gallon and electricity prices would rise 20 percent to 86 percent by 2010. Natural gas prices would rise significantly and coal prices would soar.