Fossil fuels are natural substances made deep within the earth out of centuries-old remains of ancient plants and animals. Over time, heat and pressure turned these decomposing remains into fuels that release energy when burned. Coal, oil and natural gas are the three main fossil fuels made in similar ways. Over 85 per cent of our energy demands are met by the combustion of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels come just after food in order of importance, and the impact our usage of fossil fuels has on the environment affects us greatly.
Coal, Oil and Natural Gas
Coal, which is used primarily to produce electricity, releases nitrogen oxide when it is burnt and causes damage to our environment. Nearly 50 per cent of the nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere is a direct result of burning of coal.
Oil cannot be used in its natural form like coal and natural gas and needs to be refined. It has to be transported long distance from where it is found and even this transportation causes great damage to the environment. Seepage from pipelines often destroys much of animal life.
Though natural gas is the cleanest of the fossil fuels, its environmental concern is the Greenhouse Effect, which is caused because of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrogen oxide, and some engineered chemicals such as chlorofluorocarbons, and water vapour in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide accounts for 80 per cent of these gases in the atmosphere.
Calculate your fossil fuel consumption for a year with this Fossil Fuels Calculator on 
Your lawns too can save fossil fuels. According to a Yale University estimate, each family with a one-third of an acre lawn will each year, on an average, consume the following in looking after the lawn:
- Consume 5 gallons of gas for mowing and trimming.
- Apply the equivalent of 7 gallons for fertilizing.
- Burn up to 5 gallons for watering.
- Consume an additional gallon for cleanup.
That averages to 18 gallons of fuel per household.
Here are a few simple tips on how to save this energy:
- Replace your mower with an electric or non-powered push mower. Electric mowers are 75 per cent quieter than gas mowers. Push mowers too are silent and do not consume fuel.
- Replace power blowers with traditional hand rakes and brooms.
- Replace old mower with one that has small engines.
- Reduce the area mowed through use of groundcovers.
- Save rainwater and water from home use, except from the bathroom.
- Water deeply once per week on an average, rather than frequently.
- Instead of fossil fuels, use natural, organic fertilizers.
- Recycle grass clippings. Mix 5 per cent clover into your lawn seed.
- Compost all the wastes in the yard, except for diseased plants and plant parts.
Fuel Economy Label
Environmental health hazards, global warming, pollution and high fuel costs have made fuel economy a major consideration in car buying. To help consumer decision making, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has introduced in all new cars, light trucks and sport utility vehicles, a new window giving information on fuel economy. Visit  for relevant information on different energy-efficient techniques.
Anticipating an energy crisis in the not too distant future, Virginia Commonwealth University researchers have developed a new storage system to hold large quantities of hydrogen. This is expected to power cars and be a cost-effective and clean energy source.
Hydrogen is considered an ideal alternative to fossil fuels as it is available in plenty and when burnt produces only water and, thus, does not pollute the atmosphere.
Are Fossil Fuels Renewable?
Fossil fuels are not a renewable resource. Once exhausted, there won’t be any more. Our consumption of fossil fuels has nearly doubled every 20 years since 1900. This is more in the case of oil because we also use it to make plastics and many other products. Some quick facts:
- We are using fossil fuels 100,000 times faster than they are being made.
- In burning fossil fuels, we not only release energy, but also greenhouse gases that cause pollution.
- Use compact fluorescent bulbs as these last four times longer, but use only 25 per cent of energy.
- Put on a sweater instead of turning up the heat in your home.
- Line-dry your clothes in the spring and summer instead of using the dryer. Save 0.31 tonnes of CO2 and add longevity to your clothes.
- Run your dishwasher only with a full load. Save 0.04 tonnes of CO2.
- Turn off your television, DVD player, stereo and computer when not in use. Save hundreds of tonnes of CO2 per year.
- Unplug unused electronics and those with “Standby Mode”. A television, phone, fax, computer or cell phone charger draws power even when it’s not in use or when it’s in “standby mode.”
- Inefficient appliances waste energy. Replace them with energy-efficient ones.
- Buy a hybrid car. The average driver could save 7.25 tonnes of CO2.
- Buy a fuel efficient car. Getting a few extra miles per gallon makes a big difference. Save hundreds of tonnes of CO2 and a lot of money each year.
- Don’t idle your engine. Idling for just 10 seconds uses more fuel than restarting the engine.
- Adjust your home's thermostat. Keeping the thermostat at 68°F in winter and 78°F in summer not only helps with your energy bills, but it can reduce CO2 emissions as well. No matter where you set your dial, two degrees cooler in the winter or warmer in the summer can mean a reduction of 0.90 tonnes of CO2 a year.
- In Norway, about 99 per cent energy used is from hydro power. Only 0.4 per cent is fossil fuel power.
- Plastic made from recycled materials requires only 30 per cent of the energy needed to make similar products from fossil fuels.
- Fossil fuels are used for producing 95 per cent of electricity in Australia.
- For every kg of coal burned, 3kg of greenhouse gases (mostly CO2) is released into the atmosphere.
- Per person energy usage in Australia is four times more than the world average.
- Heating and cooling constitute 60 per cent of an average household’s energy consumption.
- Household appliances left on standby (plugged in but not performing their central function) can use up to about 85 per cent of a household’s electricity consumption.
- Geothermal energy is used to meet 87 per cent of Iceland’s power needs. The energy comes from the naturally occurring hot springs and geysers in Iceland.
- The amount of sunlight that falls on the earth’s surface every hour is enough to meet the energy demands of the world for one full year.
- A TV can run for three hours with the energy saved from recycling aluminum.
References and Useful Websites