Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy: Exploring the Path to Sustainability

Apr 28, 2023

Fossil Fuels vs. Renewable Energy: Exploring the Path to Sustainability

GHG Emissions Come With Climate, Health, and Social Impacts

Fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, have long been the primary sources of energy that power our society. For decades, these fuels were the cheapest form of energy, but that has begun to change. As renewables have become the cheapest form of generation, various stakeholders (especially entrenched interests) are starting to debate the “dispatchability” of different technology types (including what infrastructure is required to support the often under-defined concept of “resiliency”). 

While grid resiliency is an important topic, we’ll avoid the discussion for the most part and simply note that extreme weather can and has caused outages among all forms of electricity generation. “Instead, we’ll focus on some of the externalities associated with fossil fuels. We are seeing many companies searching for ways to reduce their GHG emissions due to the environmental and social impacts of using various non-renewable resources.

One of the primary issues with fossil fuels is their emission of various greenhouse gasses (GHG) which trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to global warming and climate change. Global Warming Potential (GWP) measures how much a given GHG contributes to global warming over a set period. An energy consultant is able to help enterprises find solutions that would reduce their negative impact on the environment. 

Although the focus is often on climate, there are also health and social implications when comparing fossil fuels and renewable energy. We outline them here and highlight why renewable resources are an eco-conscious alternative to fossil fuels.

SEE MORE: What is the Social Cost of Carbon?

Climate Impacts of GHG Emissions 

The impacts of GHG emissions on the climate go well beyond a simple rise in temperatures. These lead to weather pattern changes and more extreme natural events like droughts and floods. (In one recent case, 20 million people faced drought-related food insecurity from a terrible drought that was made 100 times more likely due to climate change.) In turn, these result in water scarcity, famine, and threats to biodiversity across the planet. On top of that, melting ice caps and glaciers cause higher sea levels and more significant potential for coastal erosion, flooding, and hurricanes. 

Because GHG emissions lead to so many widespread social costs, the EPA has developed a Social Cost of Carbon to capture the impacts of GHG emissions. And with this cost, we can estimate that for every $1 invested in renewable energy deployment, our society enjoys a return anywhere from $1 to $40 (with an expected return of around $5). 

Social Impacts of GHG Emissions 

As impacts like coastal erosion and threatened food security intensify, we are likely to see mass migrations as people relocate to find food and avoid catastrophic weather. Many of the social impacts disproportionately affect marginalized communities in low-income areas and/or those who live near power plants, other pollution sources, or are in high climate-risk areas (like low-lying island nations). Thus, climate burdens are felt most by many of those who already face a reduced quality of life and suffer from income inequality. By improving climate impact through corporate emission reduction efforts, Environ strives helps enterprises reduce this disparity and improve quality of life within marginalized and disparaged communities

Health Impacts of GHG Emission

GHG emissions have direct impacts on human health, as well. The most obvious is a higher prevalence of heat stroke across the globe. Heat-related deaths have risen in recent decades due to global warming, affecting the elderly, young children, and low-income families without access to cooling measures. 

Power plant emissions aren’t limited to GHGs. Other emissions cause problems, such as respiratory issues as well. Greater air pollution increases the risk of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and even cancer. This pollution comes not just from power plants but also from the waste generated by the use of fossil fuels, such as piles of coal ash. Additionally, wildfires caused or augmented by climate change release smoke and pollutants that irritate the lungs and worsen respiratory conditions. The EPA actually tracks climate change indicators, with figures showing the steady rise in millions of acres burned each year. On top of that, the Department of Health and Human Services offers an in-depth fact sheet on the effects of climate change on human health. At Environ, our energy compliance consulting services are built on understanding your current energy profile, setting clear and accurate goals, and ensuring that there are ways of tracking your steps toward those goals. 

How Renewable Energy Can Help 

Renewables, including solar, wind, hydro, and geothermal, emit fewer GHG emissions than fossil fuels, making them a critical part of reducing emissions and mitigating climate change.Our energy procurement services help businesses tap into these renewable energy sources. Whether through on-site production or purchase agreements, we help them offset their GHG emissions. Moreover, the GWP of renewable emissions, including those created during manufacturing and transportation, is much lower than those of fossil fuels. In order to reduce the harmful effects of generating electricity, it is crucial to begin implementing policies and incentives to encourage the adoption of renewables and replace traditional fossil fuels. 

Grid reliability and resiliency is a key part of our focus at Environ, as the availability of electricity will provide life-saving services (as seen in our work with hospitals) if/when it’s needed. Preparedness through resilience efforts can aid all levels of wellbeing within communities which is why it is so important. As we continue to confront the challenges of climate change and work towards a more sustainable future, the shift towards renewable energy sources will be more critical. Environ can help you build out your GHG inventories, track emissions, and identify strategies to reduce your emissions over time. 

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