Energy consumption is a major cause of environmental degradation. All types of energy use result in environmental costs. Most modern activities involve energy consumption. Major energy supplies such as oil, coal, and gas are finite and not renewable. The energy supplies which are renewable such as solar, wind and thermal are not being used as widely as they should be.
Environmental costs of energy consumption include:
- Climate Change
- Air Pollution
- Land Destruction and Habitat Loss
- Toxic Contamination
- Water Pollution
- Radioactive Waste
Most scientists agree that human energy consumption from burning organic sources and other human activities have changed the chemical composition of the atmosphere, influencing the behavior of global climate patterns. The atmosphere and the oceans are warming, leading to major changes in air circulation and ocean currents.
Most forms of energy generation produce large amounts of air pollution as a byproduct. The burning of fossil fuels and biomass results in carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, sulfuric acid, hydrochloric acid, carbon monoxide, polyaromatic hydrocarbons, ozone and radioactive emissions, which are a direct threat to public health.
The extraction of oil, coal and natural gas are extremely destructive to natural environments. Coal mining and transportation has destroyed millions of acres of natural forests, meadows and farmland. Runoff from coal mining has contaminated many lakes and streams. Oil extraction, refining and transportation cause toxic contamination and degradation at the extraction point, and multitudes of small and large oil spills in oceans. Electrical and transmission lines can also impact large areas of land.
Many toxic trace contaminants are released from fuel burning, including serious contaminants such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and chlorinated organics such as dioxin.
Fuel burning results toxic contaminants that gradually build up in the sediments of wildlife of rivers, lakes and streams. Acid rain poisons waterways, damages property and reduces the productivity of forests and croplands.
Uranium mining has despoiled many large tracts of land with direct radioactive contamination and wind erosion of radioactive dusts. The nuclear industry has failed to find a safe means of disposing of rapidly accumulating radioactive wastes which will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
In the US, energy-related activities account for three-quarters of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. About 39% of the total energy consumed in America, is used to generate electricity. Most of the electricity in the US is generated from fossil fuels, such as coal, natural gas, and oil with an environmental impact. Electricity from renewable resources such as solar, geothermal, and wind technologies does not contribute to climate change or local air pollution. Using less energy means power plants generate less, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions and improves air quality. Clean energy supply includes renewable energy and clean distributed generation, such as combined heat and power. Renewable energy and combined heat and power reduce the environmental impact of energy generation, and provides greater control of energy use.