A more rapid reduction in human dependence on fossil fuels is imperative for lowering carbon dioxide emissions and slowing climate change. An additional noteworthy benefit of using fewer fossil fuels is more occasional spills and leaks of oil and gas. This past July, a Japanese-owned ship, which was carrying 4000 tons of diesel and fuel oil, steered into a coral reef and spilled at least 1000 tons of the fuel into Mauritius’s Indian Ocean island, a uniquely biodiversity-rich marine ecosystem. The spill created an ecological emergency with the reported deaths of 50 dolphins and whales within days of the incident. Another major oil spill into pristine ocean waters happened in August along the coast of Venezuela. According to satellite data, the leak most likely came from a ship or an oil pipeline close to a petroleum hub in the region. This was tragic for the ecosystem of the “protected” National Park known for its coral reefs, mangrove forests, and turtle nesting grounds.
Fossil fuels are mined worldwide and must be expansively transported for use, which requires enormous amounts of energy. Leaks and spills are an unfortunate part of the distribution of fossil fuels. In the U.S., millions of miles of oil and gas pipelines, thousands of rail cars, vessels, and barges, and about 100,000 tanker trucks are used to move oil and gas from wells to processing facilities or refineries, and finally to consumers. On the global scale, over two billion metric tons of crude oil were transported just via waterways in 2019. Data is available for oil spills from waterway transportation when they are over 7 tons. In recent years, the average number of these large spills was about 6, compared to about 80 each year in the 1970s. The significant reduction is mostly due to international regulations put in place over the years. Indeed, every oil spill of this size is an assault on the natural world.
The fossil fuel industries have been dominant in the world for decades (again, due to our reliance on these sources of energy). These large industries have employed many people. In the U.S. in 2016, 1.1 million people were used in some aspect of gas, oil, and coal. However, as responsible, concerned nations, companies, communities, and individuals shift to cleaner energy sources, a very notable shift in energy sector jobs is taking place. In 2018, nearly 900,000 people in the U.S. were employed in different aspects of clean energy, according to the Environmental and Energy Study Institute. The institute notes that “Fossil fuels are not as cheap as they seem when the environmental, health, security, and other costs paid by society are taken into account. Suppose the federal government corrects this market failure and provides clear, long-term price signals that reflect true energy costs. In that case, consumers will quickly shift toward more energy-efficient, renewable energy choices.” Given the stark data on climate change and other devastation from fossil fuels, this transition needs to continue to the best of human ability. Pope Francis recently released a Ted Talk and, once again, offers a plea to the developed world about the moral imperative to act on climate change and suggests “a gradual replacement, without delay, of fossil fuels with clean energy sources.”
Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~5 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work