Environmental Information Exchange

The environmental effects of energy use

Burning fossil fuels releases greenhouse gases – such as carbon dioxide, methane and oxides of nitrogen, which contribute to climate change. Instead of measuring the emissions of each type of gas separately, they can be converted into carbon dioxide equivalence (CO2e), which is often used as a standard measure for carbon emissions. Other chemicals can also be released through burning fossil fuels, such as sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals, as well as particles of carbon in soot and smoke, which can contribute to other environmental damage such as acidification of water courses, biodiversity loss and human health problems.

The rising global temperature is resulting in more unpredictable extreme weather events. Deforestation, caused by clearance to make space for farming and agriculture and to provide materials for consumer products, also contributes to climate change as there are fewer trees to absorb CO2. Permanent changes to regional climates will impact on global economies and socio-political instability as conflicts over resources increase.

The UK now imports more energy than it produces, and our reliance on other nations to provide fuels reduces our national energy security. As fossil fuels run out, countries with large reserves will be able to increase prices and in some cases energy supply could be more reliant on diplomatic relations than on price.

Reducing levels of public consumption will reduce the amount of natural resources used to provide fuel for energy and manufacturing. We can contribute to this process by considering the resource efficiency of our organisations regarding heating, cooling, lighting, IT and other appliances.