Not only do fossil fuels heavily contribute to pollution and climate change, they also have a particularly bad record for causing large-scale environmental disasters. Blue & Green Tomorrow looks back over ten years of catastrophe.
The latest big one occurred in Papua New Guinea in January, when a $15.7 billion Exxon Mobil gas project caused a deadly landslide, killing at least 25 people.
Sadly, human-caused tragedies like these have become all too common. This meant that the incident in Papua New Guinea passed off with few international news outlets passing comment.
Recognising the extent and seriousness of these disasters, we’ve come up with a timeline of fossil fuel-related disasters from the past ten years.
It’s by no means an exhaustive list—scary in itself—but it will hopefully highlight the environmental and human costs behind the continued yet increasingly difficult extraction and transport of the fossil fuels we’ve all come to rely so heavily on.
Fossil fuel disaster timeline
November 13, 2002 – Twenty million gallons of oil spills into the North Atlantic after a tanker bursts a tank during a storm off the coast of Spain.
July 28, 2003 – A tanker carrying nearly 20m gallons of oil runs aground at the Pakistani port of Karachi, causing it to spill much of its load into the Arabian Sea.
November 27, 2005 – Coal dust catches fire and produces a huge explosion at a coal mine in China, killing more than 100.
December 11, 2005 – A massive fire erupts at the Buncefield oil storage facility in Hertfordshire, causing 60m gallons of oil to be lost. Described by the fire chief leading the investigation as the largest in peacetime Europe. Incredibly, there were no fatalities.
February 19, 2006 – Sixty-five are trapped after a gas blast at a coalmine in Pasta de Conchos. Rescue plans are suspended after recovery of just two bodies.
August 11, 2006 – The Philippines experiences its worst ever oil spill, when nearly 530,000 gallons are spilt into the sea off the coast of Guimaras.
March 19, 2007 – A methane gas explosion tears through a Russian coal mine, killing at least 71 people.
December 7, 2007 – A tanker spills 3.2m gallons of crude oil into the Yellow Sea. Widely regarded as the worst oil spill in South Korean history.
July 25, 2008 – A barge collides with a 600-foot tanker ship, causing 419,000 gallons of oil to leak into the Mississippi River.
April 5, 2010 – A West Virginia mine explodes, killing at least 25. According to the Guardian, it was the worst US mining disaster for more than a quarter of a century.
April 20, 2010 – 20 million gallons of oil from 4.9 million barrels spills into the Gulf of Mexico following an explosion at BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig. Eleven people died in the incident, which reportedly cost the energy company $45m in fines.
October 16, 2010 – 37 people are killed after an explosion at a coal mine in China’s central Henan province. 2,500 tonnes of coal dust engulfs the pit after the blast.
December 20, 2011 – A Shell tanker spills 40,000 barrels (1.68m gallons) of oil into the South Atlantic Ocean, 115 miles off the coast of Nigeria – the company’s worst spill in a decade, according to the Telegraph.
January 24, 2012 – A landslide in a Papua New Guinean quarry, caused by a liquefied natural gas project ran by Exxon Mobil kills at least 25 people.
Human cost: At least 334
Oil lost: At least 125,829,000 gallons
Environmental cost: Incalculable
The sheer scale of much of these disasters is difficult to grasp in terms of human cost and catastrophic environmental impact. It paints pretty grim picture of the fossil fuel industry.
The fossil fuel industry is becoming susceptible such incidents as companies become more ambitious in extraction policies and as transport becomes and even bigger issue. And that’s not to mention the environmental cost of burning fossil fuels if everything goes to plan.
Reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is more important now than ever and companies like Good Energy, the UK’s only 100% renewable electricity supplier, can help you convert your home to clean power.
Oil, coal and gas are finite resources and as their cost continues rapidly increase because of increasingly difficult extraction, demand will fall. If large corporations also abandon these wholly unsustainable forms of power generation, we might just stand a chance against the biggest threat to civilisation: climate change.
Picture source: Marine Photobank
Will Self-Driving Cars Be Better for the Environment?
Technologists, engineers, lawmakers, and the general public have been excitedly debating about the merits of self-driving cars for the past several years, as companies like Waymo and Uber race to get the first fully autonomous vehicles on the market. Largely, the concerns have been about safety and ethics; is a self-driving car really capable of eliminating the human errors responsible for the majority of vehicular accidents? And if so, who’s responsible for programming life-or-death decisions, and who’s held liable in the event of an accident?
But while these questions continue being debated, protecting people on an individual level, it’s worth posing a different question: how will self-driving cars impact the environment?
The Big Picture
The Department of Energy attempted to answer this question in clear terms, using scientific research and existing data sets to project the short-term and long-term environmental impact that self-driving vehicles could have. Its findings? The emergence of self-driving vehicles could essentially go either way; it could reduce energy consumption in transportation by as much as 90 percent, or increase it by more than 200 percent.
That’s a margin of error so wide it might as well be a total guess, but there are too many unknown variables to form a solid conclusion. There are many ways autonomous vehicles could influence our energy consumption and environmental impact, and they could go well or poorly, depending on how they’re adopted.
One of the big selling points of autonomous vehicles is their capacity to reduce the total number of vehicles—and human drivers—on the road. If you’re able to carpool to work in a self-driving vehicle, or rely on autonomous public transportation, you’ll spend far less time, money, and energy on your own car. The convenience and efficiency of autonomous vehicles would therefore reduce the total miles driven, and significantly reduce carbon emissions.
There’s a flip side to this argument, however. If autonomous vehicles are far more convenient and less expensive than previous means of travel, it could be an incentive for people to travel more frequently, or drive to more destinations they’d otherwise avoid. In this case, the total miles driven could actually increase with the rise of self-driving cars.
As an added consideration, the increase or decrease in drivers on the road could result in more or fewer vehicle collisions, respectively—especially in the early days of autonomous vehicle adoption, when so many human drivers are still on the road. Car accident injury cases, therefore, would become far more complicated, and the roads could be temporarily less safe.
Deadheading is a term used in trucking and ridesharing to refer to miles driven with an empty load. Assume for a moment that there’s a fleet of self-driving vehicles available to pick people up and carry them to their destinations. It’s a convenient service, but by necessity, these vehicles will spend at least some of their time driving without passengers, whether it’s spent waiting to pick someone up or en route to their location. The increase in miles from deadheading could nullify the potential benefits of people driving fewer total miles, or add to the damage done by their increased mileage.
Make and Model of Car
Much will also depend on the types of cars equipped to be self-driving. For example, Waymo recently launched a wave of self-driving hybrid minivans, capable of getting far better mileage than a gas-only vehicle. If the majority of self-driving cars are electric or hybrids, the environmental impact will be much lower than if they’re converted from existing vehicles. Good emissions ratings are also important here.
On the other hand, the increased demand for autonomous vehicles could put more pressure on factory production, and make older cars obsolete. In that case, the gas mileage savings could be counteracted by the increased environmental impact of factory production.
The Bottom Line
Right now, there are too many unanswered questions to make a confident determination whether self-driving vehicles will help or harm the environment. Will we start driving more, or less? How will they handle dead time? What kind of models are going to be on the road?
Engineers and the general public are in complete control of how this develops in the near future. Hopefully, we’ll be able to see all the safety benefits of having autonomous vehicles on the road, but without any of the extra environmental impact to deal with.
Road Trip! How to Choose the Greenest Vehicle for Your Growing Family
When you have a growing family, it often feels like you’re in this weird bubble that exists outside of mainstream society. Whereas everyone else seemingly has stability, your family dynamic is continuously in flux. Having said that, is it even possible to buy an eco-friendly vehicle that’s also practical?
What to Look for in a Green, Family-Friendly Vehicle?
As a single person or young couple without kids, it’s pretty easy to buy a green vehicle. Almost every leading car brand has eco-friendly options these days and you can pick from any number of options. The only problem is that most of these models don’t work if you have kids.
Whether it’s a Prius or Smart car, most green vehicles are impractical for large families. You need to look for options that are spacious, reliable, and comfortable – both for passengers and the driver.
5 Good Options
As you do your research and look for different opportunities, it’s good to have an open mind. Here are some of the greenest options for growing families:
1. 2014 Chrysler Town and Country
Vans are not only popular for the room and comfort they offer growing families, but they’re also becoming known for their fuel efficiency. For example, the 2014 Chrysler Town and Country – which was one of CarMax’s most popular minivans of 2017 – has Flex Fuel compatibility and front wheel drive. With standard features like these, you can’t do much better at this price point.
2. 2017 Chrysler Pacifica
If you’re looking for a newer van and are willing to spend a bit more, you can go with Chrysler’s other model, the Pacifica. One of the coolest features of the 2017 model is the hybrid drivetrain. It allows you to go up to 30 miles on electric, before the vehicle automatically switches over to the V6 gasoline engine. For short trips and errands, there’s nothing more eco-friendly in the minivan category.
3. 2018 Volkswagen Atlas
Who says you have to buy a minivan when you have a family? Sure, the sliding doors are nice, but there are plenty of other options that are both green and spacious. The new Volkswagen Atlas is a great choice. It’s one of the most fuel-efficient third-row vehicles on the market. The four-cylinder model gets an estimated 26 mpg highway.
4. 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid
While a minivan or SUV is ideal – and necessary if you have more than two kids – you can get away with a roomy sedan when you still have a small family. And while there are plenty of eco-friendly options in this category, the 2015 Hyundai Sonata Hybrid is arguably the biggest bang for your buck. It gets 38 mpg on the highway and is incredibly affordable.
5. 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel
If money isn’t an object and you’re able to spend any amount to get a good vehicle that’s both comfortable and eco-friendly, the 2017 Land Rover Range Rover Sport Diesel is your car. Not only does it get 28 mpg highway, but it can also be equipped with a third row of seats and a diesel engine. And did we mention that this car looks sleek?
Putting it All Together
You have a variety of options. Whether you want something new or used, would prefer an SUV or minivan, or want something cheap or luxurious, there are plenty of choices on the market. The key is to do your research, remain patient, and take your time. Don’t get too married to a particular transaction, or you’ll lose your leverage.
You’ll know when the right deal comes along, and you can make a smart choice that’s functional, cost-effective, and eco-friendly.