We’ve all seen the doomsday commercials and viral YouTube clips. Footage showing bulldozers ripping up swaths of the Amazon rainforest or devastating oil spills on formerly pristine beaches is easily accessible. Most of us would agree that using more sustainable, earth-friendly energy alternatives is important and should be made a priority. Sometimes though, it is difficult to put this knowledge into practice.
Most of us rely on the same fossil fuel energy types that were used 50 or 100 years ago and don’t know how to start making choices to move our personal energy consumption away from these sources and to more renewable ones.
However, it is imperative that we change this reality. Virtually every one of our earth’s natural elements and ecosystems is adversely affected by overuse of fossil fuels. Our world’s soil, and all the processes and life forms that rely on it, is a prime example. Fossil fuels adversely affect our soil quality and, in severe cases, can create lasting and sometimes irreparable changes to our soil’s ability to support these natural processes.
Let’s explore why that happens and what we can do about it.
How Fossil Fuels Have Affected Our Soil Over Time
Healthy soil is vital for plants, forests, animals, and other living organisms to survive. In addition, these ecosystems, particularly forests and other natural ecosystems, process, and store harmful carbon atoms from the atmosphere. Unfortunately, many of the processes necessary for creating, harvesting, and processing various fossil fuel types have damaged or corrupted our soil in huge areas around the world and have endangered or altered these delicate ecosystems. Here are just a few examples:
This refers to the process of large-scale logging or cutting down huge quantities of trees for lumber and for burning. This can often affect hundreds or even thousands of acres at a time. Though wood material isn’t used for energy as much as it used to be (think wood stoves and furnaces for heating, manufacturing, and other processes), the logging industry’s effects on the land on which it takes place can be drastic. Clearing plant life from an area changes the pH of the soil and can be difficult to reverse.
Logging’s heavy machinery and extended use of an area can change the composition of the soil and make it less hospitable to future growth. Open stretches of land devoid of vegetation are also more susceptible to runoff, or soil loss, due to wind and water moving it out of the area over time.
This can occur in a number of ways. The creation and processing of various fossil fuels can cause chemical contamination to occur. Once chemicals are released into an ecosystem, they can be extremely deadly and affecting, killing wildlife, and making the area unsafe or barren and unable to facilitate healthy ecosystems.
In addition, because chemical contamination can spread to bodies of water through runoff and underground water sources, chemicals can spread to nearly incalculable distances over time and create significant damage.
Oil spills have happened both on land and at sea. Crude oil (or petroleum) is extracted from underground reservoirs and usually requires extensive work and equipment to access. Once released from these deep underground spaces, the character of crude oil makes it very difficult to clean up or contain if it is released or spilled into a natural environment.
When spilled oil sinks into soil, it limits or completely blocks the soil’s ability to absorb water. This affects runoff patterns, can cause flooding, and chokes existing plant life that are rendered no longer able to access water. Oil spills can last for months or years and are almost impossible to reverse in some cases.
Landscape Changes from Coal Mines
Coal mines and similar are usually extensive and can be quite invasive. Blasting, heavy truck usage and machinery, formative changes to ground or mountain terrain, and more can create substantial changes to an area’s topographic qualities. It can be difficult for these areas to return back to their original healthy and natural states, even long after coal mines shut down or cease operations.
Examples of Renewable Energies and How They Change the Game for Soil
Though there are a number of sustainable energy types, most or all have something in common. Their two-part purpose is to eliminate our need for (and dependency on) finite fossil fuels, and to create dependable sources of energy that don’t harm the environment or our natural ecosystems. Though the renewable energy industry has plenty of room for improvement and doesn’t always achieve both of these goals, it is making huge strides towards making those goals a reality.
Most sustainable energy types make use of natural forces or elements, but unlike fossil fuels, they utilize natural forces that are replenishable and won’t run out (hence the name). Wind power, solar power, geothermal energy, nuclear power, and other forms of renewable energies are all forces that, in theory, should be able to be harnessed without depleting natural resources or causing any adverse effects on the environment.
Though sustainable energy technologies don’t always achieve a “zero-trace” footprint on natural habitats — as an example, solar panels still require many materials that aren’t recyclable or biodegradable, and create changes to the natural environments where they’re placed - development and adaptation continues with that goal in mind. With time and effort, the sector would like to achieve sustainable energy sources that can operate without creating any side effects for natural environments. Soil is one part of these natural ecosystems that will benefit from sustainable energy’s success and resulting elimination of fossil fuel industries.
How to Contribute if You Are Interested in Using More Renewables
The best way to propel this movement and to speed sustainable energy’s ubiquity is to support its adoption. There are currently many options available to consumers to begin switching their energy usage from more conventional fossil fuels like natural gas or coal-powered electric grids. Even though sustainable energy sources like solar, wind, or nuclear energy can sometimes have a higher sticker price, there are a number of subsidies and credits offered by the American government and by many states as well that can be employed to lessen that increase and make renewable energies more accessible.
If you are interested in exploring your options, a quick Google search for local clean energy initiatives or alternatives in your area can connect you with resources to begin that process. In addition, there are a number of local and national sustainable energy organizations and supporting resources available to you as a consumer to help you discover more options for switching to sustainable energy sources.
In addition to switching your personal energy consumption to clean sources, you can also consider being more vocal and active about spreading the word about sustainable energy to others. Your family, friends, personal and professional networks, neighborhood social media groups and chats, and more are all great places to spread the word about easy ways to utilize more renewable energy sources.
Sharing resources, tips, and content about sustainable energy and how to take next steps can help speed our country’s transition to more renewable energy sources and help reduce the burden we create for our natural systems and environments.