Fossil fuels have a bad reputation amongst some sections of society.
However, what some people don’t know is that fossil fuels still play a very important role in our day to day lives.
In this guide, we explain why fossil fuels are still so important by outlining what we use them for (and listing some of the additional benefits we get from these uses)
Summary – Why Fossil Fuels Are Still Important
- The obvious answer to this question is that fossil fuels are still used heavily as an energy source for electricity and as a fuel for transport in many countries. They are also used for heating
- But, petroleum and natural gas have an important role as a feedstock for plastic (which we use in a lot of products and packaging)
- Coking coal is used for steel
- Beyond these key uses that are integral for a functioning society (at least in the way it’s currently set up), there are economic and social benefits that cascade on from these uses
- An interesting stat from iagc.org: “Fossil fuels are found in 96% of the items we use each day”
Using Fossil Fuels For Electricity
We use electricity for almost everything in modern society.
Even countries that are transitioning over to renewable energy still usually use fossil fuels as a backup or complementary energy source in their electricity mix for various reasons.
Using Petroleum & Diesel For Transport
Transport is not only how we get around in our personal lives, but we need transport to move good and services around States, countries and the world.
Although electric cars are on the rise in some countries, globally, many cars still run on petrol and diesel fuel. Even hybrid cars primarily use fossil fuels in many instances.
Some cars also run on gas.
Using Natural Gas & Oil For Heating
We still primarily use oil and natural gas boilers in buildings for heating (and even electric heating might primarily use a fossil fuel source).
Using Petroleum, & Natural Gas For Plastic
Plastic and petroleum use:
- Currently, 4% of the world’s annual petroleum production is diverted to making plastic, and another 4% gets burned in the refining process (wwf.org.au)
- [plastic production] is expected to triple by 2050, when it would account for 20% of global annual oil consumption (weforum.org)
- Conventional plastic production is highly dependent on virgin fossil feedstocks (mainly natural gas and oil)
- Plastics production consumes up to 6% of global oil production and is projected to increase to 20% by 2050 if current consumption patterns persist
Using Coking Coal For Steel, & Coal For Cement Manufacturing
Steel is used in buildings, infrastructure, products and many of the things we see around us.
- Global steel production is dependent on coal. Over 71% of the steel produced today uses coal. Metallurgical coal – or coking coal – is a vital ingredient in the steel making process (worldcoal.org)
Coal is also used in cement manufacturing and as a liquid fuel (worldcoal.org)
Other Uses Of Fossil Fuels
A partial list of 6000 items that use petroleum can be found here:
We use fossil fuels in items in hygiene and accessories, the automotive industry, and at home:
Other Benefits Of Using Fossil Fuels
Aside from the uses mentioned above, fossil fuels have cascading benefits on the economy and socially in almost every country via the various industries they are directly or indirectly used in.
Even developing countries are able to benefit from fossil fuels via the employment and economic stimulus they provide (like for example with small scale mining, the cheap and affordable energy they can produce).
For a more accurate picture of the pros and cons of fossil fuels, you can read this guide specifically on the use of fossil fuels for energy:
There’s certainly many downsides to the use of fossil fuels in addition to the benefits.
Coming up with alternate energy sources (like renewable energy and alternative energy vehicles), and alternate materials and products (like bio or alternate plastics), are just two examples of how societies can move away from the use of fossil fuels where it makes sense to do so.