Fossil fuels come from plants and animals that died millions of years ago, and get all squished up under the surface of the earth. Over time the dead plants and animals turn into the stuff that powers our cars and heats our homes. They even turn into stuff like shoes, toothpaste and other products that are made from the material.
If we ran out of fossil fuels tomorrow, the whole world would come to a stop. Factories would close down. People would lose their jobs. Farmers would struggle to run their tractors and manage their crops, and they would struggle to deliver their food, so people would die of hunger. The lights in your home, your TV and your computer would not have enough electricity, so they would stop working.
Fossil fuels are really important, but they are also in limited supply. We cannot make fossil fuels, so we will run out if we use too much. Fossil fuels are also bad for the environment. When we make electricity, or when we make stuff from fossil fuels, we need to burn them at high temperatures, which pollutes the air.
Beijing in China is really busy. 20 million people live in the city, and there are many cars and factories that are burning fossil fuels. This has made the air quality really bad. People wear masks so that they don’t damage their health by breathing in the nasty things that are in the air. It can sometimes look like there’s a blanket of gray smoke covering the city.
At the moment, we rely on fossil fuels to make electricity. But there are also other ways to make electricity. We can use the wind, the sun and rivers to make power, but at the moment we aren’t able to get enough energy from these sources. Over time, more cars will use electricity, and that electricity could come from the sun.
President Obama has set a goal for us to use much less fossil fuels over the coming 10 years, and Daniel Yergin Chairman thinks this is possible. Yergin is an author who writes about the oil industry. On Twitter, he made an important point about why the president’s goal is achievable: “that’s what US has done over recent decades”.
We are always making our products use less energy, and become more efficient over time. But at the same time, people around the world are getting richer, especially in places like Brazil, China, India and Russia. In these places, many people can afford cars for the first time, new factories are being built, and this leads to us using more energy.