Our carbon culture

HEAT

In countries with cold winters, people burn fuel to keep warm. Some use open coal fires, but most houses now have central heating fueled by coal, oil, gas, or electricity. Gas is also widely used for cooking. Some electricity is generated without using fossil fuels, but all the other systems use them and release carbon dioxide, contributing to climate change.

Boiler produces high-pressure steam

^^odern society runs on fossil fuels. We use them to power our cars, trucks, trains, ships, and aircraft. They run our industries, heat our houses, hospitals, and schools, and generate most of our electricity. Oil is also transformed into the plastics that form part of virtually everything we buy, from food packaging to computers. It is hard to imagine how we could function without them. But our dependence on fossil fuels is the main reason why so much carbon dioxide is being pumped into the atmosphere, increasing the greenhouse effect and causing global warming.

Local substation.

Steam turbine drives generator that produces electricity (

Condenser turns steam back into water

Coal fuels the boiler

Boiler produces high-pressure steam

Steam turbine drives generator that produces electricity (

Coal fuels the boiler

Transformer increases voltage

Condenser turns steam back into water

Local substation.

Transformer reduces voltage

_ Power lines carry electricity over long distances

Transformer reduces voltage

^ Power distributed to schools, stores, and houses

_ Power lines carry electricity over long distances

Cooling tower, cools the water in the condenser

POWER HUNGRY

A coal-fired power plant uses a huge amount of fuel. The Kingston plant in Tennessee, for example, generates enough electricity to supply 700,000 homes. To meet this demand, it burns over 13,800 tons of coal every day—enough to fill 140 of these big rail trucks. Over the year, this adds up to more than 51,000 trucks full of coal, which would form a train over 310 miles (500 km) long.

Transformer increases voltage

POWER PLANT

A huge proportion of the electricity generated in industrialized countries is produced using fossil fuels. In the US, for example, more than three quarters of the total is generated using coal, gas, and oil. In a power plant the fuel is used to heat a boiler that turns water to steam. The steam is fed to a turbine at high pressure, and the spinning turbine turns the electricity generator. The steam from the turbine is cooled to turn it back into water for the boiler.

Cooling tower, cools the water in the condenser

VITAL SUPPLIES

We consume vast amounts of electricity to power transportation, lighting, heating, and air-conditioning systems, as well as domestic equipment. Computers are useless without electricity, and virtually everything we now do or buy involves computers of some kind. The world's banks, businesses, and even governments rely on electronic communications, while transportation control rooms like this one could not operate without them. Electricity also powers the systems that keep us supplied with vital things like food and clean water.

Since the car was invented at the end of the 1800s, we have come to rely on it. Nearly all cars run on hydrocarbon fuels made from oil. Their engines are much more efficient than they used to be, but their average fuel consumption has not improved because most of them are so heavy and powerful. In 1910, 2.2 gallons (10 liters) of gasoline would take the Model "T"Ford shown above almost 56 miles (90 km). The same amount of fuel would carry the average modern American car just 46 miles (74 km).

RAIL TRANSPORTATION

Although coal-fired steam engines are obsolete, many railroads still use diesel or diesel-electric locomotives like this one in the United States, which run on fossil fuel. Most electrified lines use power generated by burning fossil fuels, including coal, so ultimately many electric trains are still fueled by coal. However, railroads use fuel more efficiently than road transportation, especially when carrying heavy goods. Transporting 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) of freight 60 miles (100 km) by road produces about 40 lb (18 kg) of carbon dioxide, while taking them by train emits just 3.3 lb (1.5 kg).

„ Jet engine emits carbon dioxide and other pollutants

AIR TRAVEL

Jet aircraft are major producers of carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions such as nitrous oxides. These other emissions have an especially serious impact because they are released at such high altitude. Short-haul flights are particularly inefficient because more of the trip is spent gaining height with the engines at full power. A flight of 186 miles (300 km) emits up to 12 times as much carbon dioxide, per passenger, as traveling by train.

FOOD MILES

A lot of our food comes from abroad, because some of it cannot be produced closer to home. Bananas, for example, grow only in tropical climates, so they have to be imported by cooler countries. But we also import foods that can be produced by local farmers, mostly when the local produce is out of season. Transporting all this food can use a lot of fuel, especially if it is air-freighted.

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