Burning Fossil Fuels Doesn’t Just Cause Global Warming- It Also Causes Global Cooling

By: Lauren Fokas | Published: Jul 06, 2024

For several years, environmental experts have been warning people all around the world that the planet is warming at an alarming rate due to the excessive burning of fossil fuels. And while that is certainly true, it’s not the whole story.

The manufacturing and use of fossil fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil, are unquestionably making Earth much warmer than it should be. However, they have also been keeping the planet cool, and if we eliminate fossil fuels altogether, global temperatures will rise to dangerous levels almost immediately.

How Do Fossil Fuels Cause Global Warming?

Over the past two hundred years, humans have used an absolutely obscene amount of fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and gas, to power the planet. Collecting, processing, and burning these energy sources has wreaked havoc on the environment, specifically causing global warming.

A photograph of a factory releasing CO2 into the air

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Fossil fuels cause global warming because they release excess carbon dioxide into the air as they burn. CO2 is a natural element; however, as it traps heat in the atmosphere, too much of it causes the global temperature to rise.

Why Is Global Warming Dangerous?

Since the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the 19th century, the Earth has already warmed by 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit. Experts agree that if the average rises even just another 0.5 degrees to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, it will push the climate crisis past the tipping point.

A thermometer shows warm temperatures in the sand at the beach

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We are already seeing many of the negative side effects caused by global warming, such as rising sea levels and extreme weather. But if the temperature rises by another half degree, we could experience global food shortages, extensive Arctic ice melt, and more dire circumstances all around the world.

Fossil Fuels Are Also Causing Global Cooling

At this point, most people understand that fossil fuels are causing global warming, which is undoubtedly affecting the planet’s natural functions. But what they don’t know is that fossil fuels are also causing global cooling.

A photograph of a snowy mountainside against a gray sky

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Essentially, while fossil fuels release CO2 and increase the average temperature on the planet, they also pollute the air, keeping it cooler than it would be without them.

How Fossil Fuels Keep the Planet Cool

When fuel sources, like oil, gas, and coal, are burned, they release an immense amount of pollution into the atmosphere.

A photograph of several clouds across an orange sunset

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The tiny particles that are released can reflect sunlight and enhance the formation of clouds, both of which provide shade for the planet from the sun’s rays.

Air Pollution Has Protected the Planet From 40%-80% of Global Warming

In fact, one study showed that these particles have actually protected the Earth from anywhere between 40% and 80% of the warming caused by fossil fuel emissions since the 1980s.

A photograph of dust particles in the air

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Of course, the Earth’s temperatures wouldn’t be warming without the overuse of fossil fuels. So it’s not as though the production of gas, oil, and coal is protecting the planet – they are simply simultaneously slowing down the warming that they are creating.


Air Pollution Has Been a Real Problem for Decades

Although air pollution caused by fossil fuels may technically slow the planet’s warming, it has caused a wide variety of other problems over the past several decades.

An aerial photograph of a city showing it covered with air pollution

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The pollutants in the air are often toxic to humans and have caused illness and even death all around the world.


Air Pollution Contributes to 1 in 10 Deaths

When fossil fuels are burned, they release sulfur and nitrogen oxide, as well as soot and other airborne particles, all of which can and do cause respiratory issues and chronic diseases; air pollution contributes to more than one in every ten deaths, killing around seven million people every year.

A woman lays in a hospital bed next to a faceless doctor with a clipboard

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Therefore, countries worldwide have been trying their best to minimize air pollution and protect their citizens. But this clean-up process is now proving detrimental to the planet, too.


Eliminating Fossil Fuels Will Cause an Immediate Rise in Global Temperatures

As we try to protect both the planet itself and all the people on it by eliminating or at least minimizing fossil fuel use and the consequent air pollution, scientists have realized the Earth is getting warmer faster.

A close-up photograph of a pile of coal

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By cutting sulfur and other greenhouse gas emissions released by fossil fuels, there have recently been fewer particles and clouds in the air to protect the planet from the sun. Therefore, this has inadvertently increased the rising global temperature.


Saving Lives Will Hurting the Planet

For example, the International Maritime Organization implemented restrictions in 2020 regarding the amount of sulfur allowed in shipping fuels. These regulations immediately led to 80% less sulfur released by cargo ships, which are one of the largest contributors to the problem.

An aerial photograph of a large container cargo ship in the ocean

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However, while this tactic has unquestionably saved lives all around the world, the substantial decrease in pollution has also contributed to about a 0.05 global temperature increase.


No Scientists Recommend Continuing the Use of Fossil Fuels

The current estimation among scientists is that the pollution from fossil fuel use is masking somewhere between 0.2 and 1.0 degrees Celsius. Therefore, if fossil fuels are eliminated, the Earth’s temperature could surpass the maximum of 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit essentially overnight.

Several people hold cardboard signs at a climate change protest

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It’s important to note that no scientists are saying we shouldn’t stop using fossil fuels; however, simultaneously, they need to be cleaning the CO2 from the air. In other words, if there is less air pollution but the same amount of CO2 in the air, the planet will warm to dangerous levels overnight.


If China Stops Using Fossil Fuels, It Could Be Detrimental to the Planet

China, for example, is by far the largest coal consumer and the world’s largest energy consumer by far.

A photograph of factories releasing pollution into the air in front of the flag of China

Source: Adobe Stock

Although the nation desperately wants to clean up its act and reduce fossil fuel use to protect citizens from air pollution and climate change, doing so too quickly could be wildly detrimental to the planet.