Monday, March 8, 2010

An Ugly Effect of Fossil Fuels: Acid Rain

Fossil fuels-oil, coal, and natural gas-are running out quickly, and since much of the world's power depends on these resources, in the next few hundred years this could be a major problem.
However, if we aren't more careful about the way we use these natural resources, we won't have to worry about that; the world won't survive that long.
The burning of fossil fuels pollute the environment in many ways, including contributing to the greenhouse effect and producing harmful by-products that are dangerous to our health. One of these side effects, which causes the majority of the damage to the ecosystem, is acid rain.

The two chemicals that contribute the most to acid rain (which includes all forms of precipitation) are sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides. In the United States, the main cause of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels. When these chemicals are released into the air, they react with other compounds, such as water, due to the heat of the sun.
These new chemical compounds form clouds and when it rains, the pollutants re-enter the ecosystem. Acid rain is measured on a pH scale, and while normal rain has a level of 5.5, acid rain in the United States is sometimes a low as 4.3. The pollutants in our air might come from our own country, but wind currents carry them as well, so when we burn fossil fuels, it pollutes the rest of the world and vice versa. By discontinuing the use of fossil fuels, we can't get rid of the pollutants already in our environment, but we can stop new ones from entering it. Acid rain can only be counterbalanced by very carefully adding other chemicals, such as limestone, to the environment to react with the acidity. However, the ecosystem effected will never be 100% the same. Alternative energy powers can create energy without the end result of destroying the earth and her beauty. Acid rain causes destruction not only where it falls, but also all over the country and planet, since lakes, rivers, and streams carry the water throughout the land and eventually to the ocean. Along the way, the animals and plants that depend on this water to live (including humans) are affected and may die from the excess chemicals.
To do our part to reduce acid rain, we all must conserve energy so that we use less fossil fuel and support the research and development of alternative fuel programs. So far in the United States, hydroelectric power (energy made from water) and nuclear power (energy made by splitting atoms) are being most readily developed. Other forms of alternative energy include solar, tidal, geothermal, wind, and biomass power. By cutting back on the amounts of fossil fuels we use and pursuing these options, we can stop acid rain and begin to clean up the earth.

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