B.C. Air Quality

Fossil Fuels and Energy Use

Fossil fuels are natural resources such as coal, oil (including gasoline and diesel fuel) and natural gas. They are formed from the remains of ancient plant and animal life. Fossil fuel burning powers our vehicles and industries, heats and cools our buildings, and runs appliances. It also produces electricity that we use for all sorts of purposes, such as lights and computers.

Fossil fuel combustion emits some common air pollutants that have local and global effects on human health and the environment. These pollutants include carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4), both of which are major greenhouse gases, as well as particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulphur oxides (SOx) and carbon monoxide (CO).

When we burn fossil fuels, burn wood for heat, and use electricity, we are using energy. Other sources of energy include “clean or renewable energy,” such as bioenergy, geothermal energy, run-of-the-river, solar energy and wind power. Our energy choices affect the air we breathe and the global atmosphere. The most important choice we can make to reduce air pollution is to use less energy, or “conserve energy.”

In BC, most of our electricity is generated by dams, instead of the combustion of fossil fuels. Hydroelectricity is a clean source of energy in terms of air quality, but it does have other environmental impacts. Some electricity comes from the burning of natural gas at the Burrard Thermal Generating Station in Port Moody (east of Vancouver), which releases emissions.

Some Ways to Conserve Energy

  • Use motor vehicles as little as possible.
  • Walk, cycle or take public transit.
  • If you need to take a car, you can use it more efficiently by sharing the ride (carpooling) with other people who are going the same way — to school or lessons, for example.
  • Stop idling. Idling is running the vehicle for more than about 10 seconds when it's parked — while waiting to pick up someone, for example. Idling spews out a lot of vehicle exhaust.
  • Keep the heat down, especially when you’re asleep or out.
  • Turn off lights when you don’t need them.
  • When possible, use a clothesline instead of a dryer.
  • Use a push lawnmower instead of a gas- or electric-powered one, a rake instead of a leaf blower, and clippers instead of a weed eater.

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