Do we really need to worry about the effects of burning fossil fuels when in all likelihood we won’t be burning fossil fuels in about a 100 years or maybe a little more?

We will have technologies in about 100 years where burning fossil fuels will seem like using a steam engine today. I think it will be laughable / primitive to burn fossil fuels.

It will be rare to burn fossil fuels for power and not of consequence to the environment any longer.

What are we really worried about when we are just going to be burning them for a little bit longer?

Can we really do that much damage over the next hundred years if we are somewhat reasonable?

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    $\begingroup$ I don't have time for an extended answer (looking up the actual numbers). Should we worry? Yes 1) Any CO2 we bring into the atmosphere will be there for a long time - warming is the effect of the cumulative buildup of CO2 over the past 80 years or so. We can not afford to go on for 100 years. 2) We have now brought something like 500 G ton into the atmosphere and are nearing the 2 degrees warming that is still considered 'acceptable', our energy demands are still increasing, and the reserves in the ground are good for another 2300 G ton. Can you imagine what addition that would do? $\endgroup$
    – Jan Doggen
    Jan 31, 2017 at 20:34
  • $\begingroup$ What would be an acceptable limit to ending the burning of fossil fuels? Of course tomorrow would be ideal. How much longer can we burn fossil fuels at our current and expanding rate and still be ok as a planet? 1 year? 5 years? If you don't know that is an acceptable answer too. $\endgroup$ Jan 31, 2017 at 21:13
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    $\begingroup$ OK as a planet? That's pretty vague. We are currently living through a mass-extinction event that we are causing and creating our own geological epoch defined by plastic. As for carbon, we've already surpassed the limit of "acceptable" carbon in the atmosphere and the ocean is even worse. Even if we stopped today, sea level rise, ocean acidity, oceanic warming, snow/ice extent, etc. would continue to be a problem for 100s of years. Every location on earth is different though. If you live in the tropics, you will be least affected. $\endgroup$
    – f.thorpe
    Feb 1, 2017 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @farrenthorpe will this be a mass-extinction event if we are burning fossil fuels for another 50 years? $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2017 at 16:04
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    $\begingroup$ @slindsey3000 We are in a mass extinction event now. If you look at current rates of extinction they are significantly elevated above the long term average. Also I will bet you are large sum of money that all cars will not be driverless in 15 years time. You overestimate the ability of technological progress to save us. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Feb 1, 2017 at 17:29

1 Answer 1


Based on the stats for the US only, I would say we have the capacity for using fossil fuels over the next 100 years. Whether or not we worry about it is another discussion entirely. The US has coal resources for the next 250 years and I suspect may be producing and using natural gas for the next 100 years.

For the US (from the US Energy Information Administration)

  • 256 years of coal resources available (based on 2014 numbers) link

  • ~12 years of natural gas resources available Based on resources and current usage rate Link

    This is a rough estimate does not take into account importing or exporting natural gas.Also assumes usage based on 2015 numbers.

  • 0 years of oil resources (no surprises here) US uses 19.4 millions of barrels per day link US produces <9 millions of barrels per day link

Here is fun stat laden site for global oil and gas resource and consumption. link.

Note: I take these stats at face value but oil resource production and reserve numbers are not always accurate. A number of oil producers are reluctant to provide accurate stats as these numbers are considered sensitive to their economies.

  • $\begingroup$ Nice information. I suspect we can burn fossil fuels as long as we need to. I just don't see how anyone will be burning them in 100 years. Why are we worried about burning fossil fuels for a little bit longer. The trade off is productivity and progress that energy brings vs the environment. I think we need a balance of both for about 50 more years. Then we won't even be burning these primitive fossil fuels anymore! We just need to make sure we don't do anything TERRIBLE for 50 more years. I just don't get why everyone is so worried about something that is going away so soon. $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2017 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ @slindsey3000 Go and talk to some climate scientists. Then you will see why people are worried. We are doing something terrible now and show no signs of stopping. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Feb 1, 2017 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @bon What are you talking about "and show no signs of stopping"? This is not true. Fossil fuels will not be burnt in the near future. The aggregate damage to the earth on PLANETARY scale will be laughable. Locally pollution from these fuels might be bad but the planet will be fine. businessinsider.com/… $\endgroup$ Feb 1, 2017 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @slindsey3000 As I said, go and talk to some climate scientists. People who are experts in this field. We are not doing enough to cut carbon emissions. Ending fossil fuel burning in 100 or even 50 years time is not enough and the damage on a planetary scale is already noticeable and will get much worse. $\endgroup$
    – bon
    Feb 1, 2017 at 19:01
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    $\begingroup$ @slindsey3000: Why do you think fossil fuels won't be burnt in the near future? We have far better technologies for things like power generation now, but a combination of entrenched financial interests and scare tactics keep them from being used much. What's going to change this in the near future? $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Feb 2, 2017 at 3:44

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