Damage we suffer from fossil fuel burning both seen and unseen

the Parthenon


Environmentalists today associate burning fossil fuel with carbon dioxide emissions, which in turn are associated with climate change and global warming. This is a relatively new association, although the theory of global warming has been around for over a hundred years.


Before the greenhouse effect took root in the popular imagination the main effect of burning fossil fuel that we understood was air pollution caused by burning coal and coal gas for electrical power and heat energy, and diesel and petrol in engines for transport.


These effects of fossil fuel burning were undoubted and undisputed. You could see taste and touch the smog; it affected your health and made your life uncomfortable. The pollution also was apparent to the eye, even when there was no smog.


Smog deposited itself on buildings, damaging them. If you saw St Paul’s Cathedral in London in 1960 you would find it a mess of blackened stone. The pollution damage was visible and made a beautiful building ugly. St Pauls, like many great buildings, was built from Portland Stone, a carbonate rock that can be carved and has some resistance to weathering but not to the heaps of pollution that we throw on it.


St Paul’s has now been cleaned up, but you will often see parts of it shrouded in scaffolding because although the coal burning in London has stopped, the pollution created by all fossil fuel burning continues, and St Pauls has to be constantly monitored for excessive weathering and damage by acid rain and increased levels of nitrous oxides.


When something bad is “in your face” people usually react to prevent it. So the Clean Air Acts were passed and the dirty face of St Pauls was cleaned up. The damage to the Cathedral is less apparent and less “in your face” than it was.


In Greece, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the Parthenon on the Acropolis of Athens has also been affected by air bourn pollution from modern Athens. It was damaged by an explosion several hundred years ago, but greater more permanent damage is being caused by air pollution.


The marble stone from which it is built has been slowly eaten away in layers by the acid rain containing sulphur and nitrous oxides. The only solution is to move the statues and friezes into an air conditioned climate controlled museum, and “restore” the site with modern materials that look like the ancient stones.


I first visited the Parthenon in 1961 as a child. I could walk right through the temple, touching the warm marble stones and getting a really good idea of what it was like in ancient times. I last visited the Parthenon in February this year. Most of the approach to the site was by way of protective wooden walkways. There were official preventing people from touching the stones and there was lots of careful rebuilding and restoration.



If you click on the picture of the Parthenon you will be able to see, in detail, the damage caused to it by the air pollution of fossil fuel buring.


For the Greeks air pollution is very much “in their faces” as they see the world’s most famous building crumble as a result of people driving cars, using electricity and committing all the other conveniences of modern life. The Greeks regard the Parthenon as something they hold for all people, something precious and important, something to be preserved for the future.


In Athens and in London and in many other cities of the world people are trying to minimise the effects of air pollution caused by burning fossil fuel. When you see the haze over Los Angeles, or St Pauls darkened and ugly, or the Parthenon crumbling on a still day you understand what is happening.


I think that the biggest problem caused by fossil fuel burning is not what we can see, but what we cannot see. Carbon dioxide is invisible, but it continues to shroud our planet in increasing  amounts with a warm jacket of insulation. The paradox is that to keep ourselves warm and prosperous we will end up being architects of our own demise. Can we imagine nature’s comment, like Hamlet’s, that “tis sport to see the engineer hoist with his own petard”.



If carbon dioxide were as much in our faces and on our faces as the dirt that damages St Pauls, or as the haze over LA, or the crumbling Acropolis of Athens we would do more to prevent it happening in the first place.


7 Responses

  1. Robert,

    Maybe you are right. Visible things changing people’s mind. my mind certainly been changed by all my observation.

    NOT sure you been to China. Something really breaking my heart is that. I could NOT find the blue sky I was seeing when I was a kid in my tiny village hometown. I could NOT find the any roads NOT full of cars. I could NOT find any Van which is NOT overloaded. I could NOT find any places where has NO construction.

    Turning all the natural resource to “paper” in the banks, is it worthy? I do NOT know. By the time our life ends, those papers wont be able to come with us.

    Einstein’s law is right, nothing in the world cannot be generated without diminishing other thing. It just changes from one form to the other.

  2. […] This is a relatively new association, although the theory of global warming has been around fhttps://robertkyriakides.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/damage-we-suffer-from-fossil-fuel-burning-both-seen…Letters to the Editor Daily DispatchTHERE needs to be a wholesale review of the way in which fuel is […]

  3. We need to tread carefully


  4. i hate the world
    club seals!

  5. i found the smiley face at the very bottom of the page!!!

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