Environmental, Economic and Social Consequences

Conventional energy sources based on coal, oil and natural gas have been shown to be highly effective at contributing to economic progress, but at the same time damaging to the environment and to human health. The European Commission as well as the Irish government are keen to promote sustainable energy sources in an effort to promote sustainable, long-term development. Whilst economic assessment still tends to be the most important factor upon which particular energy resources are promoted and used, social and environmental goals are becoming increasingly important.

Regardless of whether the energy source is renewable or non-renewable, there are likely to be considerable environmental, economic and social consequences (both positive and negative) for favouring particular energies. For instance, the majority of greenhouse gas emissions come from burning non-renewable fossil fuels. Whilst oil production benefits some communities producing oil in terms of economic growth, in 2019 fossil fuel burning generated around 38 billion tonnes (38 gigatonnes) of CO2 and additional air pollution (European Commission, 2020). By the end of 2013 alone, the burning of fossil fuels caused negative impacts of $4.9 trillion USD due to climate change and health problems (Edenhofer, 2015).

Similarly, in an Irish context the production of peat as a fuel source, and subsequent loss of peatlands, has considerable knock-on consequences for horticulture, bog ecology (e.g. bird watching, nature appreciation), loss of archaeological heritage (through the preservation properties of peat), hydrological and water quality concerns (water storage, filtering), and CO2 storage. Considering the economic impacts of energy resources is therefore only one of the ways in which to effectively assess the impacts of such resources.

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