Greenhouse Gases & Energy

People are generally aware that burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide, a significant greenhouse gas. Another greenhouse gas is nitrogen oxide, which is produced when fuels are burned. The quantity and type of greenhouse gases produced depends on the type of fuel and manner of combustion used. One of the most commonly used fossil fuels, natural gas, contains methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is 21 to 23 times more active than carbon dioxide. Burning natural gas is far better, with regard to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, than releasing it directly to the air.

Water vapor is an abundant byproduct of combustion that can be a potent greenhouse gas, but, because of its complex interaction with sunlight (clouds, snow, ice, rain, water), it is not usually considered a greenhouse gas.

Sources of Local Energy

Some energy is produced in Spokane, but significant amounts are imported. In Spokane we use petroleum, electricity, natural gas and propane, and renewable energy sources.

Energy by Type

Most of the energy on Earth used by people has resulted from the radiant energy of the sun (fossil fuels, most plant and animal matter, most hydroelectricity, and some portion of wind energy). This solar energy results from nuclear reactions. Nuclear energy is the result of converting some matter into pure energy, following Einstein's famous equation E=mc2 (energy gained equals the mass lost times the speed of light squared). Nuclear reactions generate heat in the Earth and humans have learned to harvest some of this energy. Some living things thrive on this source of energy as well (e.g., life at ocean thermal vents). Humans have harnessed nuclear fission for energy production and are working at harnessing nuclear fusion. Finally, there is tidal energy and some portion of wind energy which results from the spin of the Earth and the gravitational interaction with the sun and moon.


Mechanical energy is the energy in moving parts, hydraulic energy is the energy in moving fluids, and kinetic energy is the energy in moving objects.


Heat energy is derived from the vibration of atoms. Generally the more they vibrate the higher the temperature and the less stable the chemical they are a part of becomes. Heat energy can travel, even through the vacuum of space, via infrared radiation. Heat energy can also be transferred via conduction and convection.

Electrical and Magnetic

Electrical and magnetic energy are two forms of energy that are interconnected. When a conductor passes through a magnetic field, electrons flow. When electrons flow through a wire a magnetic field is produced. These two forms of energy are commonly used to convert mechanical energy into electricity (generators) and vice versa to make mechanical energy from electricity (motors).

Electro-magnetic radiation

Electromagnetic radiation refers to the full spectrum of radiation from radio waves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, microwave, x ray, etc.


Energy can be stored in chemical bonds between atoms. These bonds can absorb, and release energy as they change. Some examples of chemical energy are gasoline, TNT, plastic explosives, wood, and sugar.


Nuclear energy results from the conversion of matter to energy. The energy that results is in the form of heat, and electromagnetic radiation.


Solar energy is the energy from the sun that warms the air, water, and ground, and powers the plant kingdom's photosynthesis. Humankind is learning to more efficiently use this radiation for direct heating of living spaces and for production of electricity.


Harnessing the rise and fall of water in the ocean to generate electricity is another renewable energy alternative.


Wind power is becoming an increasingly important method of electricity production. A disadvantage of wind power is it is only available when the wind blows.