Cars and the Environment: An Overview
Jump in the car, start your engine, and you’re off. But do you give any thought to what’s coming out of the tailpipe as you go down the road?
The list of car-related pollutants is a bit scary—but the good news is that you can do something about it. First, check out what your beloved car is producing. Then, do something about it.
- Carbon dioxide is the dominant greenhouse gas that causes global warming.
- Carbon monoxide, colorless and odorless, combines with hemoglobin in our blood, impairing the flow of oxygen to our brain and other parts of the body.
- Sulphur oxides contribute to respiratory illness, particularly in children and the elderly, and aggravate existing heart and lung diseases. It contributes to the formation of acid rain.
- Oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are lung irritants, which react with compounds in the air to cause acid rain and ozone—the main reason for smog.
- Particulate matter, consisting of tiny particles of soot, is an established cause of lung problems, from shortness of breath, respiratory disease, and cancer.
- Hydrocarbons, in their many forms, are directly hazardous, contributing to what are collectively called "air toxics."
Reversing the Trends, One Car at a Time
Today, there are approximately 200 million cars in America, and more than 700 million vehicles worldwide. If car numbers keep increasing at the present rate, there will be more than a billion on the road across the world by 2025. Vehicles are now driven two trillion miles each year in the United States, and there are more cars than adults. Americans spend, on average, an hour per day in the car, and collectively more than 8 billion hours per year stuck in traffic.
Given all this driving, it's important to consider that of the many decisions you make as a consumer, car choice will have the greatest impact on the environment, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Your choice when buying a new car is a vote to the carmakers, which are making decisions about today’s cars that extend well into the future. When a vehicle is designed, that model's design stays the same for about five years. Each vehicle produced during those five years is going to stay on the road—roughly with that fuel efficiency and pollution level—for 12 to 15 years. Drive the change you would like to see by buying the cleanest, most efficient car you can.