It’s no secret that cars have a big impact on the environment through the emissions they produce. The problem is so big, in fact, that the US government has vowed to end sales of all gasoline-powered vehicles by 2035.
As a result, automotive manufacturers will be forced to only produce electric vehicles (EVs). While electric cars do not directly produce greenhouse gas emissions through the tailpipe, there have been concerns over the environmental effects of manufacturing and charging them.
In this article, we’ll give you the low-down on why conventional vehicles are considered bad for the environment, and what a gasoline-free future might look like. Let’s begin.
Why cars are bad for the environment
Cars have a negative effect on the environment due to their exhaust emissions. Gas-powered cars emit carbon dioxide (CO2) and other contaminants through the tailpipe as a result of the combustion process. CO2 is bad for air quality and contributes heavily to global warming.
A typical passenger car on the road today produces around 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. When there is a higher concentration of carbon dioxide in the air, oxygen levels are reduced, or ‘displaced’. This means that the quality of the air we breathe in is poorer. Poor air quality can lead to a whole host of issues for humans – like nausea and asthma. See why cars are bad for air quality.
CO2 also traps radiation and heat in the earth’s atmosphere. This is why you might have heard carbon dioxide referred to as a ‘greenhouse gas’ – because much like a greenhouse, CO2 absorbs heat from the sun and stops it from escaping back into space. The effects of global warming and climate change have been more visible than ever in recent years: from intense heatwaves in the UK to flash floods in Las Vegas. See why cars are bad for global warming.
While cars have never been the sole cause of these problems, they are a significant factor – making them a real target for governments and environmental activists as the climate debate heats up.
Cars and air quality
Vehicles that are powered by gasoline and diesel fuels produce carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants as byproducts of the combustion process within the engine. As these pollutants exit the exhaust and filter into the air, oxygen is displaced.
When there is a low concentration of oxygen in the air we breathe, we begin to experience negative side effects. With a short exposure, you may experience some confusion or giddiness. With prolonged exposure, low oxygen levels can lead to a loss of consciousness.
The process of burning fuel also produces carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and many other byproducts. This causes pollution, which is harmful to humans and the planet.
Internal combustion has been the most efficient and profitable way of powering vehicles since the 19th century. As society became more and more aware of the looming climate crisis, we began to understand the negative impact of internal combustion and the resulting side effects.
To tackle this, several auto manufacturers have experimented with zero-carbon fuels – like hydrogen. Over time, hydrogen-based vehicles proved to be too expensive and time-consuming to produce. While hydrogen-powered vehicles never really took off in the mainstream, there are some available on the market today – like the Toyota Mirai.
This is where electric vehicles come in. EVs produce zero tailpipe emissions, which means that they won’t affect or harm local air quality when being used and driven around. With cities and governments beginning to wise up to the dangers of pollution and poor air quality, it seems electric vehicles will be the way forward.
Cars and global warming
The carbon dioxide (CO2) produced by gasoline-powered cars is a greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gases have properties that trap heat and radiation within the atmosphere, raising the earth’s temperature and contributing to global warming.
In 2020, carbon dioxide was responsible for 79% of all greenhouse gases produced by the U.S. In 2022, as people become more environmentally conscious, companies and businesses are pledging to become carbon neutral – where they eliminate or offset any carbon emissions they produce.
But for the automotive industry, it’s not that simple. Any car powered by gasoline or diesel will produce significant CO2 emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle. It’s unavoidable, as carbon dioxide is a natural byproduct of the internal combustion process.
The manufacturing of cars also plays a big part in this. While some manufacturers have been successful in sourcing their energy from renewable sources, there is still a long way to go before the auto industry could be considered environmentally sustainable.
Electric vehicles do not contribute to global warming through tailpipe emissions, as they do not use fuel and there is no combustion process. However, the production of electric vehicles – especially batteries – is energy-intensive. Also, the electricity we need to charge them is regularly sourced from burning fossil fuels, which pollute the atmosphere.
The general consensus is that an electric vehicle will produce lower carbon emissions over the lifetime of the vehicle than a comparable diesel or gasoline-powered car. Furthermore, as countries work to generate more and more electricity through renewable methods, we should see the environmental impact of the EV manufacturing process lessen.
While electric vehicles are a step in the right direction to reduce the effects of global warming, they are by no means a perfect solution.
Should we stop using cars?
While cutting out cars completely would be good for the environment, there are many factors to consider beforehand. Lots of people outside of cities rely on cars to travel to work and to see loved ones. The automotive industry also helps to employ hundreds of millions of people across the world.
Like most things in this world, the question of whether or not we should ban cars completely is a tricky one. Lots of ordinary people rely on their cars to earn money and see loved ones.
Plus, cars are really enjoyable. I and many others consider cars a valued passion and hobby. Without them, I’d be pretty lost – both figuratively and literally.
Countries across the world have worked hard to pedestrianize their cities and give a boost to public transport networks, which are better for the environment. But for rural areas with a lack of public transport, cars are often the only way to get around.
Whether you’re for or against cars, we probably won’t see a ban on them in our lifetime. They have a major part to play in modern society and how we live our lives. What we will see is a coordinated effort to lessen the impact of vehicles on our environment.
How we can reduce pollution from cars
There are a few ways that we drivers can become more eco-conscious when using our vehicles. Here are five easy tips to start reducing pollution from your vehicle today:
1: Carpool with friends
If you use a car to travel to work, consider carpooling with your colleagues. You can work out a weekly schedule where you take it in turns to transport each other to and from your place of work. Likewise, you can carpool with friends when attending social gatherings and events.
Carpooling helps to reduce the number of vehicles on the road and eliminates extra tailpipe emissions. Plus, it can be fun – you get to spend some more quality time with your friends while feeling good about doing your bit for the environment.
2: Beware of idling
Idling happens when your engine is running while the car is stopped. It’s fine to do this at stop signs and traffic lights for short amounts of time. However, letting your car idle for prolonged periods of time has a negative impact on the local environment and air quality.
Older and classic vehicles sometimes need a small period of idling to warm up the engine, but most modern vehicles do not require this. To warm up the engine properly, you can begin driving slowly until it is up to temperature.
Idling wastes fuel, puts additional stress on your engine and harms the environment. Try to limit it.
3: Avoid short journeys
Could that trip to the store be done on a bike, or by walking? Taking lots of short journeys in your car can be harmful to both your car and the environment.
Short trips don’t allow enough time for engine oil to fully circulate within your engine, and it might not have enough time to get up to temperature. This can increase the wear and tear of engine parts and cause excessive carbon buildup. It’s why regular long drives are good for your car.
Next time you need to make a short journey, consider ditching the car and walking or cycling. It can save you money and hassle further down the line.
4: Don’t speed
This one sounds obvious, but regular speeding greatly increases your fuel consumption. As a result, your car generates more pollution than it would do otherwise.
Aside from the obvious safety concerns, speed limits are also there to keep emissions in check. When you speed, you not only put yourself and other road users in danger – but you increase your carbon footprint. Not good.
So stick to the limit when driving – your wallet and the environment will thank you for it!
5: Service your car
Keeping up with the service schedule on your car will help it to perform more efficiently. Old oils and dirty filters keep your car from performing at its best. In turn, it has to work harder – meaning more fuel is consumed.
Checking and changing air filters, spark plugs, engine oil and coolant helps the engine to perform optimally. A happy engine keeps fuel consumption down and extends the overall life of the vehicle.
Don’t forget about your tires! Good quality tires that are inflated correctly will smoothen your ride and maximise your fuel mileage.
I tried to keep this guide light and to the point. It’s sometimes difficult to understand exactly why vehicles are bad for the environment and the climate. I hope this piece helped to clarify why this is the case.
Whether you love cars or hate them: it’s important to recognize why they pose a risk to the future of the planet.
It’s exciting to see a number of developments taking place that means cars will continue to exist – albeit in different forms. Electric vehicles don’t have to be boring and tasteless, as proven by Hyundai’s N Vision 74 concept.
How do you feel about the automotive industry’s impact on the environment? Let us know your thoughts below!