The Effects of Automobiles on the Environment

Cars are essential to everyone’s life, but they cause so much damage to the environment. The areas that we need to focus on are: air quality, production and fuels

Air Quality

Photo courtesy of TheGuardian.com

Automobiles create about 33% of all U.S. air pollutants in the forms of carbon dioxide, smog and several other toxic chemicals and gases. These air pollutants are released from the tailpipes, which means that humans immediately breathe in the contaminated air now compromising human health making it a more crucial issue to address. It has now become more a health concern than air contaminants released from an industry’s massive “chimney.” However, the world has been much better about attacking this issue – probably because it directly affects them. Even though we have increased the number of cars on the road, the air quality is much better because of the Clean Air Act from 1970. According to HomeGuides, apparently we have almost gotten rid of lead emissions completely.

Production & Disposal

Cartoon courtesy of TreeHugger.com

 

The energy footprint that the production of a car leaves on the environment is because of the materials needed to make them. According to National Geographic, these materials include steel, rubber, glass, plastics, and paints. This makes me question the supposed beneficial effect that hybrids have on the environment because they require much more scarce materials to create, and the amount of energy that car’s production could cancel out their beneficial effect. CarBusters.org says “the average U.S. vehicle (in 2007) required 1129 gallons of gasoline to produce…equivalent to two years worth of gas.”

When cars are disposed, their remains of plastics and toxic lead battery acids are thrown into landfills instead of being recycled resulting in harmful effects directly onto the environment. However, this is another issue that the U.S. has done much better with over time. Fun fact from National Geographic: three quarters of a car can be recycled. The website actually expressed this fact as a positive thing, but this fact means that a quarter of a car ends up in landfills, and automobiles are not exactly the smallest object ever, AND humans buy a new one about every decade. What makes up for this startling detail is that 80 to 90% of the environmental damage that a car causes occurs before the car’s “death”.

Fuel

Photo courtesy of Examiner.com

Automobiles use petroleum products that require much energy to extract them from the ground damaging the world’s ecosystems. There are also other little details that we tend to ignore. Fuel comes from particular concentrated locations in the world so shipping the oils itself actually requires a sacrifice from the environment as well. Shipping the oil on airplanes, ships, trucks or trains just means that these machines also need to expend scarce resources and release toxic gases in order to ship them to every part of the world. We also can’t forget the risk of an occasional accident in which the oils could spill into the ocean or the road and directly effect a delicate ecosystem.

How do these factors affect the environment?

Percentage of greenhouse gases Photo courtesy of EPA.gov

 

According to the EIA, greenhouse gases allow sunlight to enter the Earth’s atmosphere more than it naturally should. Sometimes sunlight is reflected off the surface as heat, which greenhouse gasses absorb and trap in the atmosphere that we live in. This in turn causes the overall temperature of the Earth to increase as well. These greenhouse gases include: benzene, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, hydrocarbons and sulfur dioxide. Fun fact from CarBusters: almost 0.009 metric tons of carbon dioxide are produced for every GALLON of gasoline burned, which means that the average American makes about 11.7 tons of carbon dioxide each year from their cars alone

Other ways that it can affect the environment at a smaller scale is that particulates and pollutants released by cars can be inputted into the soil and waters and then enter the food chain causing biological systems of animals and humans to be compromised. Acid rain is also a concern because it changes the acidity of water sources that animals drink from. Chemicals, most popularly CFCs (chloroflurocarbons), essentially create a thinner ozone layer which is mean to protect the Earth from UV rays.

Why does this matter?

These are just reasons why we need to find alternatives to using petroleum to fuel our cars for transportation. To begin with, we can only reduce use until technology finds a way to make the fuel more efficient or finds an alternative fuel that has no affect on the environment. Fuel efficiency and reducing their harmful effects is the key to improving the current state of the environment.

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