Many considerations go into buying a new car or light truck. You'll consider price, styling, comfort, performance, safety, reliability, and of course, how well the vehicle will serve your needs. The decision comes down to cost versus value: how much you are willing to pay for the features you want to get. But the costs of car use go beyond what's on the sticker and what you'll spend on fuel and repairs. The toll that cars and trucks take on the environment is often hidden but always very real. This toll includes unhealthy air pollution, oil spills and fouling of water supplies, damage to habitats, and global climate disruption. If you care about the environment, then what you value goes beyond performance or styling and the options featured in the showroom.
Greenercars.org will help you choose a greener vehicle, one that is cleaner and more fuel-efficient, minimizing harm to the environment while meeting your transportation needs.
- For families with several vehicles, the pollution from their cars, vans, sport utilities, and pickup trucks is often greater than that from electricity and heating fuel use, waste disposal, and other household activities.
- Automobile pollution can be more dangerous than similar amounts of pollution from large sources such as power plants, since car and truck emissions are quite literally "in your face" where we live, work, shop, and play.
- Much more will have to be done to clean up cars and light trucks in order to avoid pollution alerts and bring air quality up to more healthful levels in many US cities and regions.
Car and truck pollution not only harms our health in the present, but also contributes to global warming, bringing greater problems in years to come. A watchword of environmentalism is the concept of "sustainability." an action is sustainable if it serves our needs today without jeopardizing the ability of future generations (our children and grandchildren) to meet their needs. The large amount of energy consumed and pollution produced by cars and trucks is the biggest reason our transportation system is not sustainable.
Climate Disruption and Global Warming Pollution
Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from the consumption of gasoline, diesel, and other fossil fuels are the principal cause of global warming, which brings health and economic risks from climate change.
- The United States is the world's largest emitter of CO2 and our emissions are still rising steadily. It will take decades before many rapidly growing economies reach our levels of CO2 pollution per person.
- American cars and light trucks alone account for more fossil fuel CO2 emissions than the total nationwide emissions of all but four other countries in the world.
- Buying more fuel-efficient cars and light trucks is one of the single biggest steps we can take to reduce global warming.
Making motor vehicles cleaner and more efficient is an important step toward sustainable transportation. A large part of this task is up to automakers, but choosing a greener vehicle is a step you can take that will head us in the right direction.
Today's automobiles—this website's general term for cars, pickup trucks, station wagons, minivans, sport utilities, and other personal motor vehicles—are made much cleaner than those of a generation ago. Nevertheless, they remain among the largest causes of environmental damage. Environmental impacts start when automobiles are made, continue throughout their life on the road, and don't end even when the vehicles are scrapped, since waste disposal creates pollution, too.
Health Impacts of Car and Truck Pollution
Even the cleanest and most efficient vehicle on the market today still pollutes the air and otherwise damages the environment. A number of air pollutants are associated with automobiles:
- Fine airborne particulate matter (pm) causes lung trouble—shortness of breath, worsening of respiratory diseases and heart conditions, lung damage, and cancer.
- Nitrogen oxides (NOx) aggravate respiratory problems, both directly and indirectly, by forming pm and smog; NOx also causes acid rain and damages aquatic environments.
- Sulfur dioxide (SO2) also irritates the lungs, and it contributes to forming pm as well as acid rain.
- Hydrocarbons (HC) are volatile organic compounds that cause smog and are toxic and carcinogenic.
- Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that impairs the flow of oxygen to the brain and other parts of the body.
- Carbon dioxide (CO2) is not normally harmful, but as already noted, the huge amount of CO2 released by burning gasoline and other fossil fuels is causing global warming.
A gallon of gasoline weighs just over 6 pounds. When burned, the carbon in it combines with oxygen from the air to produce about 19 pounds of CO2. But counting the energy that went into making and distributing the fuel, the total global warming impact is equivalent to 25 pounds of CO2 emissions per gallon.
Understanding the polluting effects of automobiles can help one appreciate the importance of considering a vehicle's greenness (or lack of greenness) when it comes time to purchase one. More in-depth information on why cars and trucks aren't ever truly "green" can be found in our "automobiles and the environment" article.
Greener Transport also means Reducing Driving
A vehicle's greenness depends not only on its design, but also on how it is used. A car is greener when it's carrying two people rather than one and it's greener still with three. And it's greenest of all if left at home when there's a cleaner way to go: by foot or by bicycle, by bus or by train, and even by wire (telecommuting or videoconferencing). Consider your opportunities to reduce car use when practical, by walking or biking for short trips, ridesharing, and combining several errands into one trip.
Our options for getting to work or school, shopping or recreation, conducting business, and visiting family or friends depend very much on where we live. Choosing where you live for its walkability and convenience to work, school, or transit—what planners call location efficiency—is a key way to reduce your need for driving. In some areas, people find it surprisingly easy to do without a car at all.
Commuters may be eligible for benefits from their employers for transit or carpooling, or can receive cash by simply walking, biking, or telecommuting. These "commuter choice" programs cut pollution, reduce traffic congestion, and conserve energy. Ask your employer if they have a commuter choice program. If not, ask them to start one!