Thursday, June 29, 2006

Cars, Cars, Cars...

After a couple of days of pushing hard, I nearly have myself unburied, so now it's time to get back to the important stuff ;-)

The summer driving season is upon us in the US, and even with high gas prices (for us, anyway), a lot of Americans will be hitting the road for summer vacations. A number of groups have released reports and tools addressing the pollution caused by all of those cars on the road, and, as you might imagine, the numbers aren't pretty:

Environmental Defense released a report last week titled Global Warming on the Road (in PDF). Many eye-opening facts here, among them ED's claim that the US' massive contribution to CO2 emissions by driving can be explained as a sort of "three-legged stool":
  • Amount of driving. U.S. cars and light trucks traveled 2.6 trillion miles in 2004. That's like taking 10 million trips from the earth to the moon.
  • Fuel economy. U.S. autos had an average fuel economy of 19.6 miles per gallon in 2004. That means that on average, each car burns just over 600 gallons of gasoline per year.
  • Carbon in the gas tank. Gasoline contains 5.3 pounds of carbon per gallon, essentially all of which ends up in the atmosphere as CO2 when the fuel is burned. Thus, the average U.S. car puts over a ton and a half of carbon into the air each year.
All of those factors created carbon emissions from our cars in 2004 of 314 million metric tons, or the amount of carbon in a coal train that's 55,000 miles long. The report notes that we have to address all three legs of the stool: driving less in more efficient cars that use fuels with lower carbon concentrations.

The Environmental Working Group also released a major resource for American drivers: its database of over 10,000 models of cars that rates them by dirtiness of their emissions. They focused specifically on the link between air pollution caused by cars and the asthma epidemic among America's children. As such, the ratings don't just show the polluting effects of emissions from certain models, but also how likely those emissions are to contribute to asthma attacks in kids. That's a pretty powerful way of showing the practical effects of this pollution! Among the things they discovered:
  • Due to old technology, older vehicles pollute more. 1993 models are on average 16 times dirtier than 2000 vehicles.
  • Newer trucks, vans, and oversized vehicles--surprise!--pollute more than passenger cars.
  • Of the Big Ten automakers, Mazda (6.6) and Honda (6.0) on average have the lowest-polluting vehicles, while GM (8.1) & Daimler-Chrysler (7.8) were the worst. (And those last two are doing such great business lately!)
I'm a driver, of course, and I'd imagine most of my American readers drive quite a bit, too -- it's nearly unavoidable with our current development patterns. These two resources are important, as they demonstrate clearly the consequences of our automobile addiction, as well as the good we could do by, collectively, taking some rather simple steps.

Of course, there's some good news, too: Daimler-Chrysler will begin selling its Smart Car in the US. Given that these are about a tenth of the size of a monster SUV, it looks like they might be a tough sell... But we can hope, and we can all think a lot harder about our auto purchases...

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