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Automobiles and the Environment
"Automobiles affect the environment in many ways. Impacts begin when a
vehicle is manufactured (including the production of all the parts and
materials that go into the car) and end with its scrappage in a
junkyard (which can recycle many parts but also involves the disposal
of many wastes). Over the life of an average motor vehicle, however,
much of the environmental damage occurs during driving and is greatly
associated with fuel consumption. Over the dozen or so years of a
vehicle's life, nearly 90 percent of lifecycle ("cradle to grave")
greenhouse gas production for a typical automobile is due to fuel
Environmental impacts start with mineral extraction and the production
of the raw materials that go into the parts of a car. For example,
iron ore gets turned into steel, which now accounts for most of the
mass in vehicles. Steel can be recycled, of course. On average,
today's automobiles are about 75 percent recyclable, and using
recycled steel helps reduce energy use and pollution. Other metal
components, such as aluminum (used in some engine parts and wheels,
for example) and copper (used for wiring) are also largely recycled.
The lead and acid in batteries are poisonous and dangerous. But
batteries can be recycled, if they are returned to a service station,
a parts store, or brought to a municipal hazardous waste facility.
Plastics, which are mostly made from petroleum, are more difficult to
recycle. In any case, some degree of pollution is associated with all
of these components, much of it due to the energy consumption, air
pollution, and releases of toxic substances that occur when
automobiles are manufactured and distributed.
Most of the environmental impact associated with motor vehicles occurs
when they are used, due to pollution in their exhaust and pollution
associated with supplying the fuel. In the United States, nearly all
of today's automobiles use gasoline; a lesser number use diesel fuel.
In some areas, various alternative fuels are being introduced, but
these are not widely available for most drivers. When gasoline,
diesel, or other fuels are burned in car engines, combustion is never
perfect, and so a mix of hazardous pollutants comes out the
"Petroleum products now provide 96 percent of America's transportation
energy needs. Air pollution isn't the only problem associated with
these petroleum-based fuels. Oil extraction lays waste to many fragile
ecosystems, harming tropical forests in South America and Southeast
Asia, deserts and wetlands in the Middle East, our own coastal areas,
and the fragile tundra and arctic coastal plains of Alaska. Millions
of gallons of oil are spilled every year. Sometimes the disasters are
well known, such as the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Prince William
Sound. More often there are rarely reported but still tragic smaller
spills that occur in the oceans and in coastal waters, bays, and
rivers throughout the world. In our own communities, groundwater is
sometimes tainted by leaks from underground fuel storage tanks and
miscellaneous spills that occur during shipping and handling of the
120 billion gallons of fuel we use each year..."
"Our addiction to gasoline and diesel fuel also involves moral
compromises. It entails deals and economic arrangements with some
oil-rich countries whose standards of human rights and environmental
protection may not be the same as what we expect at home. Of course,
these issues go beyond strictly environmental concerns. Nevertheless,
choosing greener vehicles that consume less fuel not only protects the
environment, but also helps protect U.S. jobs while reducing the
economic costs and moral liabilities of oil dependence."
"Sign up for instant online access to the full ACEEE's Green BookŪ
Online database, and view Green Scores and environmental information
about all model year 2006 vehicles (more than 1,150 vehicle
configurations). Additionally, you will automatically receive free
access to all model year 2000-2005 vehicles (another 8,100 listings).
Subscription options include a 30-day "car shopper's special," or a
full annual subscription. The annual subscription includes regular
updates and ratings for new model releases throughout the year.
Make a difference ? for your health and the planet's health ? by using
ACEEE's Green BookŪ Online to comparison shop with the environment in
mind. Our low-cost subscriptions will let you look up Green Scores for
every car, van, pickup, and SUV on the market."
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